Current research indicates that genes account for approximately 30 percent of longevity in humans which means that healthy habits play a large role in determining lifespan but good genes do help and the question now is how, according to “Longevity Genes: Hunting for the Secrets of the Super Centenarians,” a new popularized publication from The International Longevity Center- USA (ILC-USA) and the AARP Foundation.
“Until recently, why certain individuals live longer than others has been a mystery to scientists,” Robert N. Butler, M.D., president and CEO of the ILC-USA, said. “As we begin to learn more about genetics, we see that there perhaps are certain genes that enable people to cope better with stress, react better to hormones and possibly regulate the rate of aging.”
According to the latest census there are more than 50,000 centenarians living in the United States. In addition, the average American’s life expectancy has risen to 77.2 years, an increase of more than 30 years during the course of the last century. Such marked improvements in longevity have led researchers to ask why such a boost in longevity has occurred. Their search has, in part, looked toward “longevity genes” for the answer.
Although experts are quick to point out that medical advances combined with a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle are still overwhelmingly responsible for improved longevity, they have attributed approximately 30 percent of a person’s longevity to good genes.
“It’s important to recognize that although we cannot do anything about our genetic inheritance, we can adopt healthy lifestyles that will contribute to our longevity,” Dr. Butler said. “Our identification and categorization of the human genome is a first step toward understanding genetics’ contribution to longevity. Right now, positive health choices that include regular exercise, controlled diet, cessation of smoking and drinking limited amounts of alcohol are the best ways to increase one’s longevity. In addition, anti-hypertension and cholesterol-lowering drugs as well as immunizations and antibiotics, when properly used, have saved and extended lives.”
In an effort to identify the common genes present in long-lived individuals, scientists have begun to compare the genetic makeup of centenarians in a process called “association analysis.” Each cell in the human body has 23 pairs of chromosomes that hold approximately 30,000 genes. Both the number and the arrangement of these genes are responsible for an individual’s unique physical characteristics including one’s longevity. With continued research, scientists hope someday to be able to identify genetic “lottery winners.”
These are very exciting times for all of us,” Dr. Butler said. “The more we understand about genetics, the better we will understand longevity.”