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What are some historic turning points that influenced human longevity?

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Anja M
Anja M Sep 30, 2020
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Let's put together a list of historic turning points that had a profound impact on human longevity

From understanding the importance of proper hygiene to discovering the hallmarks of aging, humanity went through discoveries and events that ultimately led to improvements in our lifespan and survival.

Can we name a few such turning points? I will start the list off with two scientific anecdotes:

Margaret Mead & femur bone

This American anthropologist was asked by a student what she thinks was the first sign of civilization. She replied it is a broken femur bone that healed. In the animal kingdom, it is not uncommon for animals to bite off their extremities if severely injured, in order to increase survival chances. In other cases, animals simply rarely live up to the point of having the bone healed, as it is a long process and survival is already hard enough. Therefore, a healed (femur) bone is a sign of being taken care of, which is a very plausible sign of the dawn of civilization.

The grandmother hypothesis

Although this still remains a hypothesis, it still offers enough food for thought to be taken into more serious consideration. In 2012 it was proposed by the anthropologist Kristen Hawkes that menopause in human females was perhaps the key to helping distribute the burden of care for the offspring. Being supplementary caregivers, grandmothers not only help with feeding and basic children's needs but also with attention to developing social and other more sophisticated skills.

Do you know of more, fitting examples?

[1]Example mentioned in: Byock, I.. “The Best Care Possible: A Physician's Quest to Transform Care Through the End of Life.” (2012).

[2]Kim Peter S., Coxworth James E. and Hawkes Kristen 2012Increased longevity evolves from grandmotheringProc. R. Soc. B.2794880–4884

Creative contributions

Introduction of vaccines and immunization

Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Oct 01, 2020
One of the most crucial points in the history of mankind, talking from the longevity perspective, was the introduction of vaccines in the 18th century, Following the introduction of this novel medical intervention, the dynamic progress of technology and the improvement of health systems has largely helped spike up the average life-span of the inhabitants of this planet by almost two-folds in the last two centuries.

From the earliest days when Edward Jenner invented the small-pox vaccine (or better-said variolation) in the late 18th century, all the way through Louis Pasteur's discovery of the Rabies vaccine to the today's reality of regular Flu-shots, immunization has had a massive positive influence in the global public health. The constant upgrade in the vaccine research has been fruitful to an extent such that otherwise lethal diseases like Smallpox, Polio, Tetanus, Influenza, Measles (and many others) are almost forgotten by mankind . By eliminating conditions that would normally result in death among children and adults likewise, vaccines have helped to push the average life-span up. Additionally, vaccines increase life expectancy by guarding against diseases which the individual can develop as co-morbidities. For example, elderly individuals who are given an influenza vaccine in the USA had approximately 20% less chance of suffering cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease; and 50% lower risk of mortality from all causes compared to their unvaccinated counterparts .


[2]Nichol KL, Nordin J, Mullooly J, Lask R, Fillbrandt K, Iwane M. Influenza vaccinations and reductions in hospitalisations for cardiac disease and stroke among the elderly. N Engl J Med 2003;348:1322-32. PMID:12672859 doi:10.1056/NEJMoa025028

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic4 years ago
Your contribution is full of great points. It would be ideal though if you listed each separately as an individual contribution, that way the entire page could be read like a list (what the session asked for). This motivated me to start another session - How to structure a perfect creative contribution for the purposes of this platform. I'll link it here when done
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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain4 years ago
Thanks for the suggestion. I will edit and break it into two: one each for vaccine and antibiotics.
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Antibiotics discovery and spread of its clinical use

Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Oct 01, 2020
Similar to the effects of vaccines, antibiotics are a game-changer for human longevity. After the serendipitous discovery by Fleming in 1928, antibiotics have drastically improved the collective human condition. Before the discovery of penicillin (and subsequently other antibiotics), simple pathogens like Streptococcus pyogenes caused half of all post-birth deaths, Staphylococcus aureus was fatal in 80% of infected wounds, and tuberculosis and pneumonia were major killers en masse. Thankfully, the antibiotic era (especially post-world war II) marked a revolution in the treatment of infectious diseases worldwide. In the US only, the major cause of death changed from communicable diseases to non-communicable diseases like cancer and stroke; and within a short period of 50 to 60 years, averagelife expectancy rose to 78.8 years, massively changing the prooprtion of older generation in the population (4% to 13% ).

Antibiotics access has greatly influenced the public average life-span in a number of ways. For example, maternal and childhood infections (for eg pneumonia and childbed fever) that could otherwise be fatal are effectively controlled with the aid of antibiotics. Moreover, antibiotics have greatly eased up the process of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy causes immune suppression and increases the risk of even ordinary infections being fatal, thankfully kept under control with antibiotics. Similarly, without antibiotics, it would be almost impossible to do organ transplants as well as non-vital surgery due to the risk of infection. Fortunately, the wide-scale availability of all sorts of antibiotic drugs has made all of these possible, holistically improving the quality of life for all of us.

[1]CDC. National Centre for Health Statistics. Life Expectancy. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/life-expectancy.html

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