Bacon, Booze and the Search for the Fountain of Youth | WBEZ
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Only Human

Bacon, Booze and the Search for the Fountain of Youth

Update: Susannah Mushatt Jones passed away on May 12, 2016. She was 116 years and 311 days old. 

While we sweat it out at spin class in the name of good health, the world’s oldest people drink whiskeyeat bacon, and chug Miller High Lifes with a side of Johnny Walker Blue.

At least those are the life secrets we love to hear when we talk about supercentenarians — the exclusive group of people who live to be at least 110 years old. But the science is not that simple, and the lives of these super-survivors are proof.

The oldest person recorded in history, a French woman named Jeanne Calment, lived to be 122 years old. Calment, who was born in 1875, lived a fairly easy, stress-free existence, according to Jean-Marie Robine, a French demographer who met her and studied the last years of her life.

But the more significant marker of her longevity, he believes, is her direct ancestors who lived, on average, 22 years longer than expected. “So definitely, the gene pool [was] exceptional,” he said.

Tom Perls, a physician and researcher who runs the New England Centenarian Study, has studied about 150 supercentenarians. He agrees: living an extremely long life probably has to do more with your DNA than what you drink.

“It’s many complicated pathways that feed into what determines your rate of aging and your risk for age related diseases,” Perls said.

Today, the oldest known living person in the world is a woman in Brooklyn, New York, and lives a fairly quiet life. At 116 years old, Susannah Mushatt Jones has watched the world go form streetcars to hoverboards; from President William McKinley to President Barack Obama, who is framed in a picture on her wall.

Life At 116

Last July, she celebrated her birthday in style with the Brooklyn Nets, local politicians and a gigantic cake topped with (frosting) bacon, a food she eats every day because her doctor says, “why not?”

But she doesn’t talk as much as she used to, and spends most of her days with caretakers and family in Brooklyn — waking up to a big plate of grits, eggs and bacon every morning.

And she knows better than to credit the bacon for her extraordinary life.

“I have no secret,” she said in a video two years ago. “I just live with my family. My family makes me happy.”


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