The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

Health

Colorado and New Mexico top places to live a long time

—JAMES TIPTON
Good news for Signpost readers! Colorado and New Mexico (along with Hawaii) capture the top spots for the just-released “places where fifty-plus Americans will live longest,” based on a survey of over 450,000 adults conducted by Eons, a fifty-plus media company (founded by Jeff Taylor, who created Monster.com). In the detailed breakdowns, both Colorado and New Mexico make the lists of the top ten states for:

• Most amount of exercise
• Most frequent alcohol intake
• Healthiest weight
• Lowest consumption of carbohydrates
• Highest intake of supplements
• Most educated
• Best attitude on aging

The states that capture the bottom three spots (i.e., “could use some positive reinforcement,” according to Eons) for “places where fifty-plus Americans will live longest” are West Virginia, Missouri, and Louisiana; not surprisingly, these three states also make the lists for:

• Least amount of exercise
• Least frequent alcohol intake
• Most likely to overeat daily
• Least well-rested
• Highest percentage of smokers

West Virginia, Arkansas, and Louisiana led for ‘Highest Consumption of Carbohydrates,’ and those three states were also on the list for ‘Least Educated.’

And this ain’t all. The Colorado Commission on Aging estimates there are over five hundred centenarians in Colorado. Another study of four hundred Colorado centenarians—people who have lived one hundred years or more—sponsored by Cattle Breeders for the Future Corporation, discovered that they have these things in common: 1) they are in the sun at least seven hours a day; 2) they all consume dairy products; 3) they all eat some meat; and 4) they all drink two to three ounces of alcohol per day.

Well, some of that seems to correlate with the huge Eons study. Coloradans (and New Mexicans) came in tops for ‘Lowest Consumption of Carbohydrates,’ which by default might mean higher consumption of proteins and fats, and Coloradans (and New Mexicans) came in tops for ‘Most Frequent Alcohol Intake’ (note frequency and not quantity). (Incidentally, those states coming in lowest on highest longevity also were on the list for ‘Least Frequent Alcohol Intake.’)

All those years I was told I was wasting my life and earning potential walking for hours at a time in the sun at higher altitudes (with a block of Monterrey Jack cheese tucked into my pack), or wasting my life tipping a few Red Ladies with the real ladies at Kochevar’s Saloon in Crested Butte, or staring down a giant bowl of Buffalo chili at The Buff in Idaho Springs…turns out I was just following the formula to live a lot longer than those critics of mine who were so busy piling up money that they failed to pound in their own vital pitons tight enough or to set up belays as if their life depended on them.

Speaking of centenarians, this spring I came across a couple of related news items. Turns out in May, two of the world’s oldest women met in a nursing home in Shelbyville, Indiana, where one of them, Edna Parker, was celebrating her 114th birthday. The other, Bertha Fry, of Muncie, Indiana, is 113. To put that in perspective, each woman has lived through about half of the time elapsed during the entire history of the United States. Both Bertha and Edna taught school, and both live in Indiana. I hope that both Edna and Bertha have eaten a lot of those breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches, with lettuce and mayonnaise, for which Indiana is famous. And for that matter, I hope Edna and Bertha were able to get over to Noblesville to try that Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout at the Barley Island Brewery.

Also in May, a British man, Alec Holden, celebrated his hundredth birthday with winnings of £25,000 pounds, equivalent to approximately $50,000 US. Ten years ago, he had placed a £100 ($200) bet with the bookmaker firm of William Hill which gave the ninety-year-old two-hundred-fifty-to-one odds that he would not reach his hundredth birthday. (The bookmaker firm recently said, “…these age wagers are starting to cost us a fortune.”) Holden attributed his health and longevity to eating porridge daily and playing chess.

Holden’s bet reminded me of another wonderful centenarian, that French woman, Jeanne Calment, who, by the time she passed away in 1997, had the longest confirmed lifespan in history—122 years. Like Alec Holden, Jeanne wanted to cash in on what she thought would be a long life. In 1996, at age ninety, with no living heirs (her only daughter, Yvonne, died of pneumonia at age thirty-six), Jeanne Calment agreed to sell her condominium to a lawyer, François Raffray, who was only age forty-seven. Raffray agreed to pay Calment a fixed sum each month as long as she lived. At the time of the signing, the value of her condominium was equal to ten years of payments, meaning should she live even to age one hundred, the lawyer still would have paid a fair value. But, Jeanne Calment lived for more than thirty years beyond the signing. François Raffray died of cancer at age seventy-seven, leaving his widow obligated to continue the payments.

