Gene Associated with Active Personality Traits Also Linked to Longevity

A variant of a gene associated with active personality traits in humans seems to also be involved with living a longer life, UC Irvine and other researchers have found.

This derivative of a dopamine-receptor gene — called the DRD4 7R allele — appears in significantly higher rates in people more than 90 years old and is linked to lifespan increases in mouse studies.

Robert Moyzis, professor of biological chemistry at UC Irvine, and Dr. Nora Volkow, a psychiatrist who conducts research at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and also directs the National Institute on Drug Abuse, led a research effort that included data from the UC Irvine-led 90+ Study in Laguna Woods, Calif. Results appear online in The Journal of Neuroscience.

The variant gene is part of the dopamine system, which facilitates the transmission of signals among neurons and plays a major role in the brain network responsible for attention and reward-driven learning. The DRD4 7R allele blunts dopamine signaling, which enhances individuals’ reactivity to their environment.

People who carry this variant gene, Moyzis said, seem to be more motivated to pursue social, intellectual and physical activities. The variant is also linked to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and addictive and risky behaviors.

“While the genetic variant may not directly influence longevity,” Moyzis said, “it is associated with personality traits that have been shown to be important for living a longer, healthier life. It’s been well documented that the more you’re involved with social and physical activities, the more likely you’ll live longer. It could be as simple as that.”

Numerous studies — including a number from the 90+ Study — have confirmed that being active is important for successful aging, and it may deter the advancement of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

Prior molecular evolutionary research led by Moyzis and Chuansheng Chen, UC Irvine professor of psychology & social behavior, indicated that this “longevity allele” was selected for during the nomadic out-of-Africa human exodus more than 30,000 years ago.

In the new study, the UC Irvine team analyzed genetic samples from 310 participants in the 90+ Study. This “oldest-old” population had a 66 percent increase in individuals carrying the variant relative to a control group of 2,902 people between the ages of 7 and 45. The presence of the variant also was strongly correlated with higher levels of physical activity.

Next, Volkow, neuroscientist Panayotis Thanos and their colleagues at the Brookhaven National Laboratory found that mice without the variant had a 7 percent to 9.7 percent decrease in lifespan compared with those possessing the gene, even when raised in an enriched environment.

While it’s evident that the variant can contribute to longevity, Moyzis said further studies must take place to identify any immediate clinical benefits from the research. “However, it is clear that individuals with this gene variant are already more likely to be responding to the well-known medical adage to get more physical activity,” he added.

A Better Treatment for Neck, Back and Joint Pain

Chronic musculoskeletal pain is the number one cause of chronic disability in North America and chronic back pain is the leading cause of disability in Americans under the age of 45. This rampaging epidemic of pain can conceivably be eliminated in 80-90% of sufferers with prolotherapy. This treatment which relies on the body’s own healing process is performed by specially trained medical doctors. It has been shown to be effective for pain associated with: the back, the neck, all joints throughout the body, arthritis, migraines, fibromyalgia, sciatica, herniated discs, tension headaches, sports injuries, fibromyalgia, loose joints, TMJ Syndrome, tendinitis, sciatica and degenerated joints. Many people have been able to avoid spinal surgery or joint replacement with this much safer and often more effective treatment.

Prolotherapy relies on the body’s own healing process to eliminate pain. Most neck, back and other musculoskeletal pain is due to weakness of ligaments and tendons. Since ligaments and tendons are the connective tissue that hold our muscles to bone, and bone to bone, both must be taut and strong.

Back pain results when weak ligaments and tendons cause the spine to become “unstable.” Vertebrae begin to slip, move and rotate from their proper position, causing pressure on the nerves. Limited results in pain alleviation may be achieved with cortisone and other anti-inflammatory agents but these do not address the cause of the pain. Temporary pain suppression is not a cure for the underlying problem: ligament and tendon weakness. Advocates of the technique say Prolotherapy is the long-term solution to chronic pain because it strengthens the ligaments and tendons so they can move the vertebrae back into their proper places.

Prolotherapy involves the injection of an “irritant” solution such as dextrose, salt solution or cod liver oil into the area where the ligaments have either been weakened or damaged through injury, degeneration or aging. The injection is given at the point where the ligament connects to the bone. With this injection, the Prolotherapy doctor causes the body to heal itself through the process of inflammation.

When an irritant is introduced, at the site of injury, the immune system is summoned to the area. The body begins a healing process exactly where the painful area is located. New fibrous tissue is laid, repairing and strengthening the ligaments so that they can pull the vertebrae back where they belong and alleviate pain.

