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Hawaii researchers discover shorter men live longer

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Left to right: Dr. Chimei He, Dayton Morinaga, Dr. Bradley Wilcox, & Dr. Tim Donlon Left to right: Dr. Chimei He, Dayton Morinaga, Dr. Bradley Wilcox, & Dr. Tim Donlon
Left to right: Mildred Lum (101 yrs. old), Margaret Wong (99 yrs. old) Left to right: Mildred Lum (101 yrs. old), Margaret Wong (99 yrs. old)
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Size really does matter when it comes to living longer. In the largest, most detailed and longest study on aging, a team of Hawaii researchers discovered shorter men live longer.

"We split people into two groups," Dr. Bradley Wilcox said.  "5'2" and shorter and 5'4" and taller. The folks that were 5'2" and shorter lived the longest. They also had lower fasting insulin levels and got less cancer."

While their study focused on men of Japanese ancestry, Dr. Wilcox says there is no reason not to believe that this also applies to people of other ethnicities and even women, since it applies in other species.

"If you're bigger you have more cells, so you have to grow more and you use up a lot of those cells," Dr. Tim Donlon said. "If you're shorter, you have a reserve of cells you can use later in life, and that might have some impact on why shorter people or smaller people have a longer life span."

Shorter men were also more likely to carry a "protective" or "enhanced" form of the longevity gene.

"This study by researchers with the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine, Kuakini Medical Center and U.S. Veterans Affairs shows for the first time that body size is linked to this gene," Dr. Wilcox said. "This gene, because it Is so important to so many parts of the body: the brain, the heart, the lungs, the muscles and the liver, is really unlocking its secrets. It is really key to understanding healthy aging."

So how does FOXO3 work? FOXO3 is like a stress resistance gene. It sees problems and fixes them. For example, if there are too many cancer cells around, it will eradicate them. Everyone has it, but only 40 percent of people have the protective version.

"If you have one of the protective genes from your mom or dad, it doubles your odds of living to be 100. If you have two of the protective versions, it triples your odds of living to be 100," said Dr. Wilcox.

Their findings, just published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed medical journal, are from a nearly 50-year-long study called the Honolulu Heart Program. It started in 1965 with 8,006 men of Japanese ancestry who underwent a variety of tests at Kuakini Medical Center.

The shorter men outlived their taller counterparts, some by months, others by years. Twelve thousand men lived into their 90s and 100s. Two hundred fifty are living today, with the oldest at 106.

"The reason why Honolulu is so perfect for this study is because we have one of the longest running and largest study of aging men in the world. So, there's really no study that is as rich in terms of looking at this longitudinal process," Dr. Wilcox said.

When it comes to living the longest, Hawaii residents live longer than in any other state. The average age Hawaii residents live to is 81.5 which is three years higher than the national average. Ito Kinase was the oldest person to ever to live in Hawaii at age 113, according to the Department of Health.

The FOXO3 gene has already been found to double the lifespan of worms. Next, Hawaii researchers plan to test it in mice. The ultimate goal is to one day be able to activate it in humans, so that it'll help us age more healthfully.

"That's the goal of many people, to be able to come up with a pill you could take that could negate your unhealthy lifestyle or maybe your bad genetics. Ultimately, that's the goal," Dr. Donlon said.

"We're about to have a tsunami of elderly," Dr. Wilcox said. "Who's going to help the elderly who are suffering the most from disease like dementia, heart disease, cancer or stroke?  If we don't work on discoveries like this and find ways to allow them to age more healthfully, it's going to be a pretty poor quality of life for them and for all of us when we get there."

Scientists know certain foods can stimulate the gene like Okinawan sweet potatoes, turmeric and green tea. Moderate amounts of beer and wine help too, and exercise is excellent.

Local centenarians have their own secrets to longevity. 

"I like dancing," said Mildred Lum who is 101 years old. "I especially like ballroom dancing."

Margaret Wong, who is 99 years old, says her secret is eating plenty of pigs feet, a traditional Chinese delicacy.

"I eat it regularly at least five or 6 times a week," Wong said.

Those lucky few who've made it to the century mark say their best advice is simply to live life to the fullest.

"I don't worry about how I live and how I'm going to live. It just comes. God gives me the grace," Mildred Lum said.

So how do you know if you are one of the lucky ones who have the protective gene? Unfortunately, there aren't any labs that will do that type of specific blood work for you. Also, just because you're short doesn't mean you're in the clear. Your safest bet if you want to live long, is to do your best to live a healthy life.

To read more about the results of the groundbreaking study by Hawaii researchers, click on this link to the PLOS ONE website:  http://www.plosone.org/

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