Longer Life Through Medical Advances?
Or Holistic Health…?
Not too long ago, Dr. Aubrey de Grey, a researcher in the United Kingdom caused quite stir when he claimed that within his own lifetime, medical science will be able to cure aging. In an interview at Britain’s Royal Institution Academy of Science, he stated: “I’d say that we have a 50/50 chance of bringing aging under what I’d call a decisive level of medical control within the next 25 years or so.”
He predicts that doctors will be able to use gene therapies, stem cell therapies, immune stimulation and other advanced techniques to repair molecular and cellular damage. By repairing such damage on an ongoing basis, de Gray says, we can fend off the diseases of old age that are common causes of death.
Sounds plausible. Kinda. Right?
Well, not to me.
Let’s look at this in the context of simple kitchen appliances. If someone claimed they had built a toaster that could last 1000 years (or even just 150 years), would you buy one? Or would you consider the claim so outlandish as to have zero credibility?
Why then, should we accept a similar claim applied to something as complex as a living human being!?
I’ll grant that with a toaster, you may be able to keep replacing parts and still have a working toaster in 1000 years. But what you really have is a 1000 year series of new toasters. Once you replace the last original part, your original toaster has died.
The inescapable reality that researchers such as Dr. de Grey never seem to understand is that we are more than just a machine built of easily replaceable parts and processes. Human beings are alive by virtue of an innate intelligence…a living essence…that animates our physical body. That essence is not substance. The most brilliant scientists in the world will never be able to duplicate, fix or replace it.
Second, it’s a misconception to believe that the increase in human life expectancy has been due mainly to medical advances. You probably already know that I wrote a book called
Oby’s Wisdom! A Caveman’s Simple guide to Health and Well-being.
In the earliest stages of writing the book, as soon as I decided on the caveman concept, people brought up the life expectancy issue.
“Hold on, Dr. Mark. How can cave dwellers serve as a model for better health? We have a much longer life expectancy now than in prehistoric times.”
Yes, humans live much longer now than way back then; and I’ll grant that medicine has played a part…but…that increase is mainly the result of advances other than medical ones. You and I live longer lives than our prehistoric predecessors because of better public sanitation, water purification, modern plumbing, improved food security and safer living conditions.
The Reuters News Service article about de Grey points out that there are more centenarians than ever before, and singles out Japan as having the most. So let’s delve deeper into that. The Japanese prefecture of Okinawa has the longest human life expectancy on Earth. In 2006 The Okinawa Centenarian Study identified two key factors in Okinawans’ longevity:
Genetic. Okinawans, genetically, live a long time.
Lifestyle. The traditional Okinawan diet is a very healthy one including plenty of plant foods, omega 3 fats and monounsaturated fats. Their traditional cultural habit known as “hara hachi bu”, or only eating until they are 80% full is another important lifestyle factor. They are physically active throughout life and have a high vitamin D intake from sunshine. Alcohol use is low and smoking is uncommon. Okinawans have strong social support structures and a strong spiritual aspect in their lives.
Nowhere in the study does it credit modern medicine for contributing to the Okinawans’ longevity. From my viewpoint, longevity comes from their holistic health lifestyle! In other words, Okinawans turn their health inside out!
Now back to this side of the pond. In March 2005, the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine published a study that projects that the life expectancy of children in the U.S. today may be 5 years shorter than their parents, mainly due to obesity and the diseases that come along with it. The important message…again…is that lifestyle is more important to longevity than is the current state medical technology. If the projected decrease in longevity comes to pass, it will be because of poor nutrition rather than a dearth of medical advances.
My final thought is that de Grey and other researchers overlook the fact that medical advances always come with a downside. For example, antibiotics, once hailed as the greatest of medical miracles, have given rise to superbugs…that can’t be treated with antibiotics.
Let’s put this in computer terms. What’s the downside going to look like when we go in and start to tinker with our human software?
If we want to live longer, healthier lives, we can only do so through a holistic health lifestyle, and by turning our health inside out!
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