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The gene that gets you to 100 and still healthy reacts to diet

Spanish anti-aging researchers at the University of Valencia may have discovered a gene that is responsible for people living to be over 100 while staying healthy. The gene is called Bcl-xL, and there are now dozens of in-vitro and animal studies that suggest there are all sorts of foods that make the gene work harder.

The researchers measured the activity of the genes in blood cells from different Mediterranean populations of young people, over 70s [septuagenarians] and healthy people over 100 [centenarians]. Using bio-informatics they then determined which key genes could explain the differences.

The researchers discovered that the Bcl-xL gene was particularly important. This gene's activity was higher in the centenarians than the over 70s in all groups studied - in fact its activity was at the same level of that of the young people, or even higher.

The gene that gets you to 100 and still healthy reacts to diet

The researchers suspect that the Bcl-xL gene keeps the centenarians' cells vigorous and full of vitality. The increased activity explains, among other things, why the centenarians' natural killer cells [NK] [immune cells that clear up pathogens and cancer cells] work just as well as those of the young people.

The gene that gets you to 100 and still healthy reacts to diet

The increased activity level of Bcl-xL probably also explains why the researchers found less MDA [a marker for damage caused by free radicals] in the centenarians than in the septuagenarians.

The researchers tested their theory on nematodes. A nematode strain with increased activity in its Bcl-xL gene [ced-9] lived significantly longer than nematodes with a normal Bcl-xL gene [Wild Type].

The gene that gets you to 100 and still healthy reacts to diet

The gene that gets you to 100 and still healthy reacts to diet

"In sum, our findings provide an exciting glimpse as to how the very oldest persons in society achieve not only long lives but also healthy long lives," the researchers concluded. "Our data on the centenarian mRNA expression imply that these oldest individuals seem to retain the ability to regulate genes that have been demonstrated involved in cellular survival, and identify Bcl-xL as a player in the protection against age-associated damage."

The researchers assume that the Bcl-xL gene is not the only genetic longevity factor of importance. "It remains very unlikely that a single gene (or even a gene family) is a universal biomarker of longevity," they wrote. "It is our opinion that longevity is an extremely multifactorial issue. Many genes may contribute to successful aging and longevity by providing cell survival and/or cell adaptation signals."

Wild speculation
Less hindered by knowledge than the Spanish we don't feel inhibited in speculating about nutritionally related strategies via the Bcl-xL gene that might increase life expectancy. We suggest that a diet containing relatively high amounts of isothiocyanates [found in brassicas, wasabi, papaya and capers] may activate suicide programmes in cancer cells via the Bcl-xL gene. [Int J Oncol. 2008 Oct;33(4):657-63.]

Perhaps a diet with relatively high amounts of soya might have the same effect, and it seems that soya protects brain cells against the effects of a stroke via Bcl-xL. [Neuroscience. 2007 Sep 7;148(3):644-52] [Brain Res. 2007 Jul 23;1159:54-66.] According to a 2012 Chinese animal study, the isoflavones in soya may also protect against Alzheimer's via Bcl-xL. [Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2012 Oct;111(4):248-53.]

Other interesting candidates are proanthocyanidins [found in grapes, berries and herbs], [Arch Biochem Biophys. 1999 Sep 1;369(1):42-58] [Gene. 2015 Jan 25;555(2):119-26.] quercetin [a flavonoid in tea, apples and onions], [Anat Rec (Hoboken). 2013 Oct;296(10):1650-7.] and vitamin D. [Int Immunopharmacol. 2007 Aug;7(8):1122-8. Epub 2007 Apr 25.]

Aging (Albany NY). 2016 Oct 28;8(12):3185-208.

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