We’ve been getting quite a few e-mails regarding longevity. People have been asking what they can do to live longer. The answer is really a little more complicated. You probably want to live longer, but you want to live longer in a healthy fashion. Quality of life into older age is key.
We’ll devote the next few articles to exploring the available wisdom surrounding longevity. Bio-mechanics, diet, drugs and supplements will all be explored in an attempt to make sense of the information circulating in the media.
Issue #1 – The Genetic Lottery
Its been popularly propagated that only 25% of longevity is attributtable to genetics. Well not really… This number would lead one to believe that the average person is in control of 75% of their longevity. Not quite so… In most cases, environment does play the primary role in longevity, but like every thing else in life the “bell curve” applies. For some of us our genetics become a game of “russian roulette” – there are many hereditary conditions that terminate life in infancy or early childhood. These folks don’t stand a chance. Environment plays little to no role in their longevity.
The reverse is also true. Some of us win the genetic lottery & despite all our bad habits will live healthily to a ripe old age. For various reasons those of us that have excellent genes for longevity are benefitting from our ancestoral genetic contribution. You will find with some “blue zone” research that the five accepted “blue zones” are semi-isolated populations with a very specific amount of genetic variation. 3 of the 5 “blue zones” are infact on islands, while 1 of the other zones is on a pennisula. The point being that they were historically semi-secluded with regular infuxes of genetic variation to keep the populations healthy. Also, due to geography and environment alot of the genetic/hereditary disease common to more metropolitan populations simply “died out” of the gene pool in these “blue zones”.
Most of us fall in between these extremes. Most of us are not particularly endowed with “genetic longevity”. However, we can make the most of the genes we do have. Specifically, we can avoid enviromental exposure to agents that will trigger genetic conditions. For example, women with a genetic basis for breast cancer (carriers of the BRAC1 gene) should be very careful with hormone replacement therapy as it will increase their risk breast cancer. The limiting factor to this strategy is that good genetic screening for many conditions don’t exist at the moment. We should take advantage of the screenings we do have available because prevention is paramount. In many cases prevention is the only cure.