Longevity Ladies of Lehigh Valley

 

 

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Ruth, Elizabeth, Angie and Theresa reside in Lehigh Valley. Lehigh Valley is in Pennsylvania.  It consists of small picturesque towns with principal cities being Bethlehem, Allentown and Easton.

It’s 60 minutes north of Philadelphia, and 90 minutes west of New York City. The valley is between two mountains to north and south. Blue Mountain and South Mountain.

These beautiful four ladies have one more thing in common. They are all centenarians. They range in age from 100 to 105.  They also share a common love of family, health and honesty.

“I always say, ‘Never lie or be mean to anyone.'”
-Theresa J. Roth, age 105

Full link:

As seen in the March 2017 issue of Lehigh Valley Style. 

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Related Stories:

 

How A Tiny Pennsylvania Town Held the Secrets to Long Life

[1 / 17  by Jim Deegan for Lehigh Valley Live]
Kathie Marinucci and brother Sam Nittle display a portrait of their uncle, Carmen ‘”Armie” Ruggiero, who was enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. When Ruggiero died Dec. 20, 2015, at age 103, he was believed to have been the oldest person alive from Roseto and one of the only remaining to have participated in a landmark study of mortality rates from 1955 to 1961 that came to be known as “the Roseto Effect.”

In spite of the dark suits and solemn hymns at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, there was a celebratory tone to the funeral for Carmen Ruggiero.

Ruggiero was born in tiny Roseto on Jan. 21, 1912, the year the Titanic sank and the year in which leaders incorporated the predominantly Italian-American borough near the tip of the Lehigh Valley.

The man nicknamed “Armie” died Dec. 20, a month shy of his 104th birthday.

At the time, he was believed to be the oldest living Rosetan and one of the last alive to have participated in a landmark 1950s study that tied good health and long life to the close-knit Italian family structure defined by the town.

Carmen ‘Armie’ Ruggiero at his 100th birthday party
Carmen “Armie” Ruggiero at his 100th birthday party in January 2012 at Stroudsmoor Country Inn in Monroe County. (Courtesy photo)

“Everybody firmly believed he had a long, good life and he went the way he wanted to go,” said his nephew Sam Nittle, of Wind Gap. “He lived life to the fullest and had no regrets about anything. He was the patriarch of the family.”

Ruggiero was one of 11 children and never married or had kids of his own.

He worked at clubs and taverns, tending bar at popular watering holes like the Buckhorn and Luigi’s Ranch-O outside Belvidere and running the bar service at Florida hotspots such as the Boca Raton Resort and Hollywood Beach Hotel.

His life and outlook came under special interest by Dr. Mahesh Krishnamurthy, an Easton Hospital specialist in internal medicine. The doctor’s fascination with the so-called “Roseto Effect” blossomed after first treating Ruggiero about two years ago.

Ruggiero, he said, was a special patient.

“He was happy with very little,” said Krishnamurthy, program director of the internal medicine residency program at Easton.

“I believe that’s key. When you feel contented with what you have as opposed to always reaching for the sky and keeping up with your neighbor, it was a lesson learned.

“To me his story was told in four words: happy with very little.”

The Roseto Effect

Movies have been made and books written about the secrets of longevity. In 1964, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association hit upon an astonishing find in the hilly town in Northampton County.

A University of Oklahoma physician, Dr. Stewart Wolf, studied the effect of social structure on health from 1955 to 1961. He concluded that Roseto’s low rate of heart attacks and mortality compared to the rest of the region and the nation was attributable to the close-knit community and generations under one roof typical of Roseto at the time.

Roseto produced such results despite health risk factors that were all around: jugs of homemade red wine, foods cooked in lard, the smoking of cigars.

Fifty-five years later, Krishnamurthy encountered living proof that there must be something to the hypothesis and believes it might be applied to centenarians in general.
An article he wrote with a colleague, Dr. Raafia Memon, after spending time with Ruggiero notes that nearly 20 percent of the 55,000 100-year-olds in the U.S. in 2014 lived below the poverty line.

“These people have very little income but they have an attitude to life that is phenomenal,” Krishnamurthy said. “Mr. Ruggiero told me that’s how you live a happy life and a long life.

“The moment you start stressing about things, he said, is when the problems come. He believed that being happy with very little was the secret to longevity.

“Once people are older, they are very contented people,” Krishnamurthy said. “I can’t prove it based on the life story of one person, but I have seen it in people like him who don’t have a gloomy attitude and aren’t ticked off about small things. I do believe that there is something to it.”

