Limone sul Garda, Italy’s Healthy ‘Elixir’ Village

(CNN) — It’s a place of terraced lemon groves, paradoxically warm mountain breezes, and powerful weight-loss genes carried by a lucky few residents.

Limone sul Garda, a picturesque fishing village on the shores of Lake Garda in northern Italy’s Lombardy region, is an unusual destination of just 1,000 inhabitants.

Considering its location at the foot of the Alps, it is the northernmost point in the world where lemons grow naturally and has an exceptionally mild climate.

Perhaps it was the combination of these factors that led the village to claim that there was a secret “elixir of life” that would allow people to live long and healthy lives.

Many locals apparently possess strong digestive powers, allowing them to stuff themselves with creamy layer cakes and greasy cold cuts without worrying about growing waistlines or heart problems.

These residents have what they call the “Limone gene,” which contains a special protein that destroys lipids and keeps blood flowing.

super human


The “Superman” Seqara family who carry this gene.

Giuliano Segarra

For 40 years, the people of Limone sul Garda have been under scientific observation, and villagers who carry the gene are tested as laboratory mice.

Of the 1,000 residents, half are native Limone; of those 500, 60 have the gene.

“This gene runs in my family,” says owner Gianni Segala, who jokes that villagers are used as “blood bags” for scientists.

“Me and my brothers, my mother – she’s 96 and still very bright – all my kids carry it.

“We’ve been donating blood for repeated testing since the 1980s, and we’ve pretty much lost our blood,” he added wryly.

He recalls the first time doctors had him swallow a dollop of sugary whipped cream every two hours to monitor his blood.

“They pumped my blood with every bite, it was so sweet and oily, I felt sick, but even though I ate a lot, my blood destroyed the fats immediately and didn’t absorb them. By nightfall, I almost passed out [due to blood loss],” He says.

Yet even though someone like Segala may never have to bother with clogged veins and blood clots, he says he leads a pretty normal life and is “not superhuman.”

Cesare Sirtori, professor of clinical pharmacology at the Università degli Studi di Milano, led the team that first discovered the protein that the locals of Limone call the “elixir of life”, calling it A-1 Milano. He said the Limone had exceptionally low levels of HDL cholesterol (in the range of 7-15 instead of 40-60 normally), which appeared to be the result of a genetic mutation within the protein carrier.

“Low HDL cholesterol — given that it’s classified as ‘good’ cholesterol — is bad for you and can lead to heart problems like potential strokes, but for these locals it has the opposite positive effect,” he said. Say.

“While 99% of protein gene mutations cause disease and pathology, this mutation was identified as a carrier without vascular disease.” Sirtori is now studying the Limone gene to see how it might further fight atherosclerosis.

In 2000, he and his team synthesized Limone protein and injected into rabbits. Arterial thrombus was significantly reduced in these animals.

In Limone, he found, it was a dominant gene that was present in the DNA of five-year-olds, young adults and older adults.

“Eat whatever you want”

Limone is a small fishing village on Lake Garda.

Limone is a small fishing village on Lake Garda.

Jorg Greuel/Stone RF/Getty Images

The gene was first found in the blood of the Limone train driver, an ancestor of Segala who had an accident in Milan (hence the protein name A-1 Milano) and was taken to hospital. The doctors who cured him were baffled by his startling blood results and launched a massive screening campaign in the village.

“The first time I had a blood test, as a child, doctors would come in regularly to monitor how our genes were doing,” said Gianni’s son, Giuliano Segala.

“The fact that I carry [the gene] Gave me a kind of life insurance – I feel more secure in my health and trust that I won’t have clogged arteries or die of a heart attack in old age. “

Though he occasionally feels like a guinea pig, the slender, fit Giuliano admits to happily indulging in greasy cured meats, including mortadella, salami and even lard – just like his grandmother , she took care of herself and cooked for the whole family. Young Segaras inherited the genes from her.

“I never have a stomachache and I eat whatever I want. I like Schnitzel (breaded and fried veal steaks), fried food, salami, and I like to drink too. “I sleep like a baby,” says Giuliano. But just because he’s a carrier of this wonderful gene doesn’t mean he’s always overeating. He also works out regularly and hikes up the mountain with his father to enjoy the stunning views of the nearby lake Garda.

Sirtori still hopes to analyze what happens if two carriers become pregnant. So far, it is the carrier’s father or mother who passes on the gene.

A Powerful Combination of Factors

Limone's lush location has attracted tourists for centuries.

Limone’s lush location has attracted tourists for centuries.

Jimmy Gerardy

This genetic mutation and its associated health benefits are unique to Limone — not even found in nearby villages, Sirtori said. However, he has no interest in delving into why.

But others have. Local hotelier Antonio Girardi traces the entire family tree of Limone’s genetic spread back to the 18th century, and he believes environment, climate and natural products play a key role.

“It’s probably a year-round warm climate – we never get snow or ice, which is why lemons have been grown in this northern region for centuries,” he said.

​“Perhaps it’s thanks to the extraordinary extra virgin olive oil we were weaned on, and the fresh lake fish we ate.”

Since the Renaissance, wealthy families have flocked to Limone’s coast for holidays, breathing in the sweet alpine air mixed with citrus scents and benefiting from the climate.

Girardi keeps a phone book with the contacts of all those in their 60s who are carriers of the gene. The other residents are divided between those born in Limone and those from neighboring towns or abroad, attracted by the labyrinthine surroundings and sleepy atmosphere of Limone’s cobblestone alleys, white passages and dwellings.

In the past, villagers were either fishermen or mountain woodcutters, who used donkeys to transport logs and sold them to ships at the port. Today, they all work in the lucrative tourism sector.

Families stroll along the picturesque harbour, and tourists visit the Fisheries Museum. In summer, cozy beaches attract sunbathers and sailing enthusiasts, while hikers explore the lake’s jagged, towering cliffs.

“These mountains act as a natural barrier, protecting us from cold winds, absorbing sunlight and keeping the temperature consistently warm,” Girardi said.

“We must be grateful for this very pleasant, extraordinary microclimate that has endowed our people with such a natural elixir.”

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