July 25, 2006
Living to 116: You Game?
I've always been intrigued by longevity, even before I met the inspiring Ray Kurzweil, read about Dr. Weil and practiced suggestions of Deepak Chopra and others in his class. This week's MIT Technology Review interviews Boston-based Dr. Thomas Perls, who is working on longevity study on people who have lived over the age of 100. Some of his findings (they also talk about other studies) is common sense, i.e., you're at a mortality increase if you smoke, have a family history of heart disease/diabetes/cancer, eat red meat and processed food, live under high degrees of sleep and don't get enough sleep. Other things found in centenarians are less obvious however.
Nearly 100% of male centenarians were married whereas it wasn't as much of a factor among women......meaning they didn't need a man in their life to keep the fire going! HA (okay, my analysis, although its in fact close. Perhaps the independent nature necessary to do more than just survive played a key role). Coffee bad, tea good. I certainly knew the latter but tea? (they were not just referring to 'green' either). Aside from lifestyle, exercise and a healthy diet, we learn a lot about the 'gene factor.'
They ask him what genes he thinks will be most crucial for longevity. He responds, "I think genes that modulate risk for heart disease will be very important. That's still the number-one killer, even among the very old. In addition, more and more scientific studies show that fat metabolism will play a big role. These people must certainly lack genetic variations that lead to high cholesterol or early cancer. But there might also be something protective, so-called longevity-enabling genes, especially in very old people who show no signs of disease......"
On specific candidate genes? They have found that centenarians were more likely to have a certain variant of the gene for microsomal transfer protein, which plays a role in packaging cholesterol. However, they note that subsequent studies have had different results.
One study confirmed the findings, while a few others did not. On fat content, male centenarians are almost always lean, however interestingly, many of the centenarian women can be stocky, they say. You can calculate your own life expectancy based on a number of factors by clicking here. You'll have to 'honestly' fill out a questionnaire, including blood pressure and cholesterol results, so try to find out what they are before you take the test. It's worth a read and taking the evaluation - print it out so you can bring to your doc next time you go for a visit. The results provide recommendations on tests and tips for adopting a healthier lifestyle overall. Also check out the photo of Maria Esther Capovilla of Ecuador (taken by Reuters), "who was confirmed as the oldest living person by Guinness World Records. At 116, she was still reading and walking without a cane."
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