Two centuries ago, it was commonplace for anyone to die, regardless of their age — pneumonia, pregnancy complications, infected wounds, and terrible plagues were the norm, and sometimes a disease would kill nearly everyone in a town. Women who needed a cesarean section didn’t commonly have access to one, often causing both mother and baby to die. Farming accidents killed many due to lack of safety laws concerning farm equipment. Babies died before their first birthday frequently.
It was tragic, but it was nothing that was unexpected – almost every mother had at least one child who had died in infancy, and most people didn’t live far beyond their 50s or 60s. Some countries had better life expectancy than others — the same as modern day — but the lack of available treatment for common disease and infection caused the average life expectancy to remain much lower than it is today.
Along with the industrial era, other developments and theories were quickly forming. Health scientists, as rudimentary as they may have been, started to understand that cleaning surgical instruments in between patient usage seemed to stop surgical infections. Trains enabled people to have access to bigger cities with physicians who were more advanced in certain areas of medicine. The discovery of penicillin saved millions from dying from tooth abscess, pneumonia, and skin wounds.
As a result, human life expectancy began to rise rapidly. The United States has never been a country with high life expectancy compared to other parts of the world, and many physicians believe this is due to diet and socioeconomic conditions. Despite having some of the best health care in the world, not everyone has access to it.
Meanwhile, life expectancies in places like Okinawa skyrocketed, which physicians think is due to a diet that consists of heart-healthy foods such as fish. In fact, Japan in general has the highest life expectancy in the world, according to CNN. The average 60-year-old can now expect to live to age 86 on average, scientists say.
However, despite the rise in technology and medicine and social programs, our maximum life expectancy has likely been reached, scientists say. They do not believe that it will continue to grow exponentially despite new advances in medicine. Geneticist Jan Vijg at the Albert Einstein College of Medince in New York, along with several graduates, published an academic research paper this week on upper biological limits of age in humans. They analyzed aging trends in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan to arrive at their conclusions. Vijg says that they believe maximum life expectancy was reached in the 1990s.
“There is no reason to think that the ongoing increase in maximum lifespan will end soon. The data strongly suggests that it’s already been attained and that this happened in the 1990s.”
The research stated that they believe the maximum life potential is around 125 years, no matter how many discoveries are made to improve someone’s health. To live longer, there would need to be discovery in the slowing or reversal of the aging process in cellular activity. To put it simply, cells can only live so long, regardless of intervention, and how long that is depends on the species.
“Although there is no scientific reason why such efforts could not be successful, the possibility is essentially constrained by the myriad of genetic variants that collectively determine species-specific lifespan.”
However, not all experts are in complete agreement with the study’s findings. Professor Dame Linda Partridge says that while most of the work seems highly credible, there are portions that are troubling to her.
“A biological time bomb won’t just set off. Clearly if we’re seeing someone who’s 100 years old they were born 100 years ago — in 1916 — and the conditions there were completely different than those faced by babies being born now. There was loads of infection diseases, there was war, the quality of food wasn’t good — you can go on and on. We can’t really project the life expectancy of babies who are born today.”
[Featured Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]