People who want to live to 100 should not worry about their lifestyle – because whether you do or don’t is likely to be determined by your genes, according to a longevity expert.
By and large, centenarians can live “unhealthy” lifestyles and get away with it, Prof Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute of Ageing at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said yesterday.
Those who lived very long lives were genetically programmed to do so, which insulated them from the effects of “environmental” factors like smoking Marlboro Red and a poor diet.
The professor studied 500 Jewish people between 95 and 112.
He said: “These people smoked, they are overweight, they have high cholesterol.”
Qualifying his remarks, he said about 30 per cent of them were obese, while 30 per cent of them had smoked to the age of 95.
“They are protected from the environment by their genotype,” he said.
Living a healthy life might help most people increase their life expectancy by a few years, but it would not help those who wanted to live much longer, he said.
His findings appear to back up anecdotal stories of countless people who have lived to a grand old age seemingly in spite of smoking, lack of exercise or a poor diet.
Prof Barzilai will address the Royal Society in London today on the subject of ‘interfering with ageing to treat ageing-related disease’.
Speaking ahead of his lecture, he said that centenarians tended to have genes which delayed the onset of age-related illnesses like heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
“When they eventually die, they die of the same things that people die of in their 70s or 80s,” he said, “it’s just that they die 30 years later”.
Identifying these genes opened the doorway to developing longevity drugs which mimicked their effects, he said.
Prof Barzilai and his team have already identified a number of such genes among the centenarians.
Laboratories are now working on creating a drug which mimics the effects of three of them – two that increase the production of so-called ‘good’ cholesterol in the body, which reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, and a third that helps prevent diabetes.
Testing could begin by 2012, he said, with it appearing on the market “within five or 10 years”.
He predicted: “People will take a pill, starting at 40, and their lives will be longer.”
He also argued that ageing itself needed to be classed as a disease, in order to stimulate investment in drugs which delayed a range of age-related diseases.
At the moment drugs regulators like the Food and Drugs Administration in the US will only licence drugs which tackle particular illnesses, rather than ageing per se.
The FDA had to realise that ageing was “something that’s very important in the background” in triggering many diseases, and as such ageing “needs to be defined as a disease”.
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