American comedian Aries Spears said, “to sustain longevity you have to evolve”. It’s true - to live longer, we must evolve, and adapt to the evolution of time and changing society.
Science has made tremendous progress in slowing down the ageing process. How we age, and the speed that it happens, has always fascinated humans. Scientists consider ageing and longevity as two different fields of research, focusing on applications that help prevent age-associated illness or physiological impairments in our senior years. To understand the development of longevity science, we need to first learn about the history of the eternal quest for youth.
The changing trends in longevity
During prehistoric times, humans could live only up to 25-30 years, and the mortality of infants was approximately 200-300 in 1000 live births. Obviously, through the ages, our lifespan has increased. Around 250 years ago, for example, Sweden reported a life expectancy of 37 years, India 27 years, and France 66 years, with an infant mortality rate of 52 in1000 live births. Japan, famous for an above average population of centenarians was seeing an average lifespan of 81 years, and 3% infant mortality rate. .
The last century has seen a tremendous increase in human life expectancy. At the beginning of the century, not a single country in the world had a life expectancy of 50 years. The introduction of pharmaceutical drugs, such as antibiotics, improved sanitation, healthcare and nutrition, have raised our life expectancy. Most populations in developed countries have an average lifespan of around 80 years today.
The Quest to Live Longer
We have been looking for that elixir for eternal life since the beginning of time. In Ancient China, Emperor Qin was thought to have been poisoned, in his search for the potion to longevity. In the 19th century, Dr.Voronoff began working with experimental physiologist Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard, involving the use of serum from dogs and guinea pigs to promote youth. This also failed to produce any miraculous results.
This common obsession to live beyond our years continues today, and the global race for longevity continues.
Here is a timeline of significant scientific and technological advances over the years that have potentially contributed to our longer lifespan:
- Introduction of anesthesia, pasteurization and toilets (vast improvement in sanitation, and prevention of disease spread).
- Blood transfusions
- Discovery of antibiotics, antimalarials, and insulin.
- Introduction of sunscreen
- Water chlorination
- Fertilizers and pesticides - improved crop yield, thus food supply
- Cancer screening
- Kidney dialysis
- Safety features in automobiles
- Organ transplants
- Community health education programmes
2000 to present
- Brain mapping
- Diagnostic screening procedures
- Renewable energy
- Genetic mapping
- Artificial Intelligence
- Robotic surgeries
Moving forward, longevity scientists and researchers not only want to increase our life span. The goal is to add health to these increasing years. As such, the focus is on:
- Understanding early life and health in a later life, as a predictor for life span.
- Wearables that monitor and tract our basic health parameters
- Targeted interventions for reducing mortality associated with certain diseases.
- Implementing personalised health protocols based on genetic screening
- Stem cell therapy
On our part, committing to healthy habits, an active lifestyle, healthy eating, and regular health screens, can add years to our lives and health to our years. And so the quest continues!
About the Author
Dr. Amitha Joshi, PhD
Dr. Joshi is a Pharmaceutical formulation scientist with a keen interest in scientific communication. She has several peer-reviewed international publications, book chapters and patents to her credit and been a recipient of various research awards. Her areas of interest include lipid-based formulations, lymphatic delivery, medicated contact lenses and infectious diseases.
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