I have found a web site for the team doing the longevity research, the
New England Centenarian Study, http://www.med.harvard.edu/programs/necs/.
The paper will be published at http://www.pnas.org but this only has last
month's issue so far. The site above says they will have a PDF file up
Interestingly, Louis Kunkel, one of the main co-authors, is actually
a pediatric researcher. He was studying genetic markers for pediatric
diseases and I suppose the same techniques apply to the disease of aging.
The NECS page has some interesting information. There is a book,
Living to 100, based apparently on their research with centenarians.
It tells you how to "make the most of your life". They also have a
longevity calculator, http://www.livingto100.com/.
A quote from their page:
Because it quickly became apparent to us that living to 100 was
a tremendous advantage, we set out to understand how and why the
centenarians are able to live to such old age, the vast majority of
which is spent in excellent health.
I thought it was funny that it "quickly became apparent" that living
to 100 was a "tremendous advantage". You'd think it would go without
saying. At least they didn't feel it was necessary to explain the daring
philosophy which says that living is better than dying.
Some points about centenarians from their page:
Significant obesity is rare.
Smoking history is extremely rare.
Not too surprising, although Doug Skrecky used to forward a lot of studies
suggesting that obesity per se was not inherently negative for longevity.
A preliminary study suggests that they score low in a domain of
personality testing called "neuroticism" that translates into not
dwelling on things and therefore the ability to manage stress well.
Being able to handle stress apparently makes a big difference. One might
speculate that it not only directly affects health, but that maintaining
the "will to live" in someone who has lived 100 years would require the
ability to handle enormous change.
Consistent with our hypothesis that centenarians have a history of
aging very slowly and either markedly delaying or even escaping
age-associated diseases (e.g. heart attack, stroke, cancer, diabetes,
Alzheimer's disease), we noted that 90% of them were functionally
independent the vast majority of their lives up until the average age
of 92 years and 75% were the same at an average age of 95 years.
Rather than the incorrect perception that "the older you get the
sicker you get", centenarians teach us that the older you get the
healthier you've been.
That's amazing, 90% still living independently at age 92! My mom is 80
and still doing OK by herself but she's not what she was 10 or even 5
Many centenarian women have a history of bearing children after the
age of 35 years and even 40 years. From our studies, a woman who
naturally has a child after the age of 40 has a 4 times greater chance
of living to 100 compared to women who do not. It is probably not the
act of bearing a child in one's forties that promotes long life, but
rather, doing so may be an indicator that the woman's reproductive
system is aging slowly and that the rest of her is as well. Such slow
aging and the avoidance or delay of diseases that adversely impact
reproduction would bode well for the woman's subsequent ability to
achieve very old age.
This is consistent with the fruit fly studies which extended lifespan
specifically by allowing flies to reproduce only when they were older
than normal. Slowing aging over the entire lifespan seems to be a key
part of living to 100.
At least 50% have first-degree relatives and/or grandparents that
also achieve very old age and many have exceptionally old siblings.
Male siblings of centenarians have an 11 times greater chance than
other men born around the same time of reaching age 97 years and
female siblings have an 8½ greater chance than other females also
born around the same time of achieving age 100.
Those are amazing figures. Clearly the genetic component for super
longevity is very strong. Qualitatively this would seem to suggest a
relatively small number of genes are involved, otherwise siblings would
probably not have such a high degree of correlation, right?
Definitely this is promising research. True, it may not lead literally
to a "pill for long life". But if they can identify specific genes
involved it will undoubtedly point to some therapies (which may be ones
we are already using, but will provide information about which ones are
most likely to work).
The other lesson seems to be that it helps to start young. If we think of
aging as kind of a snowball effect (growing over time) then interventions
to slow the rate of aging at a young age should have the largest payoff
over the totality of the lifetime.
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