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Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Life Expectancy

Despite the premature death of my girlfriend at 54, there is a medical mystery happening without any explanation: nearly all major diseases are in decline. NYT, July 2016: "Something strange is going on in medicine. Major diseases, like colon cancer, dementia and heart disease, are waning in wealthy countries, and improved diagnosis and treatment cannot fully explain it".

The NYT article mentions all of the obvious explanations (eg, environment, food, genes, medicine). It even stresses that "it’s not as if the waxing and waning of diseases has never happened before. And all too often these medical mysteries remain mysteries".

NYT: "Dr. Steven R. Cummings [] has a provocative idea for further investigation. He starts with two observations: Rates of disease after disease are dropping. Even the rate of “all-cause mortality,” which lumps together chronic diseases, is falling. And every one of those diseases at issue is linked to aging. Perhaps, he said, all these degenerative diseases share something in common, something inside aging cells themselves. The cellular process of aging may be changing, in humans’ favor".

Remarkably, yesterday Dutch cell biologist Clemens van Blitterswijk stated that death will become a choice for future generations as we will be able to continue to extend our lives (FD).

It took me a while to Google the intriguing graph that I had noticed before while working on my 25 May 2016 blog

That blog is about the remarkable relationship between the Technological Revolution (1800-2100), life expectancy at birth, birth rates, and the size of global human population.
Perhaps the answer to the why question (eg, environment, food, genes, medicine) is even less relevant than the answer to the what question: what will we do with so much extra time especially given the expected absence of jobs (eg, FT, Guardian). A high age and good health might be pleasant when you are rich but perhaps not on a basic income.

A high life expectancy is not uncommon in Nature. Oddee: "There are corals known to live for thousands of years, and bowhead whales are estimated to live for centuries, but land animals rarely have such lengthy life spans. The current record holder for the longest currently living terrestrial animal goes to a tortoise named Jonathan" (ca. 1832). Wiki: the oldest known living individual non-clonal tree in the world is measured by ring count to be 5065 years old.

A 2013 LiveScience article - what animals can teach us about longevity - makes some interesting points. In general, bigger animals live (much) longer than smaller animals. Exceptions are related to the ability to fly (eg, bat, parrot, swan). Having fewer predators should indeed help to live longer. Essentially, the less you move and the more you rest/sleep, the longer you live. 

Crosby Stills Nash & Young - Long May You Run (1976) - lyrics, video, Wiki



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