Longevity in Abkhazia
In the early 1970s, National Geographic magazine approached the world-renowned physician Alexander Leaf, asking him to visit, study, and write an article about the world's healthiest and most long-living people. Dr. Leaf, a professor of clinical medicine at Harvard University and Chief of Medical Services at Massachusetts General Hospital, had long been a student of the subject and had already visited and studied some of the cultures known for the healthy lives of their elderly people. Now, National Geographic commissioned him to continue these travels and investigations and to share with the world his observations and comparisons of those areas of the planet which were famous for the longevity and health of their inhabitants. It was a time, unlike today, when these regions and their cultures were still somewhat pristine.
Dr. Leaf undertook a series of journeys that he subsequently described in an influential series of articles that appeared in National Geographic magazine beginning in 1973.
A woman named Khfaf Lasuria had been featured in the Life article. Leaf wanted to meet her, and he found her in the Abkhasian village of Kutol, where she sang in a choir made up entirely, he was told, of Abkhasian centenarians.
She stands not five feet tall - sprightly woman who claimed to be 141 years old. . . . Although she carried a handsomely carved wooden walking stick, her nimbleness belied need of it. Her memory seemed excellent. . . . She spoke lucidly and easily about events recent and past. At the age of 75 to 80 as a midwife she assisted more than 100 babies into the world. . . . She described the life of women: "Women had a very difficult time before the Revolution; we were practically slaves." And she ended our talk with a toast, "I want to drink to women all over the world . . . for them not to work too hard and to be happy with their families".
Though he was greatly impressed by this elderly lady's charm and spirit, Leaf did not simply take her word for her age. To the contrary, he went to significant efforts to assess it objectively. Such a task is harder than it might sound, for there are no signs in the human body, like the annual rings of a tree, that tell us a person's age.
Among the others investigator Leaf met were a delightful trio of gentlemen who, like many elderly Abkhasians were still working despite their advanced age. They were Markhti Tarkhil, whom Leaf believed to be 104; Temur Tarba, who was apparently 100; and Tikhed Gunba, a mere youngster at 98. All were born locally. Temur said his father died at 110, his mother at 104, and an older brother just that year at 109. After a short exam, Leaf said that Temur's blood pressure was a youthful 120/84, and his pulse was regular at a rate of 69.