Living Beyond 110

The health secrets of supercentenarians

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

You may not have as much control over how long you live as you think. Sure, you can eat right, exercise and not smoke to avoid today's chronic killers. But lifestyle isn't the key to living to 100 and beyond.

The life expectancy in the United States today is 78 years. And we've come a long way in achieving those numbers considering that just over a century ago, we lived an average of 49.

Today, though, a 78-year-old would be considered a youngster to supercentenarians - folks who live beyond 110.

Super long lives

L. Stephen Coles, M.D., Ph.D., an aging expert who's been studying supercentenarians for 15 years now, said in a recent Reason TV interview that the people who live longer than a century have virtually nothing in common - they didn't have the same religion or occupation or any particularly healthy lifestyle.

"They tend not to take vitamins, they do tend to indulge in bad habits," Dr. Coles said. They smoke, in fact some of them smoke heavily."

He recalls the interview he had with a lady who lit up a cigarette as they were talking. Dr. Coles told her that as a doctor, "I can not abide this behavior. She said to me, 'Oh yeah? What are you gonna do about it?'" She was 111.

You either got 'em or you don't

So what do the longest living human beings on the planet have that others don't? Good genes.

A professor at the University of California Los Angeles Molecular Biology Institute, Dr. Coles said the one thing supercentenarians did have in common was long-lived relatives.

He urges you to look at your family tree to see how long your closest relatives lived. This would be your parents, siblings, aunts and uncles and grandparents.

"If you had no extra advantage in longevity for any of those first-degree relatives,then you're OTL - out of luck," Dr. Coles said, "because there's nothing you can do by taking extra vitamins."

Do not despair. Of course there are things you can do.

The wisdom of an old - a really old - man

Before his death at 114 in June of this year, Walter Breuning told the Associated Press the secrets to his supercentenariarism:

  • Accept change, even when you don't like it
  • Eat no more than two meals a day. He ate breakfast and lunch that included a lot of fruit. He also drank water throughout the day
  • Keep working - as long as you can, even if it's in a volunteer capacity
  • Help others
  • Accept death and don't fear it

Dr. Coles adds to this list -

  • Walk - exercise is good for the circulation
  • Take a multivitamin, fish oil and a D3 vitamin (800-1,000 IU)

The singularity

By doing these things, Dr. Coles says, you up your chances of being here when the singularity occurs. This is a term coined by inventor and futurist, Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularlity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.

According to the book's website, singularity "will be an era in which the very nature of what it means to be human will be both enriched and challenged, as our species breaks the shackles of its genetic legacy and achieves inconceivable heights of intelligence, material progress, and longevity."

Shew! Now there's a thought. Dr. Coles explains it another way, "A singularity is when things are accelerating so rapidly - it's not just exponentially rising - it's almost going up vertically."

Kurzweil predicts the singularity era will take off in the year 2038.

Supercentenarian statistics

According to the Gerontology Research Group, as of July 8, 2011 there were 88 supercentenarians living.

A lady from France holds the longevity crown. Jeanne Calment was born February 21, 1875 and died August 4, 1997. She lived on earth 122 years and 164 days.

During Dr. Coles' presentation at Global Forum for Longevity, he noted these other interesting facts:

  • Of the 88 supercentenarians, 82 are females and 6 males
  • 110 Years 90% are women
  • 112 Years 92% are women
  • 115 Years 95% are women

So what finally gets the oldest people?

Dr. Coles is the founder and director of the Geronotology Research Group. The goals of this organization are to learn why and how the earth's oldest people live longer than ordinary folks, and why these long livers don't live even longer.

In conducting his research, Dr. Coles has performed eight autopsies. He found that six of these individuals died of amyloidosis and a particular type known as TTR amyloidosis. This, he says, is the ultimate grim reaper - "if something else doesn't get you, this will."

Amyloidosis occurs when abnormal proteins called amyloids build up in the organs. There's no cure for this disease, and Dr. Coles wonders if a targeted therapy for this protein could be developed to clean out the blood vessels.

Is immortality possible?

Dr. Coles says to answer that question you need to look at the different aspects of mortality, and take care to avoid accidental death and chronic disease.

And until the singularity, this aging expert suggests people find new perspectives on retirement. "They shouldn't be retiring at 65. If they're still healthy, they should be contributing to the workforce and to our society by working and not just imagining they now have the right to travel around the world at someone else's expense."

Review Date: 
July 15, 2011