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World's Oldest Person - It's Tough at the Top

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Here is a really interesting article on the short tenure enjoyed by most holders of the title of world's oldest person. 


Here is a cool graphic from article, showing how old all the recent record holders have been, and how long they've reigned:




As you can see, since 2000 the oldest living person (invariably a woman) has been between the age of 114 and 117, and they've held the title for a short time relative to the 9 years that Jeanne Calment was at the top.


Despite dramatic increases in recent average lifespan, the age of the oldest person alive has remained pretty stable lately:


The average age of the oldest-ever people has increased over the past 40 years from around 112 to around 114.




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There was a study done in Sweden (which apparently has astonishingly good records going back a long way) a few years ago which noticed that the swedes who had lived a REALLY long time were those those grandparents had been teenagers during major famines.  This is a little surprising, but perhaps not completely implausible if you think about it carefully.


This made me think about one of my grandmothers and her two sisters.  She lived to 99.x and both her sisters lived to be over 100.  I had previously thought it must indicate strong genetic heritage.  But when I ran the numbers I realized that their grandparents would have been teenagers at the time of the great irish potato famine. 


Jeanne Calment had been born in 1875.  Her grandparents had probably been born around 1825, so they too would have been teenagers, or close to that, at the time of the same famine.  I suspect this may account for a sizeable portion of Calment's great longevity.  And since it seems likely that famines will occur less frequently in the future than they have in the past, maybe we will never see anyone live beyond 123.  Unless of course they are on CRON, and exercise only once or twice a week  ;; ^ )))



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Jeanne Calment had been born in 1875.  Her grandparents had probably been born around 1825, so they too would have been teenagers, or close to that, at the time of the same famine.  I suspect this may account for a sizeable portion of Calment's great longevity.


Sorry I don't mean to always pick on you  :)xyz, but is there any evidence to support the idea that her ancestors were impacted by the potato famine, which was mostly an issue for Ireland?


Northern France was modestly impacted by the potato famine, but apparently not southern France, where Jeanne Calment's family was from.


Even if they were exposed to it, it seems unlikely that Jeanne herself could have been impacted by her grandparent's exposure to the potato famine, since her parents were both born in 1838, 7 years before the potato famine. Her parents were relatively long-lived, but not extraordinarily so (dad 92 and mom 86).



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Please, Dean, READ what I post.  This is not the first occasion - there have now been several - that have caused me to wonder whether your first language may be greek.


It seems pretty clear to me what I said.    I SAID:  "so they too would have been teenagers, or close to that, at the time of the same famine.  I suspect  ......  ".  All very clear, to me, that I was *suggesting* a *possible* explanation for Calment's out of the ballpark longevity.  Not, obviously, making any kind of categorical statement about it.


And I don't CARE what age her parents lived to because, AS I HAD SAID - and as you would have seen if you had bothered to read what I SAID and not what you had imagined I might have said - the swedish study had found that it was not THE CHILDREN of teenagers experiencing famine that lived to the greatest ages, but the GRANDCHILDREN.


Are you able to understand the above?  Kindly argue with things I actually say.  Otherwise it is all a waste of time.  Mine as well as yours.



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Why do they always shoot such crappy, unflattering pictures of these beautiful people? The news photos make them look awful. They should be lit with soft, pleasing light, they should have nice expressions, and the pictures shot with ugly looks on their faces should be deleted and not be used in the slop-press.


I should become the official centenarian photographer -- I'd make them look great and not contribute to the terrible image that's presented. Who wants to extend lifespan when you wind up under the terrible lens of some dickhead photog? To me, shooting people to make them look bad is just mean and disrespectful -- especially in this insane, stupid society where old people already get enough shit about being old. Centenarians need some better PR.


Sthira now implements the following decree: Douchebag news photogs are not allowed anywhere fucking near centenarians.

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Guest Mike colella

It's perspective. We are wired to find youth appealing and oldies remind us of failing health and our own mortality. I have found Being consciously aware of these "lookisms" is very helpful in gaining a very different perspective on how I react and interact with people.

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Yes, these are all much, much sweeter and more dignified. Love and art can be applied when shooting portraits of people, and nice lighting makes an enormous difference. With bad lighting highlighting pathetic expression, I can make a beautiful face ugly indeed.


And you may say older people like supercentenarians look like crap in real life, and I say we can challenge suburban views regarding what beauty is and who is allowed to have it. Upgrading our definition of beauty in an aging human face probably seems totally unimaginable due to how beauty has been hijacked and flattened in this culture. But upgrading our definition of beauty in the aging face is a contribution to increasing human lifespan. I'm not arguing acceptance; we should push limits, expand hardened perceptions.

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Mike and Sthira,


I agree with both of you. We should change the way we equate a youthful appearance with beauty, and in general hold older folks in much higher regard than we do - like in those cultures where the elderly are an important part of the community (e.g. Okinawa and Sardina) and in which (probably because of this increased esteem) people tend to live longer.


But we shouldn't put too much blame on the photographers of the unflattering pictures of the World's Oldest Person. The attractive centenarian photos I posted are clearly formal portraits, with controlled lighting, post-production, makeup, etc. While the photos of the record holders are clearly by news photographers, taken of people who are being inundated with attention, who aren't very mobile, and who aren't (frankly and usually) very easy to communicate with (hence they usually have an elderly daughter, granddaughter or caregiver as 'translator' for them). So the journalist/photographers are working with a difficult subject in challenging circumstances.


As you said Sthira, the oldest of the old need their own PR people. Unfortunately as the graphic at the top illustrates, they don't typically hold their title (and hence the limelight) for long enough for anyone to make a career out of helping them come across better...


Finally, what I'm most impressed about with those flattering photos of the centenarian is not their attractive appearance, but instead how the photographer was able to capture a sense of depth of character and personality in each of them. They are photographs that make you want to get to know each of the people portrayed, expecting to learn a valuable lesson from them about how to live.



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Please, Dean, READ what I post.  This is not the first occasion - there have now been several - that have caused me to wonder whether your first language may be greek.




First off, I wish I were multilingual, since it has been shown to protect against cognitive decline (PMID 23447799)...


Next - while we often don't agree Rodney, there has only been one time lately (our 'surely' discussion) I can recall or can find, where you thought I either hadn't read what you wrote, or more accurately, misunderstood you. Perhaps you are recounting the instances where it was the other way around (e.g. here and here). I'll leave it to you and others to determine who misunderstood whom in these instances...


But onto the topic at hand.


It seems pretty clear to me what I said.    I SAID:  "... I suspect  ......  ".  All very clear, to me, that I was *suggesting* a *possible* explanation for Calment's out of the ballpark longevity.  Not, obviously, making any kind of categorical statement about it.


I did read that Rodney. Just to be clear, what you wrote was:


I suspect this may account for a sizeable portion of Calment's great longevity.


where "this" refers to your suspicion (appropriately qualified with 'suspect') that Jeanne Calment's grandmother(s) may have been exposed to the Irish Potato famine and this may "account for a sizeable portion" of her extraordinary longevity.


"Fair enough," I said to myself, "Rodney has obviously heard about the evidence that suggests a grandparent's exposure to famine conditions could influence their grandchild's longevity. Let's see if this could be plausible in Calment's case and a possible explanation for her extraordinary longevity."


At which point I actually went to look for evidence in support of the explanation you offer, something I figured you would have done, because you said "I suspect..." rather than saying "I wonder if..." or "I'm guessing that...".


What I found was that:

  1. The Irish Potato famine (not surprisingly) was most severe in Ireland. It only struck France in a minor way, and only in the north of France.
  2. Calment lived all her life in the town of Arles in southern France. Her family had roots there - her uncle had a shop in town that sold a canvas to Vincent Van Gogh, where Jeanne had the opportunity once to meet him.
  3. Alone #1 and #2 suggested to me that her grandmothers were probably not exposed to the famine, contrary to your suspicion. But heck, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. So I dug further...

 You went on to speculate about her two grandmothers being about the right age to have been teenagers or close to it, during the potato famine, which we now suspect they almost certainly were never exposed to, but if they were it could have helped Calment to live a long life. Specifically you suggested:


Her grandparents had probably been born around 1825, so they too would have been teenagers, or close to that, at the time of the same famine. 


"Fair enough," I said to myself, "let's check out this suspicion of Rodney's to see if it has better luck. He must have some credible basis for his speculation."


So I looked at Calment's Wikipedia biography a little more carefully, and saw quite clearly that both her parents were born in 1838, seven years before the potato famine began.


I pointed this out to you in my response, figuring you had at least read something about the mechanism by which it is believed grandparents affect the longevity of grandchildren, rather than just remembering a sound bite like "if grandparents are exposed to famine, it can mean their grandchildren will live a long time."


But apparently not... So let me spell it out for you, so you don't get all hot and bothered again with claims that I don't read you post because I referred to her parents in my response and you're talking about her grandmothers.


If you'd bothered to look at the literature on the topic, and in particular the very studies of Swedes that you allude to in your post [2][3], rather than just spouting off about it, you'd understand that the mechanism by which a grandparent can influence a grandchild's health and longevity is believed to be through epigenetics (discussed here) in which (in a nutshell) the life experiences of someone not only influences their own gene expression, but can influence the gene expression of their children, and even their children's children. The mechanism appears to be very complicated, and is still far from being understood. But one thing is clear from experiments like this one with agouti mice [1], that grandparent nutritional status can influence a grandchild's traits, and that this happens through modifications to gene expression passed down through the germline (i.e. eggs and sperm).


So you ask, what does this have to do with good 'ol Jeanne and her grandmums?


As you point out, there is evidence that this kind of intergenerational influence of nutrition via epigenetics can happen in people, not just mice, as discussed in several widely publicized studies. One study of Swedes [2], showed that overfeeding of a grandfather can increase the risk of diabetes and early death by 4x in the grandson. So while dramatic, this one isn't relevant to Jeanne, her longevity and her grandmothers, since [2] was all about the male side of the family.


Of more potential relevance to Jeanne is this study [3] (popular press article, and another), also in the same population of Swedes, which found:


 If [...] the paternal grandmother up to puberty lived through a sharp change in food supply
from one year to next, her sons' daughters had an excess risk for cardiovascular mortality
(HR 2.69, 95% confidence interval 1.05-6.92). ... X-linked epigenetic inheritance via
spermatozoa seemed to be plausible, with the transmission, limited to being through the father,
possibly explained by the sex differences in meiosis.
CONCLUSION: The shock of change in food availability seems to give specific
transgenerational responses.


In other words, a grandmother's nutritional status during or prior to puberty can apparently (amazingly) influence the health and longevity of her granddaughter, through an epigenetic influence on her son, which is passed to his daughter through his sperm. So now we're onto something. Back to Jeanne's case. Follow along closely Rodney. This study tells us two things:

  1. A grandmother needs to experience a change in food supply while young ("up to puberty") for this sort of "grandmother nutrition -> granddaughter health/longevity" effect to manifest.
  2. The mode of transmission appears to be via epigenetic changes to her future son, which he passes on to his daughter.

In Jeanne's case, her father was born in 1838, seven years before the potato famine you suspect explains a 'sizeable portion' of Jeanne's longevity. Now I hope you will acknowledge that, short of immaculate conception, Jeanne's paternal grandmother was extremely likely to have gone through puberty before she gave birth to Jeanne's father - right?  :)xyz


In that case, it is physically impossible (without a time machine) for Jeanne's paternal grandmother to have suffered from the (future) potato famine while prepubescent, and then given birth to Jeanne's dad seven years before the famine, so as to pass on to him epigenetic markers of nutritional stress experienced during the famine. In other words, Jeanne's grandmother couldn't have been starved by the Irish Potato Famine prior to giving birth to Jeanne's dad since the famine hadn't happened yet when he was born, so she couldn't have impacted Jeanne's lifespan through the epigenetic intergenerational health/longevity influence as it is currently understood.


What's more, notice that [3] shows that a change in the paternal grandmother's food supply, either via a large increase or decrease in food availability, lead to impairment of her grandaughter's health and longevity. So even if Jeanne's paternal grandmother had lived through the famine prior to having her son (which we now know she couldn't have), the influence would have been to reduce rather than extend Jeanne's lifespan.


I know this is somewhat complicated Rodney. From past observations, I'm not surprised that you didn't research or think through the logic of your suspicion before you posted, or comprehend how my response that Jeanne's parents were already born at the time of the famine was relevant to your point.


I hope it's clearer now, and I hope (probably in vain...) that you'll consider doing a little research on your hypotheses before spouting off about them in the future, and especially before accusing someone of not reading your posts, when it was really you who didn't read their post carefully enough to think through and understand what they were saying, and its relevance to your argument.





[1] Nutr Rev. 2008 Aug;66 Suppl 1:S7-11. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2008.00056.x.

The agouti mouse model: an epigenetic biosensor for nutritional and environmental
alterations on the fetal epigenome.
Dolinoy DC(1).
Author information: 
(1)Department of Radiation Oncology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham,
North Carolina 27710, USA. dcd@duke.edu
PMCID: PMC2822875
PMID: 18673496
[2] European Journal of Human Genetics (2002) 10, 682-688. doi:10.1038/sj.ejhg.5200859
 Cardiovascular and diabetes mortality determined by nutrition during parents' and grandparents' slow growth period
G Kaati1, L O Bygren1 and S Edvinsson2
1Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation, Social Medicine, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden
2Demographic Database, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden
Correspondence to: L O Bygren, Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation, Social Medicine, Umeå University, S-901 85 UMEÅ, Sweden. Tel: +46 90 785 2488; Fax: +46 90 13 79 02; E-mail: Lars.Olov.Bygren@socmed.umu.se
Overfeeding and overeating in families are traditions that are often transferred from generation to generation. Irrespective of these family traditions, food availability might lead to overfeeding, in its turn leading to metabolic adaptations. Apart from selection, could these adaptations to the social environment have transgenerational effects? This study will attempt to answer the following question: Can overeating during a child's slow growth period (SGP), before their prepubertal peak in growth velocity influence descendants' risk of death from cardiovascular disease and diabetes? Data were collected by following three cohorts born in 1890, 1905 and 1920 in Överkalix parish in northern Sweden up until death or 1995. The parents' or grandparents' access to food during their SGP was determined by referring to historical data on harvests and food prices, records of local community meetings and general historical facts. If food was not readily available during the father's slow growth period, then cardiovascular disease mortality of the proband was low. Diabetes mortality increased if the paternal grandfather was exposed to a surfeit of food during his slow growth period. (Odds Ratio 4.1, 95% confidence interval 1.33-12.93, P=0.01). Selection bias seemed to be unlikely. A nutrition-linked mechanism through the male line seems to have influenced the risk for cardiovascular and diabetes mellitus mortality.
[3] BMC Genet. 2014 Feb 20;15:12. doi: 10.1186/1471-2156-15-12.
Change in paternal grandmothers' early food supply influenced cardiovascular
mortality of the female grandchildren.
Bygren LO(1), Tinghög P, Carstensen J, Edvinsson S, Kaati G, Pembrey ME, Sjöström
Author information: 
(1)Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, Karolinska Institutet, Huddinge,
Sweden. lars.olov.bygren@ki.se.
BACKGROUND: This study investigated whether large fluctuations in food
availability during grandparents' early development influenced grandchildren's
cardiovascular mortality. We reported earlier that changes in availability of
food - from good to poor or from poor to good - during intrauterine development
was followed by a double risk of sudden death as an adult, and that mortality
rate can be associated with ancestors' childhood availability of food. We have
now studied transgenerational responses (TGR) to sharp differences of harvest
between two consecutive years' for ancestors of 317 people in Överkalix, Sweden.
RESULTS: The confidence intervals were very wide but we found a striking TGR.
There was no response in cardiovascular mortality in the grandchild from sharp
changes of early exposure, experienced by three of the four grandparents
(maternal grandparents and paternal grandfathers). If, however, the paternal
grandmother up to puberty lived through a sharp change in food supply from one
year to next, her sons' daughters had an excess risk for cardiovascular mortality
(HR 2.69, 95% confidence interval 1.05-6.92). Selection or learning and imitation
are unlikely explanations. X-linked epigenetic inheritance via spermatozoa seemed
to be plausible, with the transmission, limited to being through the father,
possibly explained by the sex differences in meiosis.
CONCLUSION: The shock of change in food availability seems to give specific
transgenerational responses.
PMCID: PMC3929550
PMID: 24552514
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"For most people, the interest in Mrs Calment was her durability. We all live under sentence of death. How did she put it off so long? And was it worth it? Research into ageing is one of the newer disciplines. The University of California's department for “the economics and demography of ageing” has located more than 20,000 centenarians in the United States and quite a few “super centenarians” aged at least 110. It studied the life of Jeanne Calment for clues to her endurance. “Here was someone of the greatest age and one we could authenticate,” said a worker in the department. Since Methuselah, said to be 969, and his less-famous son Lamech, a mere 777, many claims have been made for long life. But Mrs Calment had the papers to prove that she was born on February 21st 1875, the year that Tolstoy published “Anna Karenina”. Her father was a shopkeeper and Jeanne was married within her class to another shopkeeper. The couple had one child, a girl. Mrs Calment seems to have had no endangering illnesses. Putting aside her faith in the life-sustaining qualities of olive oil, the Californian researchers assumed that Mrs Calment's otherwise unexceptional life had been prolonged because of her genes. It seems the best chance of attaining a great age comes from having long-lived parents. Mrs Calment's father lived to the age of 94 and her mother to 86. But it doesn't always work. Her daughter died at 36."



"Jeanne‘s Long Life: How to Live Until 122


One would think that someone living to age 122 would lead an impeccably healthy lifestyle. This is not so in the case of Jeanne Calment. In fact, I have read about several super-centenarians that indulged in various “unhealthy” behaviours. Jeanne enjoyed cheap red wine and port, she ate up to a kilogram of chocolate per week and she smoked pretty much her whole life. At age 117 doctors tried to get her to quit smoking (why, I will never know). However two years later she was seen sneaking a few puffs in private. Hmmm, another life cut tragically short by the harmful effects of smoking.


Her advanced age can possibly be attributed to a few things. The first thing is her calmness and lack of worry. She often said how much she enjoyed her laid back lifestyle and never worried about anything. These days we are too introspective. We worry about how healthy or unhealthy things are which, paradoxically, seems create worse health due to the direction of focus and the subsequent anxiety it creates. Jeanne Calment never worried and just did whatever made her happy. She is reported by many as being a very social, calm and happy person. She once said “of course I’m calm, that’s why they call me calment.


Secondly it is highly likely that Jeanne had some kind of rare genetic protection against smoking. Many people will be cut short in their 40s due to smoking, but not Jeanne. She did it all her life and was never affected. This points to a genetically protected body to resist the harshness smoking reaps on the human body.


Lastly Jeanne Calment participated in low level aerobic exercise all her life with the occasional high intensity systemic load, normally due to work or lifestyle factors. There is a prominent pattern of super-centenarians living similar lifestyles.


What Can You Do?


You may not be genetically protected from harsh carcinogens, however there are certain measures you can take to reach 122, or even 100 for that matter.


Keep a calm mind and avoid internal and external stress. Take life with a little humour, even when things are tough. Meditate if you need to and enjoy activities that are pleasant to you.

