Hype or Hope: Rosemary Infused Water For Longevity?
When I read an advertisement for No.1 Rosemary Water in the latest edition of British Vogue, I was curious. What is Rosemary’s secret, I wondered? The brand is not available in our stores. Yet.
The Vogue promotion explained No.1 Rosemary Water was inspired by rosemary grown in a small Italian village. Acciaroli, on the coast of Italy has been of keen interest to scientists studying longevity. In fact, LongevityLive has also written on the subject. The number of centenarians total more than 300. For a town of just about 2000 residents, this is saying something. Scientists attribute many factors to their longevity, including the possibility that the rosemary locals chew on, improves their health.
David and Melinda Spencer Percival, founders of No.1 Rosemary Water Limited heard about these findings and decided to bottle the rosemary in water and sell it.
Not everyone is gushing over No.1 Rosemary Water
Can this young brand live up to its longevity promises? Not everyone is gushing. CampaignLive, UK’s leading communications platform reported that an ad campaign created for No.1 Rosemary Water had been cited by the ASA in Britain for making false claims and had to be withdrawn.
According to Campaign, the brand had nine of its executions banned by the Advertising Standards Authority over a wide range of disallowed healing claims.
They reported there were 19 complaints from members of the public over the ads, concerning both explicit and implied claims about the product:
- That it could keep user’s illness-free and protect against a range of conditions including Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cataracts and cancer
- Had a beneficial effect on aging
- That if could improve memory function.
The ASA also investigated whether the inclusion of the references to “the UK’s best botanical scientists” and “Dr Mark Moss of Northumbria University” breached the CAP Code prohibition on referring to the recommendation of an individual health professional.
The company No 1 Rosemary Water Limited admitted that some of the claims it had made were prohibited. However, they did not believe all of them were.
According to Campaign “The ASA disagreed. It ruled that the brand’s collection of ads had breached the CAP Code rules on food, food supplements and associated health or nutrition claims; misleading advertising; and substantiation; and ordered that the ads not be used again in the form complained about.”
So this advertising was cheeky and perhaps even a clever PR tactic to launch the brand. Does this mean rosemary is not useful for longevity?
The value of rosemary in aromatherapy
We know that rosemary has been used as a plant based remedy in traditional medical preparations, aromatherapy and in cooking food for centuries.
Dr. Mark Moss of Northumbria University believes in the value of alternative treatments. He told the BBC, “We have spent many years rubbishing alternative treatments, but there is – I believe – a real benefit in allowing people to take control of their own health with treatments that make them feel better – even if we haven’t been able to prove how.”
Together with a team of researchers they conducted an experiment testing the effects of not only rosemary oil, but also of other plants and herbs. Dr. Moss cited that the results of these experiments had demonstrated many benefits of aromatherapy oils, like lavender and lemon and of course, rosemary.
The findings of his research revealed that rosemary increased the participant’s energy levels and alertness. The research team also noted increased brain wave activity with the inhalation of rosemary.
The inhalation method was used, as inhalation is one of the best ways of getting drugs into the brain, explained Dr. Moss. “When you eat a drug, it may be broken down in the liver which processes everything absorbed by the gut, but with inhalation small molecules can pass into the bloodstream and from there to the brain without being broken down by the liver.”
“The implications of this kind of research are huge, but they don’t mean you need to spend your days smelling of rosemary and your night sleeping on a pillow of lavender. The effects were measurable, but modest. In addition, they give us a clue that further research into some of the chemicals in essential oils may yield therapeutics and contribute to our understanding of memory and brain function. It’s also important to remember that any drug that has a measurable effect, even if inhaled from a traditionally prepared essential oil, may also have a measurable side-effect. You can’t tinker with brain biochemistry and expect things to be simple.”
Back to Campaign who have continued tracking the evolving brand story. A more recent report alludes to those beautiful print ads I had noticed in Vogue. “The brand is taking out double-page spreads in Conde Nast titles Vogue and GQ, featuring a new character, Rosemary. She is played by 56-year-old marathon runner Caroline Labouchere – who personifies the herb of the same name,” writes Campaign.
They quoted David Spencer Percival saying: “Because of EU legislation we have to prove our health credentials through a long and pharmaceutically-focused process of clinical trials. Less than 10% of the natural health applicants that go through that very expensive process are successful.
Therefore, until we have completed that process, we’ve had to change the way we deliver our message – and this campaign is the stunning result.”
So, is it the rosemary, food or sex that aids longevity of the residents of Acciaroli?
Before you run out and stock up on bottles of the rosemary infused water, consider what researchers at Rome’s Sapienza University and the Sandiego School of Medicine have to say.
After months spent studying the elderly residents, the researchers were still not sure whether it is the fresh food, genes, sex or the rosemary that is creating high incidences of longevity. Or perhaps it’s all these factors combined.
What they found after analyzing blood samples from more than 80 residents, were extraordinarily low levels of adrenomedullin, a hormone that widens blood vessels. They also found inhabitants had unusually good blood circulation for their age. The levels of adrenomedullin were similar to those you would normally find in people in their 20s and 30s. High levels of this hormone can cause blood vessels to contract, causing circulatory problems which can lead to other serious health conditions.
However, the team is yet to discover the exact cause of the phenomenon, but said they believe it is closely related to diet and exercise. The inhabitants enjoy good sunshine and clean air which keeps them outdoors, swimming at local beaches, walking the hillside and being active in general. They eat a Mediterranean diet of locally caught fish, home-reared rabbits and chickens as well as olive oil and home-grown vegetables and fruit.
The study also noted the variety of rosemary found in Acciaroli may have especially high concentrations of beneficial substances. However, they admitted the hypothesis needs broader examination.
Another specialist Dr Alan Maisel, a cardiologist from the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, told The Telegraph that when his team tested the rosemary, “they found a dozen different compounds in there.”
There is also another important factor in locals’ long lives.
“Sexual activity among the elderly appears to be rampant,” Dr Maisel said. “Maybe living long has something to do with that. It’s probably the good air and the joie de vivre.”
The villager’s abundant sexual appetite also did not escape Dr. Salvatore Di Somma, Professor of medicine at Sapienza University in Rome. He wrote, “At 95, they have brains more like someone who is 50, and at 50, you’re still thinking a lot about sex.”
The genetic makeup of the people in this insular area is probably a factor as well. And then of course we must not forget US nutritionist Ancel Keys. Back in 1950 he started researching the region as he sought to establish evidence that a “Mediterranean diet” contributed to longevity.
He actually moved to the region with his wife and lived to be 100 years old.
Eat or drink more rosemary?
Have we discovered the Fountain of Youth? No,” Maisel told The Independent. “But we’re asking the right questions.”
David Percival Spencer told media, “I thought: I must eat more rosemary.” “But how can I do that? They chew it raw in this village, and I really didn’t want to do that. So, I thought, I’ll just drink it – it seemed perfectly rational to me. I went on Google, and I couldn’t find anywhere in the world that sold it commercially.”
No.1 Rosemary Water Limited may well be onto a good idea. According to analysts the lucrative global beverage market has grown by 9 per cent annually in recent years and is now worth $147bn.
However, only time will tell.
In the meanwhile, there are other ways you could get some of the herb’s benefits if the water is not available where you live. Or if you live in the UK and don’t want to spend £3.95 for a 750ml bottle of infused water, you could grow rosemary in your back garden to cook and chew on. Or even inhale rosemary oil daily.
This is an unfolding health story. However, for now it seems just drinking the rosemary infused water will not deliver you the promise of longevity. For that, you may just have to pack for Acciaroli and live like the locals. And you never know. You too may well get to live to 100.