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Elixir of Youth Part II: Spaghetti Sauce?

Men who eat tomato products two or more times a week can significantly reduce their chances of contracting prostate cancer, according to Dr. Edward Giovannucci of Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health.

From 1986 to 1998, the researchers analyzed the food choices and prostate cancer histories of more than 47,000 men aged 40 to 75 and found that those who ate at least two meals a week containing tomato products lowered their risk of prostate cancer by 24 to 36%. During the same period, 2,481 of the men developed prostate cancer.

Eating cooked tomatoes is especially good for you, according to his study, which showed that regularly eating tomato sauce, ketchup and other tomato-based foods lowers the risk of prostate cancer by as much as 36 percent. This supports earlier research on foods such as tomatoes that are high in lycopene, which is a powerful antioxidant.

?These most recent findings add support to the notion that a diet rich in tomatoes and lycopene-containing foods, as well as other fruits and vegetables, may reduce the risk of prostate cancer,? says Giovannucci. He says lycopene protects against cancer by absorbing oxygen free-radicals, which are chemicals created during metabolism that can damage the genetic structure of cells.

The dietary questionnaires included questions about such food items as tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato juice, pizza, watermelon and pink grapefruit, along with salsa, ketchup and other tomato-based condiments. When the data was adjusted for the effects of other lifestyle factors, the researchers found that tomatoes, especially if they had been cooked, protected against prostate cancer.

Cooking raw tomatoes may break down cell walls of the fruit and allow the body to absorb more lycopene. Giovannucci says,"Spaghetti sauce was the most popular" and also seemed to give the most protection.

Richard Foot, in the National Post of Nova Scotia, reports that Dr. Thomas Perls, a geriatrician at the Boston Medical Center and one of the world's senior experts on ageing, says Nova Scotia has a higher proportion of centenarians than anywhere in North America, and possibly on Earth.

There are eight centenarians among the 8,000 people living in a single fishing town on Nova Scotia's southwest coast. Medical researchers who are trying to discover the secrets of a long life are focusing on Nova Scotia. Most industrial countries have about one centenarian for every 10,000 people. In Nova Scotia, there are two per 10,000 people.

The oldest citizens of Yarmouth all point out one possible clue to their longevity: "We ate a lot of lobster," says Ella MacDonald, age 102.

"Why did I live to such a good age?" asks Delima D'Entremont, who is also 102. "I ate well from infancy. We could get fresh fish right from the ocean and we had it almost every day for dinner. Haddock, mackerel and lobster in season."

Janie Crawford, age 100, says, "I fed myself good -- fish from the sea and deer from the woods. But mostly we caught lobster and mackerel and cod. If you eat right, make sure fish is what you eat."

A lifetime diet of fresh Atlantic seafood is what these centenarians, and other residents aged 90 or more, all have in common. However, medical experts believe the real secret to a long life is in their genes. "There is truly a doubling of the prevalence of centenarians [in Nova Scotia] and that is probably due to the gene pool," says Dr. Perls. "You've got this mixture of Acadians, and people with British roots, and Scots, basically northern European-type stock. Something in that gene pool has produced this -- there is something special going on there." He says people need two traits to live to 100: a "longevity enabling gene" that delays the process of aging, and a scarcity of the genes that cause Alzheimer's, osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer.

But he doesn't dismiss the idea that fresh fish may have a role in this. "Fish could be a very big deal," he says. "You could have a bunch of people who have the right genes that get them to their 90s, whose fish-heavy diets then increased their life expectancy further."

Last August, a team of researchers led by Perls announced it had discovered for the first time a group of human genes believed to be responsible for aging. Scientists once thought lifespans were dictated by thousands of different traits throughout a person's genetic code, but Perls believes it's determined by a small group of genes on chromosome 4. He discovered this gene group by determining common characteristics of DNA that he obtained from centenarians around the world.

Bea Stoddard, age 103, says she lived to be so old because "I paid my own way."

Delima D?Entremont, age 102, agrees. "I never married," she says. A recent U.S. study of nuns found that they live long lives as well.

Old age may come down to having the right genes. After that, if you're a man, eat spaghetti. If you're a woman, stay away from men.





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