Exercise consistently all your life. This can include any form of exercise, mix it up with high and low intensity, strength training, sports etc. This trait seems to be consistent with many super-centenarians. 

Don’t be too introspective. Meaning don’t focus on all the unhealthy things you do. If you must enjoy an alcoholic drink do it in moderation and don’t be guilty about it.

Keep your calorie intake about 20% lower than the typical western diet. Caloric restriction has been positively linked to longevity in numerous studies.

Most of all I recommend enjoying your life, just as Jeanne Calment did. Don’t worry about minor things. But most of all have no regrets. If you only live until 80 but you enjoy your life it is better than living miserably until 120."



"she never had to work. She played tennis, took up roller skating, bicycling and swimming and took great pleasure in joining the hunting parties he organized. She also studied the piano and enjoyed the opera.


Her husband, 46 when World War I broke out, was too old for military service. His business survived the Depression, but a dessert of spoiled preserved cherries killed him, but not his wife, in 1942.


They had one child, a daughter, Yvonne, whose marriage to Joseph Billot produced a single child, Frederic Billot, in 1926. Eight years later, Yvonne died of pneumonia, and Mrs. Calment raised her grandson in the family home. He became a medical doctor and died before her, in an automobile accident in 1960.


Mrs. Calment rode a bicycle until she was 100 and walked all over Arles to thank those who congratulated her on her birthday that year."

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  • 1 month later...
"He was 112 years and 178 days old on 11 March, Guinness World Records says. ... in May 1945 he weighed just 37 kg"
Auschwitz survivor is world's oldest man - Guinness World Records
5 hours ago
 From the section Middle East
_88729754_88729753.jpgImage copyrightAFP/GettyImage captionYisrael Kristal has lived through two world wars
This file photo taken on January 22, 2016 shows Yisrael Kristal sitting in his home in the Israeli city of Haifa
Yisrael Kristal has lived through two world wars
A survivor of the Auschwitz death camp is now the world's oldest man, the Guinness World Records organisation says.
Yisrael Kristal was born near Zarnow in Poland in 1903 and lived through two world wars before moving to the Israeli city of Haifa.
He was 112 years and 178 days old on 11 March, Guinness World Records says.
The previous oldest-recorded man, Yasutaro Koide of Japan, died in January aged 112 years and 312 days.
As he received his Guinness World Records certificate, Mr Kristal said he did not know the "secret for long life" and that he believed everything was "determined from above".
"There have been smarter, stronger and better looking men then me who are no longer alive," he added.
"All that is left for us to do is to keep on working as hard as we can and rebuild what is lost."
The son of a religious scholar, Mr Kristal was separated from his parents during World War One. He later moved to Lodz to work in the family confectionary business.
After the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in 1939, Mr Kristal and his family were moved into the Lodz ghetto.
His two children died there and Mr Kristal and his wife Chaja Feige Frucht were sent to Auschwitz in 1944 after the ghetto was liquidated, the Jerusalem Post reports.
Mr Kristal's wife was murdered in Auschwitz but he survived, performing slave labour in that and other camps. When he was found by the Allies in May 1945 he weighed just 37 kg (5.8 stone).
The sole survivor from his family, Mr Kristal emigrated to Israel in 1950 with his second wife and their son, where he continued to run his confectionary business until his retirement.
Yasutaro Koide (August 2015)
Getty Images
Image caption
The previous oldest man Yasutaro Koide died in January
His daughter, Shula Kuperstoch, said the Holocaust had not affected her father's beliefs.
"He is optimistic, wise, and he values what he has," she told the Jerusalem Post.
The oldest person alive today is believed to be an American woman, Susannah Mushatt Jones, who is 115 years and 249 days.
The oldest person ever to have lived is thought to be Jeanne Calment from France, who died aged 122 years and 164 days.
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  • 6 months later...



His daughter suggests his moderation and modesty are part of the reason for his long life.


"He never eats to excess," she said. "I've never seen him eat till he's bursting. He always eats slowly and not too much."

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  • 5 years later...

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