Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 18, 2013

Living longer, larger, and more abundantly with new ideas and — nitrogen

By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Long time New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel, a wit who once gave booing fans at a baseball game “the bird” by doffing his cap to release a dove that flew daintily away, made many observations about advancing age. Ol’ Casey said once, “Most people my age are dead — you could look it up.”

Living longer has both delighted and dismayed certain groups. The Baby Boomers are thrilled to be racking up birthdays while at the same time Social Security directors are more than a little nervous about just when and where all those payments over the next couple of decades are coming from. Even restaurants are adjusting menus one item at a time, it seems, because the aging generation has a little more money to spend than some of the younger folks whose jobs have not provided the resources to enjoy as much of the good life.

According to an article by Stephen S. Hall, a research effort known as the Einstein Project is now studying a group of centenarians (people at least 100 years old) and the results are getting better with age. For instance, those with five score or more candles on the cake are found to have exceptionally high levels of HDL, which is often referred to as the “good” cholesterol. When the scientists looked at the cholesterol metabolism genes, they discovered a variant of the good gene called cholesterol ester transfer protein (CTEP) in the bloodstreams of the older folks. Not only that, but it seems that the children of these centenarians usually have even more of the gene than their long-living ancestors.

Can you imagine the implications? Will we start checking IDs for people who appear to be under 50 when they want to buy cigarettes? Who are we kidding – people who live that long don’t smoke. Do they?

Science teachers, nurses, doctors, and others who know such things will recognize the term “mitochondria” which means the cell’s power plant. This is the place to find DNA (or deoxyribonucleic acid).

A molecule here dubbed “Humanin” appears to be so powerful that giving a single shot to a diabetic laboratory rat soon brings the animal’s glucose levels down to normal and the diabetes symptoms vanish. Afflicted mice who get doses of humanin do not get arteriosclerosis or symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The stuff can apparently even limit the amount of damage suffered when the animals endure heart attacks.

If these older people are blessed with such amazing in-house biological advantages then scientists might be able to help the rest of us if only they can isolate these cells and learn how to duplicate the conditions that produce them. Debilitating illnesses could suffer serious setbacks of their own if the key to this biological puzzle can be found.

Not surprisingly, food intake — including the amount and kind of material consumed — has been determined to affect the aging process. Even good luck, like missing accidents on the highway because of something unforeseen like having to go back in the house to pick up one’s lunch, also plays a part. Preparation meets opportunity.

Stengel, who once managed the Yankees to five consecutive World Series titles, could appreciate a little fortune. When the Yanks lost to the underdog Pittsburgh Pirates one October, Casey was unceremoniously fired.

“I will never,” he drawled, “make the mistake of being 70 again.”

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Growing green things is a fascinating process, especially when you are the one in charge of mowing the lawn. This is the time of year when the yard may need a couple of cuttings per week. Nitrogen helps and some 100 millions tons of it are used annually. In fact, half of the nitrogen in each of our bodies — yours, too — in our muscle and organ tissue started out as fertilizer in a chemical factory. All this miracle stuff might also be polluting our water, choking wildlife in lakes, and probably even adding to global warming concerns. Our need for clean air and water is fighting a serious battle right with our desire to fill our stomachs. Half of the world’s seven billion-plus citizens owe their existence to the abundant use of nitrogen.

Being safe affects the purse and the person carrying. It seem that nitrogen has joined a lengthy list that mothers warned us about.

Too much of a good thing is usually not such a good idea.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.