Breaking Through The Life Barrier

Science says: Life expectancy is still increasing.

In a recent issue of Science, demographers Jim Oeppen and James W. Vaupel ask, “Is life expectancy approaching its limit?”1 To which they reply, “No.” Life expectancy for women has risen from 45 years in Swedish women in 1840 to 85 years in Japanese women today, an increase of 3 months per year for the last 160 years, and there is no end in sight. This increase, they write, “. . . is so extraordinarily linear that it may be the most remarkable regularity of mass endeavor ever observed.” If there were a limit to lifespan, they reason, the velocity of increase would be slowing, but it is not.

As per Oeppen and Vaupel, many “experts” of mortality have “blindly clung to the ancient notion that under favorable conditions the typical human has a characteristic lifespan” and are not able to imagine it rising much further. But the evidence contradicts this vision of how long our species can live. These experts appear in unison in the June issue of Scientific American.2 Leonard Hayflick,* S. Jay Olshansky, and Bruce A. Carnes† head a list of 51 scientists who present their alarm that the American public is being massively misled into believing that there are antiaging remedies on the market, when, they proclaim, none are effective.

*Hardly unbiased, Hayflick’s principal claim to fame is a theory that places a limit on maximum human lifespan. Telomere studies and the work of Lynn Allen-Hoffmann dispute his theory. See Allen-Hoffmann BL, Schlosser SJ, Ivarie CA, Sattler CA, Meisner LF, O’Connor SL. Normal growth and differentiation in a spontaneously immortalized near-diploid human keratinocyte cell line, NIKS. J
Invest Dermatol 2000 Mar;114(3):444-55.

†Demographers too, Olshansky and Carnes subscribe to the concept of lifespan entropy, or that future gains in life expectancy will be much shorter, measured in days or months rather than years. See Olshansky SJ, Carnes BA, Desesquelles A.Demography. Prospects for human longevity. Science 2001 Feb 23;291(5508):1491-2.

In their highly selective references in their position paper articles, Scientific American and their experts cite only a few studies that admit that supplements may help. They ignore the many thousands of studies that have shown the benefit of nutritional supplements to repair the systems of the body, in part or substantially, not only slowing and reducing the vulnerability to disease but also decreasing measurable aspects of aging.

Speaking on behalf of “science,” authors Hayflick, Olshansky, and Carnes find it ironic that the “phony antiaging” industry is growing when promising work is being done by scientists who are truly, well, scientific. Important breakthroughs are coming, presumably in a few decades, and will help us to “understand.” Then our children, perhaps, can benefit.

The Scientific American authors believe that antiaging “scams” have been going on since 3500 B.C., when self-proclaimed experts first deluded the public. Yet pessimism has been around a lot longer that that, and Hayflick, Olshansky, and Carnes are representative of that tradition. Thus it is especially strange that they have devoted themselves to studying aging when they are dismissive of any positive findings. Sort of like rocket scientists who don’t believe that space flight is possible.

In the Scientific American articles, the prospects of truly longer life are described  as science fiction, for entertainment only, nonsense, and impossible. According to science fiction author Arthur Clarke’s First Law, “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

1.Oeppen J, Vaupel JW. Demography. Broken limits to life expectancy.
Science 2002 May 10;296(5570):1029-31.
2.Olshansky SJ, Hayflick L, Carnes BA. No truth to the fountain of youth. Sci
Am Jun;286(6):92-5.

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