How long you live is usually up to you. Extensive research shows that most people who live to be 100 have never had any one else in their family also live to be 100.
Longevity researcher James W. Vaupel of the Max Planck Institute in Germany feels that longevity is only 3% genetic and 97% environmental. Compare that to factors that govern how tall you will be, which are more than 80% genetic.
For most people, living to 90 or 100 requires a healthful diet, daily exercise and avoidance of exposure to life-shortening infections and toxins. Centenarians virtually never have diabetes or arteriosclerosis, the most common causes of death in North America today.
One of the best ways to compare the effects of genetics and environment on lifespan is to study twins (Twin Research, December 1998). The Danish Twin Study showed that a woman whose twin sister lives to be 100 has a 4% chance of living that long (the general population has about a 1% chance).
The Swedish Twin Registry Study followed 3,656 identical and 6,849 same-sex fraternal twins. By analyzing the age of death of twins born between 1886 and 1900, the authors found that longevity is determined a maximum of one-third by genetics and more than two-thirds by environmental factors.
Certain genes have been found to shorten or extend life, but reports on these genetic variations show that they are rare and exceptional.
Paul Lichtenstein of the Karolinska Institute reported a gene called APO E4 that shortens life by carrying cholesterol into arteries to form plaques, increasing heart attacks and dementia.
There is also a long-life gene called CETP-VV that prevents heart attacks and dementia. People who have CETP-VV have high blood levels of the good HDL cholesterol and large particle size cholesterol that prevent heart attacks.
However, most of the diseases that shorten life are caused primarily by environmental factors.
The greatest killers in North America – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia – share the same primary risk factors:
• being overweight
• not exercising
• not eating enough fruits and vegetables
• eating processed meats and red meat
• drinking alcohol to excess
• storing fat primarily in your belly
• lack of vitamin D
The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of suffering debilitating disease and dying prematurely.
A practicing physician for more than 40 years and a radio talk show host for 25, Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is one of a very few doctors board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology.