The secrets of longevity – Part 2

July 12, 2008

If you found last week’s item on the longevity of the Okinawans of Japan, then hopefully this week’s contribution will give you even more ideas on how to prolong your life as healthily and actively as possible. To do that we are heading off to Ovodda in Sardinia. In stark contrast to the Okinawans, the residents of Ovodda don’t count calories and meat is very firmly on the menu, while tofu and soya are not. That may seem like a more typical western diet, but this small town of just over 1,700 residents boasts five centenarians and even more remarkably, as many men live to 100 as women and that certainly bucks the statistical norm. The benefits of a Mediterranean diet are well known, and certainly the consumption of olive oil, more fruit, vegetables and fish is well-accepted as being a health basis for longevity, but this still does not account for the number in Ovodda and other parts of Sardinia. It apparently still applies when residents have actually emigrated between the ages of 20-40 as they still regularly get to be 100 years of age, according to the researchers. Chiefly responsible for this information is Professor Luca Deiana who has tested every single Sardinian centenarian and has come up with a surprising theory about why there are so many.

For hundreds of years families in Ovodda have lived in relative isolation from the rest of the living in the town today are descended from only a few original settlers. “Marriage among relatives is not the rule but there are some cases of this taking place,” says Professor Deiana. “From a genetic point of view, when this happens, there’s a higher probability of having genetic diseases, but also of having positive results like centenarians”. In Ovodda, this interbreeding actually seems to have enabled people to live longer. The limited gene pool has provided a unique opportunity to discover specific genes that are associated with long life. Professor Deiana has detected a number of unusual genetic characteristics that seem to link the centenarians of Ovodda. “One particular gene on the X chromosome seems to be faulty, failing to produce an enzyme known as G6PD. This can often have a negative impact on health, but in Ovodda it may well have had a positive effect. The role G6PD may play in living longer is now being researched further, but the professor is convinced the genetic elixir of life lies with the families of Ovodda. I am not suggesting you start thinking of marrying your cousin, but marrying into the Ovodda gene pool might not be a bad idea.


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