Prolotherapy treatment sessions are generally given every four to six weeks to allow time for the growth of the new connective tissue. Patients usually require four to six treatment sessions for complete recovery, some experience more immediate results.

Standard medical and surgical procedures cannot match Prolotherapys 80-90% effectiveness in eliminating chronic pain, nor can standard medicine match the relative low cost of treatment. Prolotherapy treatments can range from $100-$500, where a typical surgical procedure may cost over 100 times that amount!

There are currently about 300 physicians who practice Prolotherapy in the United States. With the recent rise in popularity, however, this number is expected to multiply greatly within the next few years. A list of doctors in each state can be found at

Do Visible Signs of Aging Predict Heart Disease?

If you look old, your heart may feel old, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2012.

In a new study, those who had three to four aging signs — receding hairline at the temples, baldness at the head’s crown, earlobe crease, or yellow fatty deposits around the eyelid (xanthelasmata) — had a 57 percent increased risk for heart attack and a 39 percent increased risk for heart disease .

“The visible signs of aging reflect physiologic or biological age, not chronological age, and are independent of chronological age,” said Anne Tybjaerg-Hansen, M.D., the study’s senior author and professor of clinical biochemistry at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

Researchers analyzed 10,885 participants 40 years and older (45 percent women) in the Copenhagen Heart Study. Of these, 7,537 had frontoparietal baldness (receding hairline at the temples), 3,938 had crown top baldness, 3,405 had earlobe crease, and 678 had fatty deposits around the eye.

In 35 years of follow-up, 3,401 participants developed heart disease and 1,708 had a heart attack.

Individually and combined, these signs predicted heart attack and heart disease independent of traditional risk factors. Fatty deposits around the eye were the strongest individual predictor of both heart attack and heart disease.

Heart attack and heart disease risk increased with each additional sign of aging in all age groups and among men and women. The highest risk was for those in their 70s and those with multiple signs of aging.

In the study, nurses and laboratory technicians noted the quantity of gray hair, prominence of wrinkles, the type and extent of baldness, the presence of earlobe crease and eyelid deposits.

“Checking these visible aging signs should be a routine part of every doctor’s physical examination,” Tybjaerg-Hansen said.

Co-authors are Mette Christoffersen, Ph.D. candidate; Ruth Frikke-Schmidt, M.D.; Peter Schnohr, M.D.; Gorm Jensen, M.D.; and Borge Nordestgaard, M.D.

Life Expectancy in the Wild Birds Predicted by Telomere Lengths

seychelles-warblerResearchers at the University of East Anglia have found that biological age and life expectancy can be predicted by measuring an individual’s DNA.

They studied the length of chromosome caps — known as telomeres — in a 320-strong wild population of Seychelles Warblers on a small isolated island.

Published Nov. 20 in Molecular Ecology, their research shows that individuals differ radically in how quickly their telomeres shorten with age, and that having shorter telomeres at any age is associated with an increased risk of death. Telomere length is a better indicator of future life-expectancy than actual age and may, therefore, be an indicator of biological age.

The 20-year research project is the first of its kind to measure telomeres across the entire lifespan of individuals in a wild population.

Telomeres are found at the end of chromosomes. They act as protective caps to stop genes close to the end of the chromosome degenerating — like the hard plastic ends of a boot lace.

Lead researcher Dr David S Richardson said: “Over time these telomeres get broken down and become shorter. When they reach a critical short length they cause the cells they are in to stop functioning. This mechanism has evolved to prevent cells replicating out of control — becoming cancerous. However the flip side is that as these zombie cells build up in our organs it leads to their degeneration — aging — and consequently to health issues and eventually death.

“Telomeres help safeguard us from cancer but result in our aging.”

Researchers studied the warbler population on Cousin Island. Blood samples were collected twice a year and telomere length analysed.

“We wanted to understand what happens over an entire lifetime, so the Seychelles Warbler is an ideal research subject. They are naturally confined to an isolated tropical island, without any predators, so we can follow individuals throughout their lives, right through to old age.

“We investigated whether, at any given age, their telomere lengths could predict imminent death. We found that short and rapidly shortening telomeres were a good indication that the bird would die within a year.

“We also found that individuals with longer telomeres had longer life spans overall.

“It used to be thought that telomere shortening occurred at a constant rate in individuals, and that telomere length could act as an internal clock to measure the chronological age of organisms in the wild.

