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Myths of longevity

 

Explanations > Brains > Neural Aging > Myths of longevity

Ancestors | Medicine | Insects | Drugs | Eating | Hormones | See also

 

There are many myths about how we are all soon going to live forever, with a number being put about by optimistic scientists. Sadly, it's not that easy. Maybe we will one day know how to truly extend our lives, but there is no clear route forward.

Our ancestors lived short lives

Myth

Our ancestors lived relatively short lives, with few people living beyond around 40 years.

Debunk

What did happen is that there was a much greater death rate in childhood. A century ago in the US, 15% of children died before their first birthday. And in adulthood, diseases and accidents did mean some died when they might have lived today. So yes, the average age has increased. But go and look at an old graveyard. Plenty of our ancestors lived their full three score years and ten -- and then some.

Medicine is extending life

Myth

Medicine now means that we are living beyond our natural lifespan.

Debunk

Medicine may help us survive illnesses, but it does not hold back the natural aging process. Accident and illness aside, we do not live any longer.

We can make insects live longer, so we're next

Myth

The ability of scientists to genetically engineer longer lifetimes for some animals means they are close to being able to significantly extend human life.

Debunk

Indeed the lives fruit flies have been engineered from 40 to 130 days, but it is a huge leap to do something similar with humans, let alone any mammals. Fruit flies are not well engineered to live very long, so they're much easier to fix.

Vitamins and drugs can significantly affect longevity

Myth

All we need to do to extend life is take the right vitamins and avoid the free radicals.

Debunk

Free radicals indeed are implicated in cell damage and the right balance of vitamins will help keep you healthy, but the natural aging process is not affected.

We already have antioxidants and enzymes that are effective at combating free radicals. Theories around using antioxidant and other drugs to slow aging is not proven. No matter what you do, there is no way of significantly eliminating free radicals.

Some of the dietary elements that have helped extend animal life, such as catalytic scavengers in works, have no effect in humans.

Experiments that increased natural defences against free radicals in fruit flies increased life by only up to 10%.

Eating less makes you live longer

Myth

Food increases the aging process, for example by adding free radicals. Therefore if you eat less you will live longer.

Debunk

Underfeeding mice has indeed led to them living longer, but their metabolism is different. In particular lab mice are very similar and are susceptible to cancer later in life. Limiting food seems to delay these cancers.

Mice and small animals also go into a form of hibernation when they do not have enough food. We do not have this facility.

Over-eating can indeed lead to heart and other conditions that reduce life. This does not mean that under-eating will extend natural life.

Under-eating diets can also lead to health problems that can shorten life.

Hormones increase longevity

Myth

Hormone production decreases as we get older. And experimental use has increased vigor. So taking hormones will extend life.

Debunk

This is non-sequitur (it does not follow).

In particular there is a focus on growth hormones after injections seemed to increase vigor. Increase vitality may increase the quality of life but there is no indication that it makes you live longer. In fact life-shortening side-effects such as cancers are now being discovered.

See also

Storytelling, Aging myths?

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