I love Nova. They had a special on “centigenarians,” which are people who live easily to 90-100 years old. Specifically, they were looking at a group of genetically similar (same ethnic background) individuals who are all in the 90+ range but are still active, mobile, and in most cases look like they’re in their 70’s or younger (one looked like he was in his early 50s!).

But these old folks didn’t reach that age by being health nuts. Oh no, one claims to have eaten “french fries every day,” while another smoked for 46 years (he was the 101-year-old guy). So the show turned to scientists at Harvard and some other places to explain how this might be possible.

One group of scientists are studying a gene (Sir-something) that when activated or present (in multiples), will turn a low-calorie diet into a longer lifespan in yeast, flies, worms, mice, and other lab fodder. Another group of scientist found a gene that, when damaged, would also turn a low-cal diet into more years (well, days in the fly’s timeframe). Why low cal? Well, they say that decreasing calories turns on the body’s “survival mode” and these genes, which affect things like insulin production and high good cholesterol, are part of that.

This all caused one of the scientists (I think he was in the first group) to try a low-cal diet. Apparently to be affective, it has to be a diet 30% less than one is “needed” (the camera visual on this took a healthy layout of a day’s food for a 2,000-calorie/day individual and turned it into two small sandwiches and a salad). The scientist says he lasted a week before deciding that this was not a way to live.

So now he’s looking for a pharmaceutical way to get the body to respond with longevity without actually having to starve it. He says that the very optimistic view would have such a drug in production in 5-10 years! OK, so even if it takes them another 30 years to perfect this, we might be in a position to benefit from it still!

Apparently he’s looking into the same stuff that is supposed to make red wine so healthy for you. Unfortunately, the segment ended with a note that for people to get the same longevity results from red wine as the lab rats did, they would have to consume 1,000 glasses of red wine a day! Now, I like red wine, but that’s a bit extreme. I’m also not willing to starve myself, so I hope they come up with a pill form soon. It would be sweet to look like I’m 50 when I’m 101!

To quote the end of the show: “Please drink responsibly”.