עדכונים מהבלוג

הכניסו את כתובת המייל לקבלת עידכונים מהבלוג:
May 18, 2012

Very often I have to deal with questions about life expectancy at meetings, lectures and courses that I give, when I talk about the evolution and history of nutrition, or about ancient medicine, or gathering wild plants. It is an important question that made me delve more deeply into the subject, so that I can give full answers.

Usually (and unfortunately) the question is phrased like this: “O.K. so what do you expect? That we go back to being hunters and gatherers and live like a 1000 years ago? They died at the age of 20!!!” As a matter of fact, this is not a question, it is a declaration. Still, I feel it is important to give it a serious answer.

In most cases I start by saying that for me, personally, the quality of life is more important than life expectancy. I live here and now, and when I am healthier – I feel better, I lead a more active life, and I have no idea what will happen tomorrow. I have quoted Maimonides before, saying: “as far as the future is concerned: everything is possible but not certain, it may happen – or not. We tend to worry about catastrophes – we should, in the same way, increase our confidence in the good things that are coming to us; this is also a possibility.” However, this answer is not enough, as it deals with the soul and not with our body. It does not answer the question “we cannot see the future – but can we improve it?” Maimonides’ answer to this question will be presented at the end of this column.

Calculating life expectancy in history (hygiene)

I am often told that life expectancy in history was not as it is today. It is true, and not true – depending on the method of calculation. One of the main causes of death in the ancient world was infections caused by bad hygiene. This phenomenon does not occur (hardly) in the western world. As a matter of fact, the over meticulousness brought us to the other extreme, where our systems fail when hit by viruses and parasites that we are not used to deal with. Hygiene was the main cause of babies’ death in the ancient world, and thus, in certain countries, up to 2/3 of the young population died before that age of 5. If we do not count this, we find out that life expectancy in the ancient world was similar to ours, with small variations at different times and places.

Life expectancy is spiraling down…

However – not all is well… the new nutrition, which we believe is improving our life expectancy, has been studied for the last 200 years at the most – it is not long enough. Nowadays we can already see, in many areas of the United States, a lowering of life expectancy. The main causes are chronic diseases, led by diabetes and juvenile onset diabetes. The statistical forecast is that up to 25% of the population will suffer from diabetes in a few years’ time. A child suffering from diabetes loses 17-25 years of life. Let us check this 50 years from now…

Healthy-Life-Expectancy (HALE) or Healthy-Life-Years

The understanding that modern medicine enables us to live longer, even if our quality of life is deteriorating due to chronic diseases – led to new methods of calculating life expectancy. The new methods, taking into account the quality of life as well as its length, are called healthy-life-years in Europe and healthy-life-expectancy (HALE) in the USA. Comparing these indexes with life expectancy in the past leads to interesting conclusions: we seem to lose our fantastic success in saving babies lives by losing adults and elderly people’s lives. Most of our babies survive, while many elderly people and adults are ill.

A few days ago I have come across a short letter that Maimonides wrote in response to his pupil Yosef Ben-Yehuda who asked: “Are people’s lives in this world limited to a certain age, and injury and misfortune do not shorten it or harm him? Or do these injuries and misfortunes shorten his life if he does not take care to avoid them? And if he does not take care and prepare himself to avoid them he will not live, and if he does he will live longer?”

This is a long question, and so is Maimonides’ answer, and I have only just started to study it. However, one thing is very clear and unequivocal in his letter: Maimonides brings scientific proofs and quotes the bible to show that our lives’ length is not pre-determined, and it is affected by our surroundings, our way of life and other factors.

So, why should we choose an uncomfortable way of life that was common when life expectancy was shorter than ours? Because we now know that our longer lives were not brought about by sugar and margarine. Nowadays we are looking for excuses to eat junk food. Whichever way you look at it – it is clear what we must do.

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