The Holy Grail. The Fountain of Youth. The Elixir of Life. Mythology is riddled with man’s quest to achieve the impossible dream of immortality, usually with tragic results.
But thanks to scientific and technological advances, we are now living longer, fuller lives than ever before. OK, so immortality still eludes us, but we are looking younger, acting younger and feeling younger for longer than ever before.
The average life expectancy in the UK is now around 80 years. Just fifty years ago, it was 70 years. Within just one generation, reaching 100 years is expected to the norm, and of course the government is already responding by raising the official retirement age accordingly.
But why are we living so much longer now, and what does this mean for the future?
The main reason can be summed up in one word: medicine. Diseases which once wiped out entire civilisations have now been completely eradicated. Smallpox is perhaps the most famous example of an extinct disease – scientist Edward Jenner created what turned out to be the first ever successful vaccination in 1798, and the last recorded case of the disease was diagnosed in 1977.
With the help of high quality laboratory equipment and visionary scientists, other once-dreaded diseases are in the process of being wiped out. One hundred years ago, polio was one of the most feared illnesses on the planet killing around 15% of those affected. However, following the infamous polio epidemic of 1952, the world’s top scientists worked around the clock to develop preventative vaccinations for the disease. By the end of the twentieth century, polio was under control.
However, just last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the renewed spread of polio to be a “public health emergency of international concern”, with “extraordinary” levels of the disease being recorded in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. This announcement proves that we can never afford to be blasé about our health, and that continued investment into scientific research is still a priority. Laboratory Precision Limited sells a range of high quality lab equipment which is at the forefront of the fight against disease.
Many of the world’s worst illnesses and disabilities can be traced back to poor sanitation. The Black Death, or bubonic plague, was carried across the world by black rats, which thrived in the open sewers and unprotected food stores of medieval times. Today, we can keep vermin at bay with proper sanitation, refrigerated food storage and pest control, but poor sanitation still blights many third world countries, shortening many lives.
The introduction of potable water which has been properly treated for human consumption has also made a huge contribution to global sanitation and life expectancy. In developed countries, clean and safe drinking water is available on tap at any time, and huge investments are made into the water industry each year to make sure that the chemical treating processes are properly followed. In areas where access to clean drinking water is very limited, a marked reduction in life expectancy is apparent.
We are more aware now than ever before of what we are putting into our bodies, and food is easily accessible for most people in the world. The invention of the calorie as a unit of measuring human energy levels, and the discovery of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients has helped us to develop a healthy and balanced diet and keep diet-related illnesses at bay. Scurvy was the number one cause of death among sailors until 1932, when evidence proved that it was linked to vitamin C deficiency. Now there are next to no cases of scurvy reported in the maritime community, as powerful supplements are now available, (as well as citrus fruit of course). Of course, new complex vitamin supplements are still being created in labs across the world, using the sort of hi-spec equipment which is sold at Laboratory Precision Limited, suggesting that the global appetite for better nutrition is showing no sign of waning.
Before contraception, most women could expect to get pregnant at least once in their lifetime, and childbirth was extremely risky. In Victorian England, infant mortality rates could be as high as 500 per 1000 if you were living in an impoverished environment, while the maternal mortality rate was much higher than it is today. With proper antenatal monitoring and advances in midwifery, mothers and babies are much safer now than they were one hundred or two hundred years ago, which has a knock-on effect on the average life expectancy rates in the UK. With improved antenatal and maternity care and new advances in the lab, it is hoped that dangerous pregnancies and births will go the way of smallpox and become a thing of the past.