Humans Age at Same Pace as Other Primates, Study Finds

This type of research may improve understanding of the maximum potential life span, expert says

THURSDAY, March 10 (HealthDay News) -- New research challenges the belief that humans age at a slower pace than other animal species.

It's long been thought that humans' relatively long life span and access to modern medical care helps people age more slowly than other animals. Comparisons with short-lived creatures such as mice and rats seemed to confirm that idea.

But researchers who conducted the first-ever comparison of human aging patterns with those of other primates (including chimps and gorillas) found that they all have similar aging rates, which is the rate at which death risk increases with age.

The study findings are published in the March 11 issue of Science.

"Human patterns are not strikingly different, even though wild primates experience sources of mortality from which humans may be protected," the researchers wrote in a letter to the journal.

These risks included falling from trees and being attacked by predators, the researchers noted.

The investigators also confirmed a pattern noted in humans and other animals -- as animals age, males die sooner than females. However, among primates, a species of monkey called the muriqui, which has been noted to have the least amount of male-male aggression, has the smallest death gap between males and females, the study authors noted.

While modern medicine is helping people live longer than ever before, it's still not know what governs maximum life span, so this type of research may have practical implications for humans, the researchers explained.

"Some human studies suggest we might be able to live a lot longer than we do now. Looking to other primates to understand where we are and aren't flexible in our aging will help answer that question," study co-author Susan Alberts, associate director at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, N.C., and a biologist at Duke University, said in a University of North Carolina at Charlotte news release.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about healthy aging.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: University of North Carolina at Charlotte, news release, March 10, 2011

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