Proud of his independence

Most of Ruggiero’s siblings lived into their 80s and 90s. He moved to Florida in the late 1960s then came back in the 1990s to help tend to two of his sisters, said niece Kathie Marinucci, of Roseto.

He maintained a fierce independence and lived the past few years at the Walden III assisted-living facility in Wind Gap.

Ruggiero drove until he was 100, could recall stories from his childhood in vivid detail and passed along traditions to his many nieces and nephews that they say would be lost forever were it not for his insistence.

With decades in the service industry, for example, he prided himself on his Caesar salad.

“It had to have the 13 ingredients,” said Marinucci, who lives in the house where she grew up. “You had to use the wooden bowl, which you never washed, and you had to smash the anchovies.”

Marinucci and Nittle are brother and sister whose late mother, Rose Nittle, was the youngest of Ruggiero’s family. While they looked after their uncle Armie, he lived essentially on his own up until the end.

One day last month, he called Nittle at home and summoned him to Walden III.

“I need you to come and see me,” he said.

To me his story was told in four words: happy with very little.”
Nittle said Ruggiero was uncharacteristically serious and business-minded that day. He pointed a crooked finger at his nephew and shook it at him.

“He said ‘This is my home now,'” a surprised Nittle recalled.

“He said ‘I had a home in Florida and don’t have it anymore. I had a home in Roseto and don’t have that anymore. This is my home. I go and come as I please.

“‘Don’t you ever put me in a home and don’t you ever let people see me if I can’t take care of myself.'”

Ruggiero also related something that Nittle says he can’t explain today. The family traditionally gathers at Nittle’s home on Christmas Eve and the nephew makes Manhattans.

“He said, ‘I don’t want you to feel bad about this, but I’m not coming over this year for Christmas,'” Nittle said.

A few hours after leaving, NIttle got a call from his sister. Ruggiero had taken a fall in the dining area and was going to Lehigh Valley Hospital. Doctors said he had fractured his neck in the spill.

Ruggiero died of bronchial pneumonia about 10 days later, his family said.

“The day this all happened, which was the beginning of the end, is the day he called me and told me all this,” Nittle said.

A different time

Roseto is different today than the town that gained recognition for its endurance. About 1,500 people live there, but the concentration of Italian-Americans has been diluted.

In 1989, Dr. Wolf restudied the Roseto Effect and found the mortality rates were in line with other communities such as Bangor and Nazareth. The difference was gone.

“The Rosetan values of cohesive family structure started fading away in the late 1960s,” Dr. Krishnamurthy said.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Roseto
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Roseto has been the place of worship for generations of the borough’s Italian-Americans. (Jim Deegan | For lehighvalleylive.com)

Even today, the mayor and most of borough council have last names, like the streets, that end in vowels. But it’s not the place it was, according to longtime residents.

“Back then everybody knew everyone else,” said Michael Romano, 62, the borough council president. “If you walked down the street and you were doing something wrong, the parents didn’t have a problem disciplining someone else’s child. It’s not that way today.”

You can still get tomato pie and cannoli at Roseto Bakery, formerly LeDonne’s, and there’s Italian fare and espresso machines for sale at Ruggiero’s Market on Dante Street. But the days when Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church was packed and Catholic schools were open have faded like the Roseto Effect.

Romano said the Italian-American culture that emphasized education and college served to diminish the effect.

“There’s still a core of Italians with the church and the fire company, but the composition of Roseto has changed,” he said.

Doc looks back on colorful 57-year career
Doc looks back on colorful 57-year career

While the Roseto Effect may be long gone, its documentation remains useful, according to Easton Hospital’s Krishnamurthy.

He feels grateful to have been able to capture a fleeting phenomenon in Carmen Ruggiero and his stories of Roseto.

“All of my patients are equal because I care for their medical conditions,” he said, “but sometimes there are cases that speak to you much more.

“He had a profound effect on me,” he said of Ruggiero. “There was a different connection. He would make you so comfortable and you could talk to him for hours and not even realize it.”

With further study involving other centenarians, Krishnamurthy hopes to one day publish a medical paper that ties attitude and longevity together.

It’s something he says is worthy of emphasis.

“We’re going through tough times all across the world,” he said. “I see a lot of discontentment in the youth of today and I don’t know how to change that.”

An old man from Roseto who didn’t drive anymore still may have held the keys.

