Friday, January 17, 2014

Are We Less Healthy Today in Spite of Living Longer?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: if you look at the human lifespan on a graph from Adam and Eve until now, you'll see it looks like a big U. In the beginning, humans lived for 900+ years, and this lifespan gradually declined.

Peaking at 50? Sure, why not!?
And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years, and begot a son to his own image and likeness, and called his name Seth. And the days of Adam, after he begot Seth, were eight hundred years: and he begot sons and daughters. And all the time that Adam lived came to nine hundred and thirty years, and he died.
Seth also lived a hundred and five years, and begot Enos. And Seth lived after he begot Enos, eight hundred and seven years, and begot sons and daughters. And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years, and he died.
And Cainan lived seventy years, and begot Malaleel. And Cainan lived after he begot Malaleel, eight hundred forty years, and begot sons and daughters. And all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years, and he died.
And Malaleel lived sixty-five years, and begot Jared. And Malaleel lived after he begot Jared, eight hundred and thirty years, and begot sons and daughters. And all the days of Malaleel were eight hundred and ninety-five years, and he died. 
And Lamech lived a hundred and eighty-two years, and begot a son. And he called his name Noe, saying: This same shall comfort us from the works and labours of our hands on the earth which the Lord hath cursed. And Lamech lived after he begot Noe, five hundred and ninety-five years, and he begot sons and daughters. And all the days of Lamech came to seven hundred and seventy-seven years, and he died-Genesis 5:3-8, 12-17, 28-31

The Bible continues like this, with the general trend of a declining lifespan through the Patriarchal period. By the time we hit Abraham, we're under 200 years. By the time we reach Moses, we're intpo the current upper limit of human life: 120 years.

Today, the average expected human lifespan is 67 across the globe. 200 years ago, it was 40. Two thousand years ago, it was 30 (although you could reach 45 if you made is past childhood).

But at the same time, there's a paradox: if the modern lifestyle is so unnatural and artificial, and chemically unbalanced and unhealthy, why are we living longer in spite of it?

I think the answer comes in three parts. There are three key things that have been developed though the Industrial revolution that have increased life expectancy in spite of a decrease in overall human health.

These three things are:
  1. Sanitation
  2. Vaccinations
  3. Pregnancy & Delivery Health


Imagine this: It's Saturday morning, and you're preparing a chicken for lunch. You just killed it out back yesterday, and it's been hanging in the smokehouse. You take it out, cut out the giblets, salt/pepper/butter it, and set it over the open fire to roast for a while. Then, you give your hands a quick rinse in the pan of room-temperature water you have set aside before you dry them and start peeling carrots for the kids' snack. You rinse the dirt off the carrots using the same water, and then dry the carrots with the same towel. Next, this water is used by the kids to rinse their hands off after playing by the creek catching tadpoles.

Did I mention that nobody used soap, and running water hasn't been invented yet?

I'm guessing this scenario was largely the norm for many families throughout the ages. Put simply, disinfection, cross-contamination, and anti-bacterial practices simply didn't exist throughout most of human history. Disease was spread far more rapidly and uncontrolled even 100 years ago.

The sad part is that the step-by-step is apparently necessary.

Here's another way to look at it. Restaurants, and hospitals in particular, focus a lot on hand washing and infection prevention to the point where it's a little creepy. Why? Because it is just about the single biggest vector in disease prevention and control.

So, living in a society (i.e., any from 100+ years ago) where hand washing is not the norm, and disease prevention is at best an afterthought will naturally tend to have a higher rate of infectious disease. And more seriously sick people means a lower life expectancy.


When it comes to smallpox, polio and the like, extinction is a good thing.
Vaccines have saved millions of souls from a terrible death, many of these when they were still in the first few years of life. Things like smallpox, polio, whooping cough, tuberculosis, tetanus, and so on have ravaged humanity for centuries - until now.

Yes, there is a lot of debate about vaccines. I admit - some are unnecessary. For example, we never get the flu shot. We get the flu about as often as those who do get it. It seems like a shot in the dark, and a quasi-effective one at that.

But in general, there is no doubt that vaccines against life-threatening, contagious illnesses have saved millions of lives and led to greater life expectancy.

Pregnancy & Delivery Health

In ages past, getting pregnant was like Russian Roulette for some women. With advances in pre-natal, delivery, and post-natal care, maternal death is down by a factor of 60, and that from less than a century ago.

Safe, healthy mothers and children make safe, healthy societies.
Up until the 20th century, childbirth was one of the most dangerous times in a woman's and a child's life. Advances in medicine throughout the pregnancy and early infant years have dramatically improved life expectancy in developed societies. Even some rudimentary shared knowledge in 3rd-world countries have led to declining infant mortality.

So, what does it all mean?

I think there has been an interesting parallel in the industrialized world - while we are living longer, we are NOT living healthier. Our sleep is a mess. Our food is barely able to be called food. Obesity is TOC. Stress, so common in the ultra-connected and fast-paced world in which we live, is wreaking havoc in our health.

I think that previous cultures had more natural lifestyles and diets, and dealt with general lower stress levels. In short, they were healthier.

So when people object to the paleo diet lifestyle because "cavemen only lived to be 30," or some other insane, un-researched, knee-jerk reaction, I think it's because they just have not stopped to think it through. Humans live longer now in spite of being less healthy overall because of the three factors mentioned above.

We're trying to become healthier. We're trying to live more as God has intended. We're trying to battle the inherent health issues that go along with a technology-based, 21st century, developed nation. We're trying to have long lives, as He intended.

And we want to do this not in spite of the great advances in health, but along with them.

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