In the north of Pakistan, at more than a thousand meters above sea level and among mountains covered by glaciers, live the hunzakuts , known as “hunza” in Western countries.
Not only do these people look more like Caucasians than the rest of the country’s inhabitants, but they are credited with something that has given for hundreds of items over several decades: the tendency to live more than 110 years and reach old age in very good health .
Moreover, the first stories that came to the West about the Hunza people suggest that the possible explanation for their good health was not to be found in their biology, but in their habits. The fact that the Hunza maintain a vegetarian diet provided a clue: “we are what we eat”. Could it be possible to extend our lives by modifying our behaviour for so many decades?
Hunza: an oasis of youth
The valley of the river Hunza, located in a territory difficult to access and isolated from its surroundings by the high mountains, presents the characteristics that any romantic can relate to Eden. A natural and little explored territory, some primitive people living in it according to traditions, far from the production machinery and processed food of technologically advanced societies.
In fact, the Hunza are said to be descended from some soldiers of Alexander the Great’s army who got lost crossing the territory and created a society isolated from the others; this would explain why the language they speak could not be related to any of the great linguistic families of Asia.
So we have it all: a charming natural environment, an origin that speaks to us of Westerners re-educating themselves to reconcile with nature, a vegetarian diet (and therefore more culturally linked to “goodness” than one in which meat is eaten) and unheard of levels of health. Or at least it would be if it were not for the fact that the attribution of extreme longevity to the Hunza is a myth based on several coincidences.
In reality, none of the beliefs that were passed on by word of mouth and article to article had a scientific basis: the people of eternal youth was a myth born of exaggerations and misunderstandings .
Exaggerations and myths about this tribe
The tribes living in the Hunza River Valley were not without fault in popularizing their ability to cling to youth and age so slowly.John Clark, a researcher who spent several years living with these people, pointed out that the way in which the Hunzakuts attribute age to themselves has less to do with the time that has passed since their birth than with their level of wisdom. That is why the most respected elders may say they are 145 years old: in their cultural framework, that is completely normal and not surprising.
Furthermore, it is also worth remembering that the myth of the Hunza has had an impact on their societies . For several decades, they have been able to take advantage of this myth, which leads them to continue spreading exaggerations themselves.
What about diet?
Hunzakuts follow two types of diet: one linked to summer and the other linked to the winter months. Generally, both are composed basically of unprocessed vegetables and the occasional dairy product. In addition, given the lifestyle they follow, which does not rely heavily on the use of advanced technology, even people in their later years maintain habits in which exercise is commonplace. Furthermore, as they are usually Muslims, they avoid alcoholic beverages and replace them with tea .
In short, it is a society in which many of the characteristics of what we would call “healthy living” are present, and which may also attract many followers of the paleodiet. This led some researchers, as Sir Robert McCarrison did in the 1920s, to attribute surprisingly good digestive health to Hunzakuts.
Unlike at the beginning of the 20th century, however, today the health status of the Hunza River Valley population is well known, and it has been recognized that the Hunzakuts have as many diseases as the rest of the surrounding population . In fact, much is even known about their genetics: everything points to the fact that it is not even true that they are descendants of Balkan settlers. What a disappointment!
Longevity in question
Despite all this, nutritionists point out that many aspects of the Hunzakut diet are better than that of most Westerners: no sugar-rich foods, virtually no red meat, lots of vegetables, and of course a combination of all this with physical exercise. Take note.