Love him or hate him, there is one thing you have to admire of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile. As I watched him deliver his recent fiery resignation speech, I could not help but be in awe: This man is 89 years old, and still, well, kicking!
I certainly would like to be like Enrile. Or his other two colleagues in the Senate , Joker Arroyo 86 and Edgardo Angara, 78 – both of whom would have ran for another six year term if the constitution had allowed them.
Another octogenarian, Fidel Ramos is our most travelled senior citizen, still “selling” the Philippines abroad at 85 years old, while Estelito Mendoza is still the soaring legal eagle, at 83. The intense fight for mayor of capital city Manila was fought by people who normally you’d see in retirement homes, but remarkably – for good or for bad for the country — aren’t: Joseph Estrada, 76, and Alfredo Lim, 83. The country’s top billionaires are octogenarians Henry Sy, 88, and John Gokongwei, 86. The others are just two years before reaching 80: George Ty, Lucio Tan, Edgardo Cojuangco.
These very active octogenarians or nearly so should have been featured in National Geographic magazine’s fascinating May cover story “Chasing Longevity.” The cover shows a baby, with the blurb “This Baby will live to be 120. ” That had a “footnote”: “It’s not just hype. New Science would lead to very long lives.”
The article explains the scientific breakthroughs that could make Enrile, Arroyo, Ramos, and Mendoza’s feat of living active lives well into the 80s reachable for the rest of us mortals.
Indeed, these Filipinos are as amazing as the octogenarians and centenarians the magazine featured, among them: Irving Kahn, 106, who still works five hours a day in his investment and brokerage firm in New York; Rae Kline, 83, her photo in the article showing her in a difficult knees-to-ear yoga pose, whose daily exercise includes a mile swim, an hour of biking, and four-mile beach walk; and Lilly Port, 99, who still travels the world a lot, even to oxygen-thin sites as Macchu Pichchu. (The magazine though missed featuring Yuichiro Miura, who scaled Mt. Everest last month at the age of 80.)
Based on the accounts of the over-80 people it interviewed, there’s still some—or is it a “little”—chance for us to work on striving to be as long-lived as they are, at least if you’re up to it. A 103 year old Italian, Domenico Romeo, described his diet: “a little bit, but of everything.” A compatriot of his Salvatore Caruso, 107, however said his secret—this could be bit of bad news—was “no drinking, no smoking, no women.” The other centenarians also reported that “fruit and vegetables” made up their diet, to which the researcher studying them commented: “Because that’s all they had.”
A bit of good news in the article: “Decades of research have suggested that a severely restricted diet is connected to long life. Lately, however, this theory has fallen on hard scientific times. Several recent studies have undermined the link between longevity and caloric restriction.” “Restricting food intake produces wildly contradictory outcomes,” the article reported.
An intriguing report in the article was that people well into their 90s and beyond were
found to have a particular version, or allele, of a gene important to taste and digestion.
“This allele not only gives people a taste for bitter foods like broccoli and field greens, which are typically rich in compounds known as polyphenols that promote cellular health, but also allows cells in the intestine to extract nutrients more efficiently from food as it’s being digested,” according to the article.
A taste for bitter foods? Isn’t that a trait of Ilokanos, specifically their fondness for ampalaya (bitter melon)?
Too bad President Aquino vetoed a bill that would have given Filipinos centenarians benefits for their feat of reaching 100 years. We could have required them in the registration process for the benefits, to fill out a form (or through an interview) that would reveal to our scientists secrets of their longevity. But no, Aquino said the discount to be given them proposed in the bill was oppressive to business establishments. (There is indeed an Archon Genomics X Prize launched internationally in October 2011 that will award $10 million for the first research team to sequence the DNA of a hundred centenarians.)
Another good news, for me as a male, that is:
“Major European studies had previously reported that women are much likelier to live to
100, outnumbering male centenarians by a ratio of four or five to one, with the implication that some of the reasons are genetics. But by teasing out details from family trees . . . researchers discovered an intriguing paradox: The genetic component of longevity appears to be stronger in males—but women may take better advantage of external factors such as diet and medical care than men do.”
The bad news in the article though is that longevity in many cases is due to certain unique genes, or lack of. The breakthroughs in longevity research in fact were the result of studies undertaken by scientists on certain communities, which had relatively more octogenarians and centenarians. For some historical or geographic reasons, these small communities had been relatively isolated from the rest of humanity, so that certain genes that allowed them to live long were unchanged through the centuries.
Such communities the magazine described were the Laron people living in highlands of Ecuador, descendants of Sephardic Jews who had to flee as far as possible from the persecuting Catholic Spaniards, and Ashkernazi Jews, whom scientists would not have heard of because of their communities’ isolation in central Europe if not for their migration to Bronx. The blood of Larons were found t to have unusually low levels of a hormone that was only recently determined to accelerate cancer. The Ashkernazi centenarians on the other hand were found to have a particular gene that protected against cardiovascular disease.
Those findings have led scientists to shift their focus to finding out how humans can delay the outset of the usual fatal diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Those who die at 80, the scientists found out, often start to have such disease at age 63 or so, or 19 years before their death. In contrast, those who reach 100 years of age get these diseases only 9 to 10 years before.
But there’s some good news, with a scientist at the vanguard of longevity-research pointing out: “It’s not that there are good genes and bad genes. Its certain genes at certain times.
And in the end, genes probably account for only 25 percent of longevity. It’s the environment too, but that doesn’t explain all of it either. And don’t forget chance.”
That would make the Vulcan Mr. Spock’s greeting the best of all, as I always thought so: “Live long and prosper. ” I’d like to fantasize that that came from our “Mabuhay!”.