Alcohol ‘a threat to life, not a secret to extending it’

6919247795_3e388d13d7_oThe UK’s top doctor has dismissed one of the most consistent centenarian longevity ‘secrets’ – a daily glass of beer, Scotch, wine or Guinness.

Rather than extending life, says the government’s Chief Medical Officer, any amount of daily alcohol is a risk to it. Dame Sally Davis says alcohol increases the risk of many cancers and its protective effect against heart disease has been overstated. She outlined new official guidance which says people should not drink every day and should limit their weekly intake to the equivalent of seven glasses of wine, though even this relatively small amount brings an element of increased risk.

There is some slight comfort for women over 55, for whom  drinking up to five units of red wine may still protect the heart. That though is no more than two and a half glasses of wine a week.

The new recommendations stem from a view that previous research studies showing a much larger protective effect of drinking alcohol were flawed. We have covered that concern here.

The new advice means that UK has some of the toughest advice on drinking. Would-be centenarians who have a daily glass of red wine, a shot of whisky or – as in this recent centenarian’s storya daily Martini for lunch get no support for their habit.

It remains to be seen whether other countries will follow the UK’s lead. And – just guessing here – I think it’s unlikely to alter many centenarians’ beliefs about alcohol and longevity, at least in the short term.


photo credit: the problem of sympathy via photopin (license)

NEWS: That’s another Guinness for me…

3820217887_a430856208_mAnother centenarian has sworn by a daily pint of Guinness. According to her local newspaper, Alice Patten takes no medication – just a glass of the black stuff every day, apparently on the advice of her doctor. Alice has just turned 100 and still gets out and about shopping. ‘She still has all her marbles and is 100 per cent with it,’ says daughter Brenda, who lives with her.

We’ve previously seen how fellow centenarian Gladys Fielden says Guinness is her longevity secret, though sadly we could only give it a disappointing 5 out of 10 as a potential route to a longer life.

STORY SO FAR: top-rated ways to live to 100

Twenty entries in to our ‘101 ways to live to 100′ and already one or two trends are emerging. Alcohol and religion both turn up in quite a few of our centenarians’ secrets to longevity, as does chocolate. So far, no one has mentioned genetics (though a few have mentioned ‘family’). And our surprise leader is mountaineering.

Our league table below is surely the only time these words have ever appeared in a list together:

9/10: Mountaineering
8/10: A loving family; Be happy and enjoy life;
7/10: A good doctor; praising God
6/10: One meal a day; sleep; hard work
5/10: ChocolateMonogamy; Guinness; Yoga; a lot of booze
4/10: Two raw eggs;
3/10: Work less overtime;
2/10: Bacon
1/10: Water from a wishing well
0/10: Pearls
No score: Good food; stem cells

Back soon with: Does a sense of humour help you live longer?

Secret no.17 Guinness

Gladys Fielden has been drinking a bottle of Guinness every morning at 10.30 and reckons it’s the key to her having reached 100. She told the Daily Express: ‘They say it’s good for you and it’s certainly done something for me‘.


Gladys started drinking Guinness when she was pregnant with daughter Linda. She now has two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. One of the grandchildren, Michelle Clews, says: ‘I’ve always known her to drink it. She’s always believed it’s what keeps her healthy. Gladys is very stubborn in her ways and she’s got to have her Guinness. If anyone in the family is ever ill she tells them to get a Guinness down them.’

Whether it’s the Guinness or not, Gladys is not just long-lived but has also stayed healthy and active. She only gave up baking when she was 90. Says Michelle: ‘She’s a remarkable woman and very good for her age. I think we all hope we can be like Gladys if we get to her age.”

Plausibility rating: 5 out of 10Guinness had stopped using it’s famous slogan in Britain by the 1980s (though it continued in use in Africa and some other countries until the 1990s when – with a nudge and a wink to the belief that it was good for the libido – it was replaced with ‘Guinness: the power’). Whether because of the slogan or not, belief that it was in some way medicinal and – in particular – was a good source of iron has prevailed: a free pint of Guinness after donating blood was only ended in Ireland in 2010. We’ve already seen (Ways to live to 100, number 2) that alcohol in moderation is generally associated with longer life (albeit with some reservations) – but is Guinness any better for you than other alcohol? Well, just possibly. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that dogs given Guinness had less blood clotting than those who drank lager – an effect similar to aspirin. It is also surprisingly low in calories compared to most other beers. On the other hand, it’s not a good source of iron: you’d need to drink 15 pints of Guinness (definitely not good for longevity) to get the same amount of iron as there are in two Weetabix. And – sorry Gladys – not many doctors would recommend drinking in pregnancy these days. So, all in all, Guinness is probably good for longevity in moderation – but no more than other alcohol. That’s not much of an advertising slogan though, is it?

photo credit: Old Advertisements via photopin (license)