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Why Italians Live So Long

Friday, August 05, 2011

We just returned from a long trip through Italy and were struck by Italians' apparent immunity to all the forces of aging that besiege Americans and other members of the First World. "Italian men," said Paolo, our driver, "smoke, drink, womanize and curse all day and live to a hundred." Maybe the answers why are in this new report on Italian longevity.

The genetic component of human longevity: analysis of the survival advantage of parents and siblings of Italian nonagenarians

Alberto Montesanto1, Valeria Latorre1, Marco Giordano1, Cinzia Martino1, Filippo Domma2 and Giuseppe Passarino1

  1. 1Department of Cell Biology, University of Calabria, Rende, Italy
  2. 2Department of Economics and Statistics, University of Calabria, Rende, Italy

Correspondence: Professor G Passarino, Department of Cell Biology, University of Calabria, 87036, Rende, Italy. Tel: +39 0984 492932; Fax: +39 0984 492911; E-mail: g.passarino@unical.it

European Journal of Human Genetics (2011) 19, 882–886; doi:10.1038/ejhg.2011.40; published online 16 March 2011


Many epidemiological studies have shown that parents, siblings and offspring of long-lived subjects have a significant survival advantage when compared with the general population. However, how much of this reported advantage is due to common genetic factors or to a shared environment remains to be resolved.

We reconstructed 202 families of nonagenarians from a population of southern Italy. To estimate the familiarity of human longevity, we compared survival data of parents and siblings of long-lived subjects to that of appropriate Italian birth cohorts. Then, to estimate the genetic component of longevity while minimizing the variability due to environment factors, we compared the survival functions of nonagenarians' siblings with those of their spouses (intrafamily control group).

We found that both parents and siblings of the probands had a significant survival advantage over their Italian birth cohort counterparts. On the other hand, although a substantial survival advantage was observed in male siblings of probands with respect to the male intrafamily control group, female siblings did not show a similar advantage. In addition, we observed that the presence of a male nonagenarians in a family significantly decreased the instant mortality rate throughout lifetime for all the siblings; in the case of a female nonagenarians such an advantage persisted only for her male siblings.

The methodological approach used here allowed us to distinguish the effects of environmental and genetic factors on human longevity. Our results suggest that genetic factors in males have a higher impact than in females on attaining longevity.


seema commented on 09-Aug-2011 07:41 AM


Wendy Cunningham commented on 17-Nov-2011 10:01 PM

I think that is very interesting. I am 1/8 Italian from my mom's side of the family. My mom's mother was 1/2 Italian. Her name was Mildred Florence Muccia. She was born on Nov 12 1913 in Brooklyn, New York. Her father was Italian. His name was Peter Muccia.
The mother was Miriam Bansley. Both were from New York. I do not know much about them. But I would love to find their living relatives if only I knew where they are at! I am 48 but people mistake me for 29 years old. It's true that I look very young for my
age. I happen to be very healthy. I was told by a palmist that I will live a long time. I guess the researchers are right about our Italian dna carrying the genes of longivity. I hope my Mom will live for a long time. She is 71 now.

Paul commented on 28-Apr-2012 08:00 PM

Well it seems my Italian side got the short end of that stick. The oldest was my grandmother at 91 - but she was several years with Alzheimer's. My uncle just died at 84. Other than that, no others made it to the 80s. My dad was 66.

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