If you believe some of the world’s oldest people, all you need to live beyond the age of 100 is to slather yourself in olive oil, eat plenty of bacon, and drink every day. However, a new study argues that, despite ever-growing human lifespans, it's unlikely that anyone will ever beat out the current record for oldest living person—an honor that belongs to Jeanne Calment, a French woman who died in 1997 at age 122.
In an article in the journal Nature, scientists from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York predict that the human lifespan will never top 115 years, as science writer Carl Zimmer reports in The New York Times.
Over the last century, human lifespans have increased steadily—most people born in 1900 didn’t live past of the age of 50, while today, the global average life expectancy is 71, and in Japan, the average is 83 years. However, there may be a natural limit to this increase, the researchers argue. They looked at data on the maximum reported age at death in France, Japan, the UK, and the United States—countries that have had the most recorded individuals over 110 years old—and found that though individuals were living longer and longer up until the 1990s, the maximum reported age at death plateaued after reaching about 115 years old. Their models show that the probability of this maximum reaching beyond 125 years old is less than 1 in 10,000.
These ideas, however, are controversial. One aging researcher told Zimmer that the concept of a maximum lifespan is so wrong-headed that the publication of this study was a "mistake" and a "travesty." Others argue that future biomedical breakthroughs will allow us to blow past any natural maximum age.
But the geneticists behind this latest study think that there may just be too many factors involved in the aging process to allow us to successfully stave off death for more than 115 years. “To further extend human lifespan, would require interventions beyond improving health span,” they write.
Our maximum natural lifespan might be encoded in our genome, they argue, and while researchers are working on treatments that would extend the human lifespan past the natural maximum—most famously, venture capitalist Peter Thiel has been investing in life-extension startups, like those studying parabiosis, or injecting young people’s blood into the bodies of older individuals. “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,” these researchers argue.
[h/t The New York Times]
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