High prevalence and low female/male ratio for validated centenarians are observed in Sardinia and these findings appear to be thus far unique to this island. Moreover a specific region on the island is characterized by exceptional male longevity. We calculated the extreme longevity index (ELI), defined as the percentage of persons born in Sardinia between 1880 and 1900, who became centenarians. A gaussian smoothing method was used in order to identify the so-called 'Blue Zone', where longevity is concentrated in the central-eastern part of the island and covers all the mountainous areas of central Sardinia. The estimated life expectancy in the 'Blue Zone' is longer than in the remaining territory of the island especially for men and the male to female ratio among centenarians born in this area is 1.35 compared to 2.43 in the rest of Sardinia. The specific mechanism by which persons living in this territory were more likely to reach extreme longevity remains unknown but it is interesting to note that most of the 'longevity hot spots' identified in various regions of the world over the years have been located in mountainous geographical areas even if none of these longevity regions have been fully validated. An alternative and interesting hypothesis is that the high rate of inbreeding determined by frequent marriages between consanguineous individuals and low immigration rates have progressively decreased the variability of the genetic pool and facilitated the emergence of genetic characteristics that protect individuals from diseases that are major causes of mortality particularly in older individuals. Given the exceptionally high prevalence of male centenarians in the 'Blue Zone', it is reasonable to assume that either the environmental characteristics or the genetic factors, or both, exert their favorable effect more strongly in men than in women. Thus, the mechanism involved may be modulated by the hormonal milieu, or may be associated with genes located in the sex chromosomes.
Copyright 2004 Elsevier Inc.