“However while telomeres do shorten with chronological age, the rate at which this happens differs between individuals of the same age. This is because individuals experience different amounts of biological stress due to the challenges and exertions they face in life. Telomere length can be used as a measure of the amount of damage an individual has accumulated over its life.

“We saw that telomere length is a better indicator of life expectancy than chronological age — so by measuring telomere length we have a way of estimating the biological age of an individual — how much of its life it has used up.”

The research is important because while these ideas have been researched in the lab, they have never been tested in a wild environment.

“It would be virtually impossible to do such a study in humans,” said Dr Richardson. “For one thing it would take a very long time to study a human lifespan. Also in humans we would normally, quite rightly, intervene in cases of disease, so it wouldn’t be a natural study.

“We found that telomeres are linked to body condition and reflect the history of oxidative stress that has occurred within an individual’s lifetime. The healthier you are, or have been, the better telomeres you have. But it’s hard to know whether this is a consequence of being healthy, or a cause.

“Oxidants attack telomeres. So things like smoking, eating foods that are bad for you, and putting your body through extreme physical or mental stress all have a shortening affect on telomeres.

“All these stresses do damage to our bodies. You hear people saying ‘oh they look like they’ve had a hard life’. This is why. A shortened telomere shows an accumulation of damage life has done to you.”

‘Telomere length and dynamics predict mortality in a wild longitudinal study’ is authored by Dr David S Richardson and Emma Barrett from the University of East Anglia (UK), Terry Burke from the University of Sheffield (UK), and Jan Komdeur and Martijn Hammers from the University of Gronigen (Netherlands).

The study was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and carried out in collaboration with conservation group Nature Seychelles.

Eating Egg Yolks Almost as Bad as Smoking?

Egg YolkNewly published research led by Western’s Dr. David Spence shows that eating egg yolks accelerates atherosclerosis in a manner similar to smoking cigarettes.

Surveying more than 1200 patients, Spence found regular consumption of egg yolks is about two-thirds as bad as smoking when it comes to increased build-up of carotid plaque, a risk factor for stroke and heart attack. The research is published online in the journal Atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis, also called coronary artery disease, is a disorder of the arteries where plaques, aggravated by cholesterol, form on the inner arterial wall. Plaque rupture is the usual cause of most heart attacks and many strokes.

We suspect that eggs yolks cause increased atherosclerosis because of the way the hens are fed not because there is anything inherently bad about eating the. It is likely a problem similar to the increase in atherosclerosis when people eat beef. The animals are fed large amounts of soy meal and grains which contain much more omega-6 fatty acids than the animals normally eat and close to zero omega-3 fatty acids. As a result the meat and egg yolks are high in arachidonic acid. When consumed by humans that is converted into series 2 prostaglandins which produces inflammation and as a result atherosclerosis and other degenerative diseases.

The study looked at data from 1,231 men and women, with a mean age of 61.5, who were patients attending vascular prevention clinics at London Health Sciences Centre’s University Hospital. Ultrasound was used to establish a measurement of total plaque area and questionnaires were filled out regarding their lifestyle and medications including pack-years of smoking (number of packs per day of cigarettes times the number of years), and the number of egg yolks consumed per week times the number of years consumed (egg yolk-years).

The researchers found carotid plaque area increased linearly with age after age 40, but increased exponentially with pack-years of smoking and egg yolk-years. In other words, compared to age, both tobacco smoking and egg yolk consumption accelerate atherosclerosis. The study also found those eating three or more yolks a week had significantly more plaque area than those who ate two or fewer yolks per week.

“The mantra ‘eggs can be part of a healthy diet for healthy people’ has confused the issue. It has been known for a long time that a high cholesterol intake increases the risk of cardiovascular events, and egg yolks have a very high cholesterol content. In diabetics, an egg a day increases coronary risk by two to five-fold,” said Spence, a professor of Neurology at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and the director of its Stroke Prevention and Atherosclerosis Research Centre at the Robarts Research Institute.

“What we have shown is that with aging, plaque builds up gradually in the arteries of Canadians, and egg yolks make it build up faster — about two-thirds as much as smoking. In the long haul, egg yolks are not okay for most Canadians.”

Spence added the effect of egg yolk consumption over time on increasing the amount of plaque in the arteries was independent of sex, cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking, body mass index and diabetes. And while he says more research should be done to take in possible confounders such as exercise and waist circumference, he stresses that regular consumption of egg yolk should be avoided by persons at risk of cardiovascular disease.