Jeanne Calment was quite a character, taking up fencing at age eighty-five, still riding a bicycle at age one hundred, living on her own until age 110. Because she had met Vincent van Gogh in her father’s shop when she was fourteen—finding him “dirty, badly-dressed and disagreeable”—Calment, at age 114, appeared as herself in the film Vincent and Me, becoming the oldest actress ever. She quit smoking at age 117, and in her “later years,” she attributed her longevity to having giving up smoking in her “youth.”

More and more people here in the Rockies are living into their nineties, and no doubt some of us will become centenarians, and who knows, we might even surpass Jeanne Calment’s 122 years. I, myself, am going to give it a try.

I know for certain that I will live at least to be more than one hundred.

How do I know this? Last summer I visited Doña Sofia de Garza, a famous curandera who lives in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado. She was very hard to find, but when I did, wow! I was fascinated by Doña Sofia’s gold bangles, both on her ears and on her wrists, by her full (and fabled) bosom ready to burst out of her gauzy Mexican blouse, by her skirt, a deep and sultry red, by her eyes, so deliciously dark with tiny flecks of gold, and yes, by her mouth—which at age sixty was still remarkably desirable. Incredibly, she looked like a slightly older version of the gypsy girl played by Salma Hayek in The Hunchback.

In less than thirty minutes of consultation, Doña Sofia divined the solution and assured me that indeed I could live to be more than one hundred. The secret, she whispered to me, through that delectable mouth that would remain with me in imagination for many months, was to love women of all ages, to kiss them on their lips as often as possible and as passionately as each situation allowed… and to pay her, Doña Sofia de Garza, only $50 dollars for everything she had revealed to me.

James Tipton is a freelance writer living in the tropical mountains of Mexico.

Attorneys General say booze and caffeine don’t mix

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King has joined twenty-nine attorneys general nationwide, urging the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to stop alcohol manufacturers from making misleading health-related statements when advertising alcoholic beverages that contain caffeine and other stimulants.

“Non-alcoholic energy drinks are very popular with today’s youth,” says Attorney General King. “Beverage companies are appealing to young drinkers with claims about the stimulating properties of alcoholic energy drinks. We urge TTB to take action to stop companies from making misleading claims.”

In a letter to TTB Administrator, John Manfreda, the attorneys general state that alcoholic energy drinks mimic non-alcoholic energy beverages that are very popular with youth. They warn that alcoholic energy drinks pose serious health and safety risks. According to medical researchers and public health professionals, the stimulants in alcoholic energy drinks may cause an intoxicated person to falsely believe that he or she can continue to drink and function normally.

Aggressive marketing campaigns claim these alcoholic energy beverages increase a person’s stamina or can have an energizing effect. For instance, BudExtra has an advertising slogan, “You can sleep when you’re thirty” and makes claims of renewed strength through the addition of guarana. However, the ads do not mention the potentially severe, adverse consequences of mixing caffeine or other stimulants and alcohol.

As TTB has recognized in one of its own publications, “Alcohol is the nation’s number one drug problem among youth, and it is involved in teen automobile crashes, homicides and suicides, the three leading causes of teen death.” The Surgeon General recently reported that approximately five thousand people under the age of twenty-one die each year from alcohol-related injuries. Alcohol also contributes to risky sexual behavior, poor school performance, and other psychological and sociological dysfunctions among youth.

The attorneys general also requested a TTB investigation into the makeup of alcoholic energy drinks and other flavored malt beverages to determine whether, based on the percentage of distilled spirits contained in the drinks, they are properly classified as malt beverages under federal law. The malt beverage classification, in many states, enables cheaper and broader sale of these drinks, making them more readily available to young people than distilled spirits.

Greg Mitman

Greg Mitman

Asthma and allergies take root in the New West

—GREGG MITMAN, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
“Mom, would you really have shipped me off to Denver?” I asked my mother recently. “Absolutely,” she said.

“But imagine,” I said, “what it would have been like for a five-year-old living in an institution, surrounded by doctors and a bunch of asthmatic kids?”

“You were very, very sick,” she explained. “Nothing helped.” She told how my doctor had recommended sending me to live at the Children’s Asthma Research Institute and Hospital in Denver. In the 1960s, when I was so sick, this was the best facility for asthmatic children in the United States. For many families, it became a last resort. But, luckily or unluckily for me, it was full up, so I got to stay home.

This talk with my mother helped me understand what propelled thousands of sufferers of asthma, hay fever, and consumption, from the 1870s onwards, to abandon family and home to seek relief in the cool mountain air of the Rockies or the dry climate of Tucson.

