7 Discoveries That Increased Our Lifespan
Did you know that just over a century ago, people were not expected to live beyond the age of 40? Forget retirement, it was considered a miracle if you got through your teens without contracting a major disease.
Such facts truly help us appreciate how fortunate we are to be living in the present times, with access to modern healthcare that helps us to effectively live past the age of 80 and even 100.
To truly appreciate the evolution of modern healthcare, it is worth looking back and studying the state of healthcare a century ago, and marvelling at the various discoveries and advances in medicine that have helped increase human lifespan.
Germ Theory: Louis Pasteur, whose name we still see regularly on packets of “pasteurized milk”, was responsible for the first major breakthrough in modern medicine. His discovery in 1881, that germs are responsible for the spread of major diseases, helped scientists study the various effects of these germs or pathogens. Even though he was not the first one to propose this, he is credited with the discovery because he had solid research and evidence to back his theory. The germ theory, in turn, led to his discovering sterilization (of foods) and pasteurization.
Vaccines: The next major breakthrough came in the form of vaccines, which prevented epidemics such as smallpox and polio from spreading wildly. Initially used by Edward Jenner to fight smallpox in 1976, now vaccines are used against a number of viruses that once threatened to wipe out a large portion of the world’s population.
Blood Groups: Austrian scientist Karl Landsteiner first identified the blood groups O, A and B in 1900-1901. His discovery, which he says was accidental, revolutionized the medical world as it helped understand why certain blood transfusions worked, while others did not. He was awarded a Nobel Prize for it.
Antibiotics: The discovery and use of antibiotics in medicine has been a major factor in extending the human lifespan. Sir Alexander Fleming discovered the first antibiotic – penicillin – which helped people fight various bacterial infections.
Anesthesia: Before anesthesia was a reality, surgeries required the patient to bite down on a log of wood to avoid screaming. But thanks to a series of discoveries and experiments, medical anesthesia has evolved into a sophisticated tool. The early usage of opium left patients addicted to it, while chloroform had toxic side-effects. The benefits of anesthesia were first discovered when a dentist named William T G Morton used sulfuric ether on one of his patients in October 1846. Since then, modern anesthesia has helped millions sleep through surgeries painfree.
X-rays: In 1895 Wilhelm Roentgen, a German professor of physics, discovered electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength range that was unknown earlier. He named these rays X-rays, in the absence of a more specific name. Professor Roentgen’s X-rays are one of the most powerful diagnostic tools available to the medical community today.
Insulin: Insulin has been extensively used to help diabetics control their blood sugar levels, thereby extending their lifespan. To this day, diabetes continues to be a major health hazard; however, it has been possible to fight diabetes thanks to the use of insulin and similar agents. The credit for this remarkable discovery goes to physician Fredrick Banting and his student Charles H Best, who discovered the insulin hormone in 1921 in the pancreatic extracts of dogs. It was first used for treating humans in 1923.
These are just a few of the discoveries that have helped the human race cheat death on more than one occasion. If you look back on your own childhood, you would remember someone who had to a serious illness or injury, but was nursed back to full health. Such things might seem regular now, but they were nothing short of a miracle when these medical practices were first invented or discovered. We are truly fortunate that we live in an age where the best minds of our generation are working tirelessly to ensure that we as a species continue to enjoy the wonders of this world for as long as possible.