Why can't humans live for 200 years?

Limit of longevity : People cannot get much older than 115

As a young temporary worker, she sold painting utensils to Vincent van Gogh in her hometown of Arles. When she was granted the right to vote, the French woman was almost 70 and the Second World War was raging. Shortly before she died in 1997 at the age of 122, her mind was lively, but she was in a wheelchair, saw nothing and was almost deaf. To this day, nobody has grown older than Jeanne Calment.

It will probably remain the exception, write geneticists around Jan Vijg from Albert Einstein Medical College in New York in the journal "Nature". The probability that a person will reach the proud age of 125 is 1:10 000. After all, there is a natural limit to longevity, they say, and thus fuel a sometimes vicious debate among researchers.

Nobody denies that life expectancy is increasing

Nobody denies that life expectancy has been rising steadily since the 19th century. Thanks to vaccinations, better hygiene and nutrition as well as many drugs, for example, Germans no longer die on average at 50, but women have a good chance of being 83 years old. Then, however, they have accumulated so much damage in their genetic material that cancer develops or the nerve cells cannot keep up with the garbage disposal, so that Alzheimer's develops. Or the heart gives up.

Those aged over 100 have hardly benefited from advances in medicine since the 1980s, shows Vijg's analysis of data from 38 countries in the “Human Mortality Database”. Survival of this group has hardly improved since then. When the researchers also looked at the “International Database of Longevity”, which lists 534 extremely old people, the picture was confirmed: Between 1970 and 1990, the maximum lifespan rose from 111 to 115, then it had reached a plateau. That's it, says Vijg. People could not live longer than 115 years - even if methusalems are mostly protected from common diseases and even if there are more people today who are turning 100. The fact that no one has reached Jeanne Calment's age since 1997 is further evidence.

A natural limit to longevity?

Despite all the progress, nothing has changed in the mechanism of aging, agrees Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois in Chicago in a comment. There is no such thing as a “genetic time bomb” that suddenly explodes after a set number of years. But in the course of evolution, the biological clocks have been calibrated, among other things, so that humans reproduce at a young age. Aging as a by-product of these watches now restricts the maximum lifespan - similar to the way biomechanics imposes limits on how fast you can run.

The study was "ridiculous," said James Vaupel from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock to his competitors in a statement. Vijg's team did not even use the best statistical methods for the analysis. In addition, the researchers would not consider future advances in medicine. Scientists have repeatedly predicted a limit to longevity - and have always been taught better. Vijg, on the other hand, disagrees: medicine has so far tended to contribute to how long we get old healthy.

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