American writer Helen Hunt Jackson was one such health-seeker. Her decade of seasonal wanderings in search of relief from hay fever ended in Colorado in 1873. Dispatched a year earlier by the New York Independent to write a series about life and landscape on the Western frontier, Jackson found in the Rocky Mountain region “the divinest air” she ever breathed. So divine that she was soon saying goodbye to her friend Emily Dickinson and her beloved White Mountains of New Hampshire to take up residence in Colorado Springs. Once settled, she urged her new community to weigh carefully the value of its healthy air against denuded mountainsides and smoke bestowed by the region’s mining and smelting industries.

Another seeker of health, decades later, was Joseph Wood Krutch, Columbia University professor, drama critic, and venerable figure in the New York City literary scene. What compelled Krutch to give it all up in the 1950s to move to Tucson? Asthma. The sparseness of life, the vast open space of the West, and the warm, dry air brought Krutch not only physical renewal, but also a deepening appreciation for the ecology of the desert and the spiritual meanings he found there. Krutch championed its beauty in his books, The Desert Year and The Voice of the Desert. But by the 1960s, Krutch was horrified by the increasing haze of smoke and dust that was robbing Tucson of its invigorating air. He was also appalled by the spread of lawns that consumed the city’s precious water.

Sadly, the warnings brought by Jackson and Krutch proved warranted. In less than a century, Denver and Tucson became polluted. By the 1960s, Denver’s rapid growth and reliance on the automobile resulted in carbon monoxide and ozone problems as bad as those found in much larger metropolitan areas like Los Angeles.

Tucson owed its reputation as a haven for allergy sufferers because of the way in which its plants reproduce. Creosote, cacti, and other flora of the desert rely almost exclusively on animals and insects—rather than the wind—to carry their pollen. This quirk of climate and biogeography resulted in allergy relief for Tucson’s health-seekers. But newcomers from the East favored the “civilized” look of the cities they’d left, and so planted Bermuda grass lawns and adorned their streets with ornamental mulberry and olive trees. In the 1970s, Tucson’s trees reached maturity, grass pollen and mold spores increased, and native wind-pollinated weed species like tumbleweed and desert ragweed thrived in newly disturbed soils. In just over twenty years, the atmospheric pollen load of allergenic plant species in Tucson increased ten-fold; the city’s incidence of asthma was now twice, and hay fever six-to-nine times, the national average.

Over the course of a century, the health-giving hope once found in the Western landscape was washed away by the flood of people, industries, transportation, and plants that came with progress. Asthmatics and hay fever sufferers who came West as a last resort found themselves out of place—or at least out of breath—in the promised land. But a new road to Shangri-La appeared, one paved with antihistamines and corticosteroids.

In this happy place, we take a pill or a puff and feel better, while conveniently ignoring how changes wrought upon the landscape have led to the rise of allergy and asthma, not only across Western landscapes, but across the globe.

Gregg Mitman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. He is a professor of medical history at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and the author of Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape our Lives and Landscapes.

Weeds, anyone?

Last month, Pancho Villa State Park, in southern New Mexico, cooked up an unusual event, providing visitors a chance to sample three of the edible plants of the Chihuahuan Desert.

“For centuries, many of the plants found in this area have been utilized by early desert dwellers as an important food source,” said Park Manager Victor Trujillo. “So we invited the public to taste a piece of history.”

The park displayed edible desert plants, including quelites, Opuntia “tunas,” and verdolagas and gave a plant-identification desert stroll.

According to John Green, volunteer naturalist at the El Paso Wilderness Park Museum, certain edible plants of the Chihuahuan Desert can be healthier than store-bought lettuce or spinach, since they contain more vitamins and minerals.

Two abundant wild green plants—quelites (also known as pigweed or redroof) and verdolagas (commonly known as purslane)—are both edible and can be eaten either raw or cooked. The plants are commonly mistaken for “weeds” and are common throughout the desert landscape of New Mexico. Native people traditionally collected the tiny quelites seeds when ripe, using them in baked goods. Modern uses can include lightly frying them in oil with onion and tomato and adding red pepper flakes to taste. The plant contains high amounts of beta carotene and ascorbic acid.

The verdolagas herb has bright yellow flowers and can be prepared in a similar method to quelites. It is also used in East Indian, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines. The herb is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C and magnesium and is used to lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels and can prevent blood clots.

The fruit of the Opuntia, known as “tunas” are the edible, bright purplish-red fruits of the prickly pear cacti. They are often used in making candies, jelly, or preparing a refreshing drink. The Opuntia plant has eight essential amino acids and can stabilize blood sugar levels, fight “bad” cholesterol and aid digestion.

For more information, contact Pancho Villa State Park at (505) 531-2711 or visit www.nmparks.com.

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