If Want to Live to be 100 Get Enough Sleep

Woman SleepingYour chances of reaching age 100 could be better than you think ? especially if you get some additional sleep and improve your diet.

New research from United Health Care looks at centenarians and baby boomers, asking the former about the secrets of reaching an advanced age while maintaining good health and then evaluating whether the latter are taking the necessary steps to celebrate a 100th birthday.

The primary findings: Many boomers are embracing lifestyles that could lead to a long and rewarding life ? with two exceptions. More than seven in 10 centenarians ? 71% ? say they get eight hours or more of sleep each night. By contrast, only 38% of boomers say they get the same amount of rest. And when it comes to eating right, more than eight in 10 centenarians say they regularly consume a balanced meal, compared with just over two-thirds (68%) of baby boomers.

The report begins with some startling numbers. As of late 2010, the U.S. had an estimated 72,000 centenarians, according to the Census Bureau. By the year 2050, that number ? with the aging of the baby-boom generation ? is expected to reach more than 600,000. Meanwhile, an estimated 10,000 boomers each and every day ? for the next decade ? will turn 65.

How to reach 100? Centenarians point to social connections, exercise and spiritual activity as some of the keys to successful aging. Among surveyed centenarians, almost nine in 10 ? fully 89% ? say they communicate with a family member or friend every day; about two thirds (67%) pray, meditate or engage in some form of spiritual activity; and just over half (51%) say they exercise almost daily.

In each of these areas, baby boomers, as it turns out, match up fairly well. The same percentage of boomers as centenarians ? 89% ? say they?re in touch with friends or family members on a regular basis. Sixty percent of surveyed baby-boomers say spiritual activity is an important part of their lives, and almost six in 10 boomers (59%) exercise regularly.

Again, sleep and diet are the two areas where baby boomers come up short. Not surprisingly, the one area where boomers are more active is the workplace. Three-quarters (76%) of surveyed baby boomers say they work at a job or hobby almost every day; that compares with 16% of centenarians.

Finally, researchers turned to cultural affairs and asked centenarians and boomers to identify ? from a list of 14 notable people (including President Obama, singer Paul McCartney and actors Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts) ? their preferred dinner guest. The top choice among centenarians and boomers alike: the comedian Betty White.

Life Extension: Protecting prion protein keeps stem cells young

COULD we stem the tide of aging by delaying the deterioration of stem cells? A new compound that appears to do just that could help us find ways to protect our organs from age-related wear and tear, experiments in mice suggest.

As we age, so do our mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs): their numbers in our bone marrow decline, and those that are left lose the ability to differentiate into the distinct cell types – such as bone, cartilage, fat and possibly muscle cells – that help in the healing process.

“We think this ageing of stem cells may be linked to the onset of some age-related disorders, such as osteoporosis,” says Ilaria Bellantuono at the University of Sheffield in the UK.

Earlier research in mice had suggested that the prion protein expressed by MSCs might play a role in holding back stem cell ageing. Mice lacking the prion protein were less able to regenerate blood cells. The study provided more evidence that correctly folded prions serve a useful purpose in the body, despite the role that misfolded prions play in BSE and vCJD.

Bellantuono and her colleagues have now found that the prion protein performs a similar function in humans – older MSCs from human bone marrow expressed less of the protein than younger ones.

In a bid to find a compound that might slow MSC ageing, the team tested numerous molecules known to target prion proteins on dishes of human stem cells. One molecule emerged as a potential candidate – stem cells treated with it produced 300 times the number of cells over 250 days than untreated stem cells. The treated cells kept on dividing for longer.

The team then injected treated cells into the thigh bones of mice, and three days later found that they had produced three times as many new cells as they would normally produce. After five weeks, there were 10 times as many cells.

The new cells appeared to be of higher quality, too, and readily differentiated into bone and fat cells, as well as those that support the tissue and blood vessels.
Bellantuono’s team think the molecule works by helping the prions protect the stem cells from the DNA damage associated with normal ageing. When they exposed both treated and untreated cells to hydrogen peroxide – a compound known to cause DNA damage – they found that the treated cells were protected from damage (Stem Cells, DOI: 10.1002/stem.1065).

“You can delay the loss of stem cells’ function by manipulating the prion protein,” says Bellantuono, who presented the findings at the Aging Online Symposium last month. “In the long term, you may go a long way to maintaining tissue health in [old] age.”

It may be some time before the compound can be used to fight ageing, but similar molecules might have a more immediate benefit in stem cell therapies.

“A big problem with using MSCs for therapy is that you need to inject millions of cells, but it’s difficult to get millions in a dish,” says James Adjaye of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, Germany. “This molecule lets the cells grow for longer – it’s very interesting in that respect.”

Does longevity have a biological limit?

“Medicine is about transcending biology.”
July 5, 2012 by Aubrey de Grey

Gerontologists and demographers have argued about this for a long time, with the balance of opinion heavily influenced by the changes seen in the wealthiest nations? ?survival curves? ? graphs showing, broadly speaking, the proportion of an initial population that survived to a given age.

Until a couple of centuries ago, these curves looked very much like radioactive decay curves, because one?s chance of dying at any given age was pretty much the same. As medicine emerged and we became protected from most infectious diseases, the curve became more rectangular, implying a biological limit that most people were getting fairly close to.

Then, since about 1960, the pseudo-rectangle has just got longer, without becoming more rectangular, suggesting no limit (or at least no close one). Very recently, however, the tip of the curve (repreenting those reaching the oldest ages, over 110) has become more rectangular again, swinging the pendulum back in favor of the existence of a limit.

From a biological perspective, this demographic analysis is all a bit curious: in a sense it is obvious that such a limit must exist. This is because so much of aging is independent of lifestyle, diet, stress level or anything else that might distinguish some people from others ? in particular, a great deal of the rate of aging is determined by the chemistry associated with oxygen consumption.

In a nutshell, breathing is bad for you ? but it?s rather non-negotiable.

Belief in a medical limit

So, why am I exercised about this? Simply because the belief in a biological limit to longevity is very often elided into a belief in a medical limit. And unfortunately, this inference is being taken seriously by influential observers and commentators, with all that that entails for public policy going forward.

I spend a painful amount of my time disentangling innumerable misconceptions about aging harbored by various groups, but this particular one ranks very high on my list of bugbears, on account of its rare combination of seductiveness and idiocy.

How do we keep 50-year-old VW Beetles on the road? How did Jenner or Pasteur save so many lives, despite knowing hardly the first thing about the immune system?

Technology is about transcending what nature has created. To say that the biological limits to longevity are any kind of evidence of what we can do with medicine is a mixing of apples with oranges of the most egregious nature. And the reason it matters, of course, is that those who have not the time or intellect to see through it have the power to dissipate society?s enthusiasm for attacking aging, by reinforcing the age-old belief that it is as immutable as the heat death of the universe.

The result is a delay in the defeat of aging with medicine, the unnecessary loss of life and the unnecessary perpetuation of the untold suffering caused by aging. This cannot be allowed.

We must clarify, loud and clear, that medicine is about transcending biology.

Dr. Aubrey de Grey is a biomedical gerontologist based in Cambridge, UK, and is the Chief Science Officer of SENS Foundation, a California-based 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to combating the aging process. He is also Editor-in-Chief of Rejuvenation Research, the world?s highest-impact peer-reviewed journal focused on intervention in aging.


Aubrey D.N.J. de Grey. Biological Versus Medical Limits on Aging: A Distinction We Must Not Elide. Rejuvenation Research. June 2012, 15(3): 255-256. doi:10.1089/rej.2012.1354

Young Stem Cell Injections Makes Rapidly Aging Mice Live 2 to 3 Times Longer

ScienceDaily (Jan. 3, 2012) – Mice bred to age quickly seemed to have found the fountain of youth after scientists injected them with stem cells from the muscle of young, healthy animals. Instead of becoming infirm and dying early like the untreated mice, those that got the stem cells/progenitor cells showed better health and lived 2 to 3 times longer than expected, according to the study published in the January 3, 2012 edition of Nature Communications. The study was conducted by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

More detailed information about the study results can be found on at

The Tithonus Error

The Tithonus Error is the belief that extending life means making people older for longer. Most people have an entirely justified horror of the later stages of degenerative aging, and so the idea of more of that just isn’t on the table. The rejection of more life under those terms is instinctive and visceral.

The goal of longevity science, is to enable people to be younger for longer, not older for longer. The medical control of aging and the defeat of all disease is an opportunity to be seized rather than a certainty already in the bag for those people in middle age today. Let’s stop confusing people with a term “life extension” and replace it with “youth extension” or “health extension” (with the former being far more descriptive, inspiring and marketable). People will be less likely to commit Tithonus Error if they are presented with terms that actually correctly label their intended meaning. I don’t think there would be many people who would reject “youth extension”.

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