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 www.getprolo.com

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.