Has human lifespan reached its natural limit?

    6 October 2016

    It may not be possible to extend the lifespan of humans beyond 125 years, a study published in Nature has suggested.

    The researchers, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said that resources should be diverted away from lengthening life and towards lengthening time spent in good health.

    They analysed data from the Human Mortality Database, and found that the age at death of supercentenarians had plateaued since 1995. They estimated the average maximum human lifespan at 115 years, and said that 125 years was the absolute limit. Jeanne Calment, the woman with the longest confirmed human lifespan on record, died at the age of 122.

    The study’s senior author, Jan Vijg, said: ‘Demographers as well as biologists have contended there is no reason to think that the ongoing increase in maximum lifespan will end soon. But our data strongly suggest that it has already been attained and that this happened in the 1990s.

    ‘Further progress against infectious and chronic diseases may continue boosting average life expectancy, but not maximum lifespan. While it’s conceivable that therapeutic breakthroughs might extend human longevity beyond the limits we’ve calculated, such advances would need to overwhelm the many genetic variants that appear to collectively determine the human lifespan.’

    Instant analysis
    This is based on historical demographic data which suggest that not much improvement has been made to the maximum human life expectancy for some years, and therefore there may be a natural limit to the lifespan of the human body. Well, it’s not really surprising, but equally it’s not evidence. Many supposed scientific limits have been broken over the years, so who knows what the future of technology and evolution holds.

    Perhaps the more important question is whether we really want to live for longer than 110 years, and whether our focus should be more on healthy ageing rather than longevity itself.
    Research score: 2/5