Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The golden oldie gene: One in five has age-defying 'centenarian gene' that greatly increases odds of living to 100

What! It's not a diet low in fat and salt that does it?? How pesky! Seriously, though, this is a small and limited study and is mostly of interest for opening up a line of inquiry

In the genetic lottery of life expectancy, you might think 100 is a pretty lucky number. Now it's just got luckier. Scientists have discovered that a gene already known to treble your odds of living to 100 may also ward off Alzheimer's disease. One in five of us is dealt this genetic hand that promises to extend our lives without the loss of mental agility.

The gene is the first to be identified that actually cuts the odds of Alzheimer's disease rather than raising them. Its discovery could pave the way for new drug treatments to combat the devastating illness. More than 700,000 Britons have Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia and the number of cases is expected to double within a generation. There is no cure and existing drugs, which raise levels of key brain chemicals, do not work for everyone and their effects wear off over time.

Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York tracked the health of more than 500 elderly men and women for four-and-a-half years. All were free of dementia at the start of the study but 40 had developed it by the end. Blood samples showed that the CETP gene, already known to treble-the odds of living to 100, also cut the odds of dementia by 70 per cent.

Genes come in pairs - and it was those with two copies of the 'centenarian' version who benefited, both from the added longevity and the Alzheimer's protection. They also suffered less age-related memory decline, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported.

Researcher Dr Amy Sanders said: 'We found that people with two copies of the longevity variant had slower memory decline and lower risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease. More specifically-those who carried two copies of the favourable variant had a 70 per cent reduction in their risk for developing Alzheimer's disease compared with those who didn't.' Around one in five of those studied had the required pair of ' centenarian' genes.

Researcher Dr Richard Lipton said: 'Most work on the genetics of Alzheimer's disease has focused on factors that increase the danger. 'We reversed this approach and instead focused on a genetic factor that protects against age-related illness, including both memory decline and Alzheimer's disease.' The CETP gene affects levels of artery-clogging cholesterol in the body. The 'centenarian' version raises levels of 'good' cholesterol, cutting the risk of heart disease and, it appears, dementia. A pill that acts in same way could help people live longer, healthier lives.

Separate research has suggested that drugs widely used to treat high blood pressure may also be of use in dementia. Those taking ACE inhibitor and angiotensin receptor blocker pills had half the risk of the disease, according to a report in the British Medical Journal.

The global population of centenarians is expected to rise from 340,000 today to almost 6 million by the middle of the century. The UK share will rise from just over 10,000 today to 280,000.


Good show: Only one in 100 British pupils' packed lunches conform to food faddist dreams

The drive to improve nutrition in schools is failing to reach the country’s children, with only one in 100 packed lunches meeting basic dietary standards, research suggests. High-profile school campaigns by the Government and Jamie Oliver to improve children’s packed lunches have made little impact, with crisps, sweets, and sugary drinks taking precedence over vegetables, fruit, and milk-based products.

Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggests that only 1 per cent of primary school children’s packed lunches meet the nutritional standards set for school meals in England. One in three children was given a sandwich with a low-protein filling, and only one in ten children had sandwiches containing vegetables [A sandwich containing vegetables! What a horrible thought!]. A further one in ten was given a separate portion of vegetables. The foodstuff least likely to be eaten when provided was fruit, while confectionery was most commonly consumed.

About half of British schoolchildren eat a packed lunch brought from home — equating to 5.5 billion packed lunches eaten every year.

New standards setting out the required healthy food groups for prepared meals came into force for all local authority schools in England in 2006, prompted by concerns that school lunches were not providing sufficiently healthy food choices. These specify that school lunches must contain protein rich and low-fat starchy foods, vegetables, fruit and dairy products. Meals cannot include sweets (confectionery), savoury snacks or artificially sweetened drinks. These were followed in 2008 by further government standards on the energy, fat, salt, vitamin and nutrient content for school meals.

All the children took a packed lunch to school on at least one day of the week, and almost nine out of ten ate a packed lunch every day. The type and quantity of foods for each child’s lunch box were recorded and weighed before and after lunch on one day and compared with the Government’s school meal standards. Permitted savoury or sweet foods, vegetables, and permitted drinks (natural juice, milk, pure water) were the least likely to be provided. Sandwiches, sweets, savoury snacks and artificially sweetened drinks were the most common items.

More than one in four children had a packed lunch containing sweets, savoury snacks, and sugary drinks; a further four out of ten had sweets and snacks, but no sugary drink. Fewer than one in ten had none of these foodstuffs in their lunchbox.

The research team, from the Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Leeds, collected information on the packed lunch content for just under 1,300 children between the ages of 8 and 9. It focused on 89 primary schools across Britain — 76 in England, four in Scotland, six in Wales and three in Northern Ireland.


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