“There’s something about the centenarians who find joy in small things,” the doctor said. “They find a purpose in life. We need to find some level of happiness and contentment with what we are and who we are.

“For me, it is going to be a lifelong quest.”

                              ###

[Jim Deegan may be reached at jdeegan@lehighvalleylive.com. Follow him on Twitter @jim_deegan. Find lehighvalleylive on Facebook]

 

 

 

Love: What the World Needs Now by Maria Dorfner

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Today, I talk to Paul J. Zak about health, love and morality.

Zak has done extensive research into discovering what chemical in our brain ultimately prompts us to love.

So much so, that this son of a prior Catholic nun has a new nickname.

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Paul J. Zak is a scientist, prolific author, and public speaker. His book The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity was published in 2012 and was a finalist for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize.

He is the founding Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and Professor of Economics, Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University.

Dr. Zak also serves as Professor of Neurology at Loma Linda University Medical Center. He has degrees in mathematics and economics from San Diego State University, a Ph.D. in economics from University of Pennsylvania, and post-doctoral training in neuroimaging from Harvard.

He is credited with the first published use of the term “neuroeconomics.” He organized and administers the first doctoral program in neuroeconomics. Dr. Zak’s lab discovered in 2004 that the brain chemical oxytocin allows us to determine who to trust.

His current research has shown that oxytocin is responsible for virtuous behaviors, working as the brain’s “moral molecule.”

This knowledge is being used to understand the basis for civilization and modern economies, improve negotiations, and treat patients with neurologic and psychiatric disorders.

Dr. Zak’s work on relationships earned him the nickname “Dr. Love.”

Q & A with Paul J. Zak
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1.  First, what prompted you to write The Moral Molecule:  The Source of Love and Prosperity and what’s love got to do with it?

I think the oldest debate humans have had since we have been having debates is on whether our human nature is good or evil.  Think Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, etc.  We are really curious about this!

Of course, most of us can be incredibly kind and sometimes nasty.  I wanted to see if I could find a “switch” in the brain from naughty to nice and figure out what turns this switch on and off.  And, my mother, before she was my mother, was a Catholic nun.  So, growing up I was given a very black and white view of morality.

But, my observation was that morality was more situational.  So, I basically spent 10 years of research so I could argue better with my mother (!).  Based on research done on rodents, I hypothesized that the mammalian neurochemical oxytocin might be the moral molecule. My experiments (and replications and extensions by many others) have shown a key role for oxytocin in motivating positive social behaviors.  Oxytocin is sometimes called the “love molecule” as it sustains romantic bonds and motivates care for offspring.

So, love makes us moral.  I think my mom would agree with this!

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2.  Absolutely.  How does positive touch and psychological support promote health?

Oxytocin motivates moral behaviors–even among strangers–by making us feel empathy where we share the emotions of others.

It promotes human interactions by reducing stress responses and thereby improving the immune systems.  Perhaps surprisingly, it is other people who keep us healthy (and, we’ve shown, happy).

We need connections, our brains and bodies crave it. We have shown that touch releases oxytocin.  So, I recommend 8 hugs a day.  Hug a stranger–its good for them and for you.

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3.  I’m Italian, so hugs come naturally. What if someone is alone?  Can they raise oxytocin levels?

Loneliness is stressful for social creatures like humans.  But, people who are alone can “hack” the oxytocin/connection system in several says.First of all, get a pet.  Our experiments have shown that dogs are better oxytocin promoters than are cats, but any pet is probably good.Second, use social media.  We have shown in experiments that social media of all types cause oxytocin release.  Third, massage is very healthful and causes oxytocin release (or start hugging people).

Lastly, nearly any activity that people do together can cause oxytocin release, including singing, dancing, going to movies, riding a roller coaster and especially helping others.

All these behaviors can “train the brain” to be better at connecting to people by increasing our oxytocin release.

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4.  Great tips.  All in moderation.  In your book you say love is also the source to prosperity. Let’s talk about that.  I read 90% of well-educated men who have graduated from college are ready for marriage between the ages of twenty-six to thirty-three-years-old.  These are the high commitment years.  Studies show a never married man at age forty-two becomes a confirmed bachelor.  Is oxytocin higher during the high commitment years making them able to trust and bond, as  older men get jaded?

High testosterone, our experiments have shown, is a powerful oxytocin inhibitor.  Testosterone falls in men after age 30 or so.  It also falls when men are in committed relationships and when they have children.  So, younger men may need a romantic partner to “tame” them so they can better attach to others.

