Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Living long and healthy is the dream of every human being born on this planet. What contributes to longevity is not exactly known though many theories and empirical observations are made at different times by knowledgeable as well as not so knowledgeable people. Food, environment, living styles, exercises, meditation, freedom from tension and anxiety, singly or in combination are supposed to help one to live long and healthy. The parentage also seems to count in determining longevity. The old biblical saying that 'threescore and ten years' alludes to man's life expectancy at 70 years but the oldest human being documented lived for 122 years from 1875 to 1997. While in the affluent countries average life expectancy is in the range 77-83 years, same in the third world countries is placed at 35-60 years. Okinawa in Japan, Hunza Valley in Pakistan, Vilcabamba in South America and Caucasus mountain regions have some of the highest living old age population. Andorra has the highest life expectancy of 83.5 years while Swaziland is on the other end with life expectancy of just 31.99 years. It is expected that at the current level of knowledge and medical technology, some countries may achieve longevity of about 95 years by 2050.

Azerbaijan has the highest density of centenarians in the world with 48.3 people crossing 100 years of life span per lakh of the population and there are about 15000 centenarians in that small country!. If one looks at their food consumption habits for a clue to their longevity, modern nutrition science will have to do a lot of explaining. They consume high levels of animal fat, the very antithesis of healthy living! But they also claim that lot of vegetables and yogurt are consumed by the local population which is supposed to help to deal with the deleterious effects of animal fats. Old age population generally are deficient in Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine, Iron and Zinc which are not available in adequate amounts from the diets they consume, requiring supplementation. Some time Selenium is mentioned as a critical trace mineral involved in longer life span due to its role as an antioxidant and in many enzyme reactions. Chromium, Manganese, Molybdenum, Vanadium and Copper are also implicated in longevity. Calorie restriction and low food intake have been propagated for extending the human life significantly. Unfortunately no consensus or unanimity exists regarding the most desirable diet that can contribute to achieve longevity.

If historically the population in Azerbaijan have been living long, it may be logical to infer that genetics might be playing a part in this phenomenon as their number is either maintained or must have increased over the past many years. This is more or less confirmed by scientific findings emanating in the western world in recent times. Most striking observation was that the offsprings of centenarians live longer than others because they have lower risk of heart diseases, stroke and diabetes, the three major killer diseases of modern era. It was further confirmed that the children from these old age people were less likely to die early, compared to those from parents dying relatively younger. The significant findings that the offsprings of centenarians have 78% lower risk for heart attack, 83% lesser chances of stroke and 86% reduced risk of developing diabetes mellitus tell its own story. In animals it was proved that the length of telemers at either ends of DNA can be increased using telomerase enzyme resulting in 20% longer life span.

While genes that contribute to longevity may have a strong influence in passing on undamaged DNA to the next generation, food must be playing a critical role in influencing the optimum performance of these genes besides other factors. Probably Azerbaijan people can provide the clue regarding the type of foods that can help to protect the longevity genes from mutation and mutilation responsible for shortening of life span.


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