The cover of the May issue of National Geographic shows a baby with the caption, “This Baby Will Live to be 120.” Inside the magazine is the article, titled “On Beyond 100.”
Before diving headfirst into the article, Life in the Boomer Lane suspected it would be about the continuing rampant production of old people in our society and she briefly considered buying stock in Depends, hemorrhoid cream, and whatever company makes those hats that really old men wear when they are driving.
The article starts by highlighting several greys (not the extraterrestrial kind), five of whom are over 100 years old. They are, of course, terminally perky and don’t spend their days kvetching about their knee replacement, IBS, bad back, and the increasing discrepancy between the shape of their clothing and the shape of their actual body.
Back to longevity. For eons, people who live long lives have been asked to what they attribute their longevity. This is like asking one of those odious leggy blond-haired beach volleyball sluts to what she attributes her athletic prowess. It makes good copy, but it doesn’t answer the question.
Science, until lately, didn’t help. In a misguided attempt to extricate LBL from her nachos, long life has long been attributed to a severely restricted diet of non-fun foods, and a limited caloric intake in general. This is most likely because some researcher, decades ago, looked around at the surroundings of the centenarians who were being interviewed and noticed that none of them lived anywhere near a Golden Corral or a place that sells a Baconator. Hence, the fallacy began.
Actual research is a bit different. It turns out that, like virtually everything else (like the percentage of bad hair days in a given year), longevity is strongly influenced by genetics.
Depending on who you are, you are more or less inclined to develop cancer, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes, and Laron dwarfism. This is because, as humans spread across the planet, and the concept of limiting the number of carry-ons had not yet been invented, they took their genetic mutations with them. When they then settled in small, self-contained communities, the mutations, over the generations, eventually spread to most of the population.
If you are concerned with cancer and heart disease, be a Japanese American. If you are concerned with fat in your blood, be Old Order Amish. If you are concerned with high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s, be an Ashkenazi Jew. If you are concerned with not getting enough chicken nachos, meet LBL for dinner next week.
Several interesting side discoveries have been made. One was that by shutting down the growth hormone pathway in mice, the mice lived 40% longer than normal mice. Scientists are now looking at the link between short stature and longevity.
Another is that “the amount of thinking people are able to do in the executive prefrontal part of the brain while they walk and talk predicts the risk of dementia, loss of mobility, and falls.” This does not mean that you should start practicing walking and talking in unison. It means that a gene known as CETP (cholesterol ester transfer protein) gene protects against cardiovascular disease, and those who have it perform better on cognitive tasks.
One fascinating hypothesis is that the womb is yet another factor in determining life expectancy. Researchers predict that “influences en utero can etch chemical modifications in DNA and thus introduce lifelong changes in the activity of genes.” The DNA of umbilical stem cells of small and large newborns in the Bronx differs markedly from that of normal-sized babies. But, in all cases, no matter their size, the newborns all speak with a Bronx accent.
The best news about all of this is that a study run by the National Institute on Aging concluded that monkeys kept on a restricted-calorie diet for 25 years showed no longevity advantage. Scientists intended to do further research on the primates, but unfortunately, the monkeys have eaten all the scientists.
What can we take away from all this, aside from a pepperoni pizza? Nothing much. If you are reading this, you are either a family member of LBL or you are already decades into whatever genetic crap shoot you have been dealt.
Based on all research she has read so far, LBL is now off to feed her genes.