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Is human longevity capped at 115?

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By Ross Walker

When Joe hockey was Treasurer, he made the statement that at some stage in the near future, we can expect our lifespan to extend to around 150 years.

Prolonging our life span is one of the holy grails for researchers. Like Mr Hockey, some researchers believe there is no ceiling, and some people known as trans-humanists are saying that immortality is possible.

A few decades ago, cryogenics was all the craze, but certainly it doesn’t appear to be anyone, apart from some savvy businessmen, who have actually benefited from being frozen at the moment of their death.

A recent report from the well-known journal Nature, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, suggested we have hit the ceiling of longevity. The average life expectancy from 1900 up until 1916 was around 50 years old. This included the carnage from infectious diseases in the pre-antibiotic era, along with the very high infant mortality rates.

Now, the average life expectancy is around 80 for males and 82 for females. A number of animal and laboratory studies have suggested that maximum lifespan is flexible and can be altered by a variety of genetic, pharmaceutical and dietary interventions. This work, however, has not been extrapolated to human beings. Professor Roy Walford wrote the book, “The 120 year diet” inferring that if you followed a 1500 cal, all plant food diet with no alcohol, caffeine or meat, you would live until you are 120.

He has a small bunch of loyal followers all over the world who follow his diet. They do not have an ounce of body fat, are constantly cold, tired and miserable, not to mention often depressed but they have this delusion they will live to the age of 120. I would like to report that recently and tragically, Prof Roy Walford died at the ripe old age of 79. The longest living person ever with a birth certificate was Jean Louise Calment, who died in Paris at the age of 122. She is definitely an outlier. 

This recent study said that we have hit the ceiling of 115 for maximum lifespan which is, of course, different to average life expectancy. This new study looked at the Human Mortality Database, which examines the mortality and population data for 40 countries.

But, since 1900, the survival improvements for those living beyond the age of 100 have plateaued. They examined the maximum lifespan in the US, Japan, France and the UK. The maximum reported lifespan since the mid 1990s has plateaued and as I’ve stated, is 115. It appears that even with further progress against infectious and chronic diseases, we may continue to boost the average life expectancy, but not the maximum lifespan.

The conclusion of the study was that our resources should be spent on improving health span and not increasing lifespan. Healthspan is defined as the duration of old age spent in good health. With the obvious fact that the world’s population is markedly increasing, and there are only so many resources to sustain adequate nutrition, fluid and shelter, even if we did have some magic bullet to offer us all what immortality, would our planet be able to accommodate us?

Published: Thursday, October 27, 2016


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