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Study suggests there’s a cap to human life span


    Thomas, 5, looked at Jeanne Calment after he brought her flowers at her retirement home in Arles, southern France in Feb. 1997. Calment, believed to be the world’s oldest person, died at the age of 122 in 1997.

LOS ANGELES » Just how long can people live?

New research suggests there may be a limit to our life span — one that’s hard to extend without some sort of breakthrough that fixes all age-related problems.

The record for the world’s oldest person is 122 years and the odds of shattering that record are slim, according to an analysis published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

“It seems extremely difficult if not impossible to break through that ceiling due to the complexity of the aging process,” one of the researchers, Jan Vijg, a geneticist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said in an email.

Life expectancies in many countries have risen dramatically because of improvements in medical care and sanitation in the last century, and the maximum age of death has also increased, leading some to believe that there’s no boundary to how long people can live.

In the new study, researchers analyzed mortality data from a global database. They found that while there have been strides in reducing deaths among certain groups — children, women during childbirth and the elderly — the rate of improvement was slower for the very old, those over 100 years old.

Next they examined how old centenarians were when they died. The record holder is Jeanne Calment, of France, who lived until 122 years old. Since her death in 1997, no one has broken her record.

The researchers calculated the odds of someone reaching 125 years in a given year are less than 1 in 10,000. They think the human life span more likely maxes out at 115 years.

Some aging specialists said the study doesn’t take into account advances that have been made in extending the life span — and health — of certain laboratory animals including mice, worms and flies through genetic manipulation and other techniques. The goal is to eventually find treatments that might slow the aging process in humans and keep them healthier longer.

“We can greatly extend the life spans of many different types of animals. I don’t think humans are an exception,” said David Sinclair, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School and a spokesman for the American Federation For Aging Research.

S. Jay Olshansky, a longevity researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said it remains to be seen just how much further life span can be stretched with technology.

“If we succeed, current limits are likely to be broken. How much they are broken depends on the nature of the breakthrough,” he said in an email.

Studies of centenarians have found that lifestyle choices play a bigger role than genetics in their longevity and most were able to delay disease and disability until late in life. Among supercentenarians — people who survive to 110 years old or longer — genes are key.

Instead of searching for an anti-aging pill, people should focus on eating better and exercising to stay healthy in their twilight years, said Dr. Thomas Perls, professor of geriatrics at Boston University who heads the New England Centenarian Study.

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  • Why try to extend the lives of people over 100? If they live longer naturally, fine. Let them pass on in peace instead of suffering or in discomfort.

    • I totally agree. After all if you could live forever time would be meaningless. Additionally the world would not be able to accomodate the populations if people stopped dying.

      • I take it you are not familiar with the 2045 project or the company, Humai. Kids today may have to address the concept of time in a different way.

        • Read the purpose of the project. Nothing groundbreaking or important from this project. Other then saying people should eat healthy, get adequate sleep, enough exercise and reduce stress, not much more can they add to the table. There is no magic pill or manipulation of a person’s DNA is going to change much. However, if researchers can figure out how to better treat or cure cancer, Alzheimer and other type of ailments that usually show up later in life that would definitely extend the life or provide better quality of life for everyone.

    • I agree. We should not mess with mother nature so much. There are only so many resources it the world. Quality of life is what we should focus on.

  • “Instead of searching for an anti-aging pill, people should focus on eating better and exercising to stay healthy” — yeah, good luck convincing most Americans to do THAT.

    • I have traveled the world. We are definately the fattest country on the world. Too many lazy people who don’t exercise and eat nothing but junk food.

  • People already live long enough. Dr. Perls is right–focus on being healthy when you are old, not breaking the record for years. Being over 100 isn’t that much fun–ask my 105-year old grandmother. Several times a day she says, “Oh, I WISH I were dead.” And she isn’t even suffering pain or illness.

    • If you are no longer enjoying life and have done and seen everything you want to see and do, you know when it is time. I know I don’t want to live forever.

      • Yes, some of the native American tribes’ elderly knew when it was time. They left the tribe and went off to die in peace so that they would no longer be a burden to their family and tribe!

  • Couldn’t our research dollars be spent on something better? Let the aging process occur with peace and dignity and stop spending the majority of our health care dollars on the final weeks of someone’s life.

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