18. Will human longevity continue to increase?

I predict NO……once the pre-WWII babies are all gone.    

A little background.  I’ve seen a number of recent articles about human longevity, and the rapidly growing number of centenarians alive, and some extrapolations from the recent trends.  The number of US centenarians is about 90,000 and is expected to pass 500,000 in about 30 years.  Globally, there are about 500,000 today and will reach perhaps 3.5 million in 30 years.  These projections are based not so much on the increasing longevity of humans, but on our ability to prevent “early” death which causes people to live longer.  The actual maximum longevity of humans is still hovering around 110-115 but only a very small number of people make it that far.  However, here is a huge difference between the number of people who live to the maximum longevity and an actual change in expectancy.

In 1900, the life expectancy of Americans was about 46-48 and rose slowly over the next couple of decades until 1945.  The end of WWII was a tipping point for longevity; we gained control over bacterial infections with penicillin and medical technology experienced major advances.  Over the next 20-25 years human life expectancy hit ~80 years, our ability to slow and control the debilitating aspects of aging underwent a quantum leap forward.  However, that number has not changed since.  What has changed is that mortality due to infectious disease, especially for infants and the elderly, diminished tremendously.  Since 1945, we die of heart disease, strokes, cancers, and diseases related to cardiovascular issues, but we are now able to stave off death which means more people make it to the magical age of 100. So, although expectancy is increasing, longevity is not.

So, why do I think that longevity is not going to increase? 

First, I think the both expectancy and loingevity for humans may decrease relatively soon.  And I predict this will happen as the number of people born before 1945 decreases.  The youngest of that group turn 76 this year. 

Second, I may be wrong because of tremendous intervention by medical technology. However, technology keeps us alive not by increasing longevity, but by preventing death and I argue this is not the same thing.

As to the first point, I will be posting extensively about the human microbiome including what it is, what it does, and how to keep it healthy and working for you.  To be brief, the human microbiome is the collection of bacteria in our colon (primarily) and it has an incredibly complex relationship with our immune, nervous, circulatory, and digestive systems.  It is an integral and essential part of our long-term health.  And since 1945, we have been killing it without regard for any short or long-term consequences.  We’ve done this in different ways, but mainly via antibiotics.  As an analogy, we came to a fist fight with a machine gun.

The babies born after 1945 were born into a world of antibiotics in which even the possibility of bacterial infection is met with overwhelming lethal force.  For an earache in infants, we douse the entire body with a broad-spectrum antibiotic. For a simple infection on our foot, we take antibiotics for 7 days through our mouth.   We will kill all bacteria to eliminate a single kind.  Bacteria are bad and our mission since 1945 has been to sterilize.

We are now finding that we need the 1000-1500 species of bacteria in our colon.  We need them every day, we need to feed them good food, we need to let them do their work on our behalf.  The more times we hammer them with antibiotics and the less diverse they are, the less work they can do on our behalf, and the more we open ourselves up to pathogenic behavior by some of the species.  It is estimated that a 20-year-old today has been subjected to 17 courses of antibiotics in their short life, with many of those courses before the age of two, which is when very important physical, physiological, neurological development was taking place.

These consequences are correlated with a long list of emerging “epidemics” such as obesity, allergies, diabetes, autism, and auto-immune diseases.  These diseases all have the appearance of the body turning on itself or of the body behaving in an unnatural way.  It will take decades to unravel how these diseases develop, the relationship with the microbiome, the interactions with the toxic world we live in, and effects of the disastrously low-quality diet the western world subsists on. 

I predict that the emergence of Modern Medicine and antibiotics after 1945 will be reflected in a decline in average longevity and life expectancy in humans because of a decline in human vitality stemming from childhood.  This will be based on a decline in the ability of the human body to mend itself.  I predict that an important underlying contributor is the damage we have wrought on the microbiome.  We are all damaged.  But there are ways to alleviate the damage and I am going to suggest (in upcoming blogs) that it begins with microbiome health and that we have the understanding we need to begin today.

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