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A Hint At Why Latinos Live Longer Than Other Racial And Ethnic Groups

Some people's genetic "clocks" tick more slowly than others.

Illustrations: Flickr user Paul Cross]

Latinos live longer than Caucasians, but why? This "Hispanic Paradox" has gone unsolved for 30 years, but now, thanks to a study on DNA by a team at UCLA, we have an answer.

In the U.S., Latinos live three years longer than anyone else, on average, lasting until age 82, instead of 79 years. They’re also 30% less likely to die at any age. Researchers at UCLA looked into this by studying the epigenetic clock of Latinos, Caucasians, Africans, African-Americans, East Asians, and Tsimane—indigenous Bolivians who are genetically related to Latinos.

While our DNA sequence is fixed, some genes are active, while other aren’t. As we age, different genes switch on and off. The study of these changes is called epigenetics, and the UCLA team, led by Steve Horvath, used Horvaths’s epigenetic clock to track the shifts in the genomes of 18 test subjects. They found that Latinos age more slowly than other ethnic groups, with one exception.

That exception is the Tsimane, who aged slowest of all. The epigenetic clock put their blood (the DNA of which shows the health of the entire immune system) at two years younger than an equivalent Latino subject, and fully four years younger than Caucasian blood.

"Despite frequent infections, the Tsimane people show very little evidence of the chronic diseases that commonly afflict modern society," said co-author Michael Gurven of UC Santa Barbara to the UCLA newsroom.

"We suspect that Latinos' slower aging rate helps neutralize their higher health risks, particularly those related to obesity and inflammation," said Horvath.

The study also found that women age slower than men, with men’s brain tissue and blood growing old faster. This, say the authors, could explain why women usually live longer than men.

But perhaps the most interesting finding is that this epigenetic clock can be set slower or faster by education and other environmental factors. Horvath told Fox News that "aging is accelerated in those with less education, and slows down with higher levels of education." Smoking and diet also change the speed of the epigenetic clock.

The next stage of Horvath’s research is to test organs, to determine if the same process is at work there, as well as in the blood. If so, further research may even lead to drugs that could "and then mimic or amplify the part of the pathway that is beneficial to anti-aging," says Horvath.

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