Fwd: NYTimes.com Article: Human Body Recall! Design Problems

From: Mark Plus (markplus@hotmail.com)
Date: Tue Mar 27 2001 - 01:11:04 MST

>Subject: NYTimes.com Article: Human Body Recall! Design Problems
>Date: Tue, 27 Mar 2001 03:02:40 -0500 (EST)
>Human Body Recall! Design Problems
>People who do not meet the current standards of body beautiful with
>narrow waist, slim hips and trim thighs might enjoy knowing that
>this idealized form was not built to last, at least not for three
>or more decades beyond a woman's childbearing years.
> In fact, if people were manufactured products, one might
>justifiably accuse their producer of planned obsolescence. Ask
>almost anyone over 50 and you are likely to encounter complaints
>about aching backs, sore knees, tired legs, failing vision, fading
>hearing, waning strength and/or fragile bones.
> These and other commonplace signs of physical deterioration
>prompted three experts on aging to propose a redesign of the human
>body, inside and out, that could enhance its ability to last to age
>100 without falling apart.
> The new design may not win any beauty contests, though the sex
>drive being what it is, if everyone looked more or less like their
>proposal, mating opportunities would probably not be affected very
> "The living machines we call our bodies deteriorate because they
>were not designed for extended operation and because we now push
>them to function long past their warranty period," Dr. Robert N.
>Butler, Dr. S. Jay Olshansky and Dr. Bruce A. Carnes write in the
>current issue of Scientific American.
> Dr. Butler, the first director of the National Institute on Aging,
>is now at 74 the president of the International Longevity Center in
>New York. Dr. Olshansky and Dr. Carnes are senior research
>scientists at the National Opinion Research Center/Center on Aging
>at the University of Chicago.
>Keeping Up With Life Spans
> In an interview, Dr. Butler noted that in the last century alone,
>life expectancy for Americans increased by about three decades, to
>77 from 47.
> Researchers in regenerative medicine are already hard at work
>trying to delay the aging process and its associated diseases
>through the use of spare parts derived from stem cells.
> But Dr. Butler expressed outrage over the proliferation of
>anti-aging products and clinics that hoodwink the gullible into
>believing they could counter the aging process through various
>"youth in a bottle" potions, including the administration of human
>growth hormone to the tune of $12,000 to $15,000 a year.
> "These purveyors fail to understand the role of evolution in how
>the body is constructed," Dr. Butler said. "Evolution's main job is
>reproductive success."
> Evolution had no effect on preservation of the species beyond the
>years of childbearing and rearing, so it is not surprising that the
>body noticeably deteriorates after about 50.
>A New Body Beautiful
>In a suggestion that delights yours truly, who is barely 5 feet
>tall, Dr. Butler and his collaborators say people should be
>shorter. This would lower the body's center of gravity and reduce
>the risk of falls that could result in broken bones.
> In case a person does fall, they offer two further suggestions for
>anatomical modifications: thicker bones to protect against breakage
>and extra padding on the hips and thighs in the form of muscles and
>fat that would both help to protect against bone loss and act as
>cushioning for bones in the event of a fall or other accident.
> Heavier thighs would also help to support the legs and hips.
>Americans now suffer 350,000 hip fractures a year, which cost about
>$7 billion and result in the deaths of 20 percent of victims within
>a year of the mishap, Dr. Butler said.
> So those of you who are already "pear- shaped," or bottom-heavy,
>are probably better designed. Your voluptuous hips and thighs
>should help you outlast your apple- shaped peers (pear-shaped
>people also have a lower risk of heart disease) and be less of a
>drain on Medicare's budget.
> Another area of concern is our ramrod posture, which places
>enormous stress on spinal vertebrae and the cartilaginous disks
>between them.
> In a suggestion likely to distress the military, the three experts
>maintain that we should be bent forward from the hips to relieve
>pressure on the vertebrae and to reduce the risk of painful
>ruptured or slipped disks.
> In addition, those disks should be thicker to resist destructive
>pressures, which can ultimately result in bone rubbing on bone.
> But the forward-bending torso would have us all looking at our
>feet or the ground in front of us, like a novice ice skater who
>fears the ice won't be there for the next stroke. This prompted the
>experts' suggestion that the neck be curved and supported by
>special enlarged vertebrae to keep the head straight and
>forward-looking. The resulting form bears a strong resemblance to
>Neanderthals, who appear to have been more favorably designed, at
>least with regard to falls.
> Perhaps the most bizarre external modification would occur in the
>knees. As now designed, knees are a notable source of
>vulnerability. Witness the proliferation of prescription and
>over-the-counter products to counter arthritic knee pain and the
>fast- growing field of knee-replacement surgery. Instead of knees
>that only bend forward, the experts proposed that they should also
>be able to bend backward. This, Dr. Butler said, would reduce the
>wear and tear on knee bones and cartilage and delay the onset of
>painful arthritis.
> But the reversible knee joint proposal has a downside knees that
>could bend in both directions would no longer lock when the legs
>are extended. Thus, standing for long periods might become more
>difficult. Of course, society could accommodate to this new design
>by providing more seating opportunities and by eliminating long
>lines (say, at public restrooms), which probably should happen
>anyway to reduce the stress on our aging population.
>Internal Changes
>To counter the development of varicose veins, a
>circulatory problem that is especially common in women who have
>given birth to several children and that can make standing and
>walking painful, leg veins would be designed with a continuous
>string of valves to help push blood back toward the heart. And to
>better protect internal organs (like the spleen, which can rupture
>in an accident) and to prevent hernias, we would need additional
>ribs that extend past the stomach (say goodbye to that fashionably
>slim waist).
> To better protect vision, the optic nerve would be attached, not
>to the front of the retina but to the back to stabilize it against
>detachment. And to protect against hearing loss, which can result
>from repetitive noise damage, we would need larger ears better able
>to collect sound and more hair cells to record it.
> As for our all-too-common plumbing problems, rather than have half
>of older men plagued by the consequences of enlarged prostates, the
>urethra would be repositioned outside this gland instead of through
>it to keep the urinary channel from being squeezed.
> And for women at risk of the socially disabling problem of stress
>incontinence caused by weakened bladder muscles and ligaments,
>there would be stronger bladder and sphincter muscles and more
>durable ligaments to help control the release of urine.
> But Dr. Butler suggests that no one wait for genetic engineers to
>redesign us. By current estimates, he says, "our genes account for
>only 30 percent of our health."
> "The other 70 percent," he added, "we can take control of by
>improving our diets, exercising and maintaining our cognitive

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