Like any other brain system (or the French you took in 5th grade), the brain reduces the energy spent to maintain brain pathways that are little used.  Low attachment opportunities may make it harder in the future to find a mate.  A dog, though, is a good place to start.  Dogs also make being approached by strangers easier.  Go dogs!

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5.  Pets are amazing.  How about studies that consistently find a significant correlation between length of marriage and wealth accumulation?  Most millionaires are and stay married.  According to Dr. Thomas J. Stanley, author of “The Millionaire Mind” millionaires and those who will probably attain this status have a unique ability to select mates with a certain set of qualities:  Honest, Responsible, Loving, Capable & Supportive.  Does love keep you healthy AND wealthy?  If so, how?
 
Married men work harder, make more money, are happier, and live healthier and longer.  This is likely due to the anxiolytic effects of oxytocin.

High wealth men tend to have higher testosterone, so both marriage partners need to make love/romance a committment to keep the flame of oxytocin alive.

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6. I’ve also read certain foods release oxytocin naturally.  Namely, pasta with garlic and tomato sauce,  (happy to hear as an Italian!) plums, apples, turkey, fish, eggs, cheese, nuts, cottage cheese, chick peas, oregano and another favorite, chocolate!  Have I left anything out?
Actually, oxytocin is such a primitive molecule we never run out of its building blocks.  Foods rich in phytoestrogens can make us more sensitive to oxytocin (perhaps by increasing oxytocin receptors though this has not been shown in humans yet).  These foods include soy, broccoli, tea, wine.
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7.  What are some more natural ways of releasing this love hormone to stay healthy? (i.e. pets, warm bath, soothing music)
Besides those listed above, moderately stressful events like travel or riding a roller coaster will raise oxytocin.  The best way to spike one’s
oxytocin is sex in a committed relationship.  Cuddling, holding hands, kissing will all do it.  Warm temperature helps, as does sharing a meal.
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8.  Nice.  Why hasn’t everyone been prescribed oxytocin in the nasal spray form to boost their well-being?
The spray inhibits the brain’s ability to control the release of oxytocin.  The brain’s oxytocin system is finely tuned so that oxytocin is released when we have a positive social interaction and then release is shut off.  You don’t want to leave the trust switch turned “on” at all times, this could be dangerous.  There is also evidence in animals that long-term oxytocin treatment can damage oxytocin receptors so the trust-empathy system could, over time, begin to fail.
9.  Interesting. Recently, there have been studies linking oxytocin with having a healthier body image. What are your thoughts on it being used as a treatment for anorexia, body dysmorphia or any other number of body image disorders?
My lab has done many studies of oxytocin replacement therapy.  For short to moderate periods of time, in combination with counselling, this is an appropriate approach for some patients with body imaging disorders.  The first line treatment would be with SSRIs like Prozac or Paxil and it turns out that this class of drugs moderately increases oxytocin in the brain.
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10.  Prescription drugs can have serious side effects so I’d like to focus on natural ways to release oxytocin. If someone were to begin doing all the natural things you mention, how long would it take them to begin feeling better and healthier?

Almost immediately!  Oxytocin is released in about 1 second after a positive contact.  If you follow Dr. Love’s (my nickname) prescription of 8 hugs a day, then you are training the brain to release oxytocin more easily.

That’s the key to being happier and healthier (and exercise and eat well wouldn’t hurt, either).

THAT ENDS OUR INTERVIEW. THANK YOU DR. ZAK FOR JOINING US.  THANK YOU FOR READING. -Maria
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If you’d like to learn more about Paul J. Zak’s amazing work visit http://www.pauljzak.com or watch his Global TED Talk at link below.
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Living Longer

Researchers have uncovered an ancient mechanism that retards aging. Drugs that tweaked it could well postpone cancer, diabetes and other diseases of old age.

By David Stipp, Scientific American

        Image: Photographs by Evan Kafka

In Brief

  • In 2009 scientists discovered that a drug called rapamycin could significantly extend life span in mice, doing so by interfering with the activity of a protein called mammalian TOR, or mTOR.
  • The finding is the most compelling evidence to date that mammalian aging can be slowed pharmaceutically, and it galvanized interest in mTOR’s role in the aging process.
  • The result also highlighted a mystery: Why would suppressing cellular growth and replication—oneeffect of interfering with mTOR—extend life span?
  • Research into that question could lead to medicines that postpone or mitigate aging-related disorders—from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer to heart failure—and perhaps even extend how long human