The secret to living longer — and healthier — may lie within a small Amish community nestled in rural eastern Indiana. And you thought they were just famous for building barns at lightning speed!
Researchers from Northwestern University discovered that Amish men and women with a particular genetic mutation outlived their peers by a whopping 10 years. Not only did they live longer, but having the mutation also resulted in lower fasting insulin levels, which helps prevent Type 2 diabetes. Fascinating, right?
“Not only do they live longer, they live healthier. It’s a desirable form of longevity. It’s their ‘health span,’” said study lead author Dr. David Vaughan in a news release. So if you’re not Amish, what does this mean for you? The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, may lead to a drug that can help prevent age-related illnesses like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
According to the New York Times, an estimated 5 percent (about 96) of the Amish living in Berne, Indiana, carry one copy of the mutation that causes them to produce low levels of PAI-1, a protein involved in blood clotting. (Individuals with two copies of the mutation have a PAI-1 deficiency, a rare blood-clotting disorder similar to hemophilia.)
Scientists knew PAI-1 was related to aging in animals, but they had yet to study how it affected aging in humans. What Dr. Vaughan and his team discovered was groundbreaking — that those with a single copy of the mutation had nearly 30 percent lower fasting insulin levels and were completely protected from diabetes. Incredible!
The list of positives continues: Those with the mutation also had lower blood pressure as well as more flexible blood vessels, an indicator of heart health. Although the difference wasn’t statistically significant, Dr. Vaughan still noted that carriers of the mutation have a “younger appearing” cardiovascular system.
In future studies, Dr. Vaughan and his team want to explore the cognitive benefits of lower levels of PAI-1, as animal studies have suggested that it may help prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s. Which, again, would be incredible.
In the meantime, researchers at the University of Tokyo are already hard at work developing a drug so that anyone can reap the anti-aging benefits (potentially living a longer lifespan) of PAI-1. Dr. Vaughan plans to seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a trial of the drug in the United States, which will look at how the drug affects insulin levels in people with Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
A dose of a longer life could be one of the most exciting developments in medicine, but until this “magic pill” is available, we’ll just have to stay healthy the old-fashioned way — hello, diet and exercise!