Not Your Mother’s Genes?

I once had a discussion with a friend, who is a geneticist, about his research. Perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek, I suggested that he rethink his current cell experiments and instead study someone healthy—like me. I consider myself to have an exceptional immune system, passed down from my mother and now, in turn, passed to my daughters.

My mother lived to just shy of her 80th birthday. Granted, it’s not a record, but what is remarkable is that I don’t remember her ever taking a day off because of illness when I was growing up. Like many of her generation, she smoked cigarettes, drank too much (she eventually quit both) and didn’t eat the foods that we now know are good for us. I never saw her exercise and she loved chocolate, but she kept her weight in check and seemed to get enough sleep. I can’t remember anything more than an occasional cold or sore throat. Did she even take a vitamin? I don’t know.

I hope I am not tempting fate here, but I seem to enjoy the same good health. (Hear me knocking on wood?) I have never had the flu that I recall, and I don’t miss work due to illness. My kids are also blessed with good health. Neither of my daughters has ever been treated for strep throat or earaches or had an antibiotic for an illness. I take some good-natured ribbing that my poor housekeeping builds immunity, but who knows why we are spared.

As you might imagine, I felt validated to read that scientists are studying some centenarians to see why they live so long and what protects them from various diseases. I know it isn’t genetics alone that decide one’s fate. Lifestyle choices play a significant role. But I am glad to see that scientists are looking at the healthiest among us for some answers.