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In a study that looked at long-lived Ashkenazi Jewish men and women and their children, researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine (New York City) found that a gene that affects the size of cholesterol molecules in the blood may help people live to be 100 or older. This gene protects against heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other diseases. For the study, the researchers looked at 213 older people whose average age was 98 (nearly 50% were >100 years old) and at 216 of their adult children. The results of the study were published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The researchers learned that the centenarians they evaluated were 3 times more likely, compared with the general population, to have a genetic mutation that changes an enzyme involved in regulating blood fats and changes their particle size, leading to larger particles. Also, the offspring of the older participants were >2 times as likely to have the mutation. Ashkenazi families with the mutation tended to have higher levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or ?good? cholesterol, which appears to provide protection against heart disease. Furthermore, they had larger molecules of HDL and of low-density lipoprotein, or ?bad? cholesterol. The researchers hypothesized that the bigger particle size inhibits LDL cholesterol from penetrating artery walls, where fats can collect as plaque.