Secret no.24 Whisky

9932066903_a466fa3984What is it with whisky? Lots of our centenarians have thought that a shot or two of Scotch was the reason they’ve made it to 100.

Recently we recorded the death of Ruth Newman, one of the last survivors of the 1903 San Francisco earthquake, who said that her longevity secret was a Scotch and water every night. We’ve also recorded the death at 111 of Nazar Singh, who cited good food, a loving family – and again a tot of whisky every night. And Agnes Fenton upped the alcohol stakes a little by saying her secret was three beers and a whisky chaser.

The most recent advocate is 109 year old Worcestershire woman Grace Jones*, who turned 109 this month (September) and has had a small glass of whisky every night for the last 57 years. Grace has lived through the reigns of five British monarchs, starting with Queen Victoria’s heir, Edward VII, and 22 British Prime Ministers, beginning with Henry Campbell-Bannerman. She’s led a bit of a nomadic life, moving house 27 times with her husband, Leonard but ‘Amazing Grace’, as she is known to her friends, is certainly consistent about her whisky – she told her local newspaper last year, on her 108th birthday: “I never miss it. I don’t drink and all I have is the whisky at night. Whisky is very good for you. He (her doctor) said keep up with the whisky Grace, it’s good for your heart.”

So is it? Or does whisky have some other quality that could possibly have helped Grace and some many other centenarians clock up their 100 years?

*Oddly, Grace is not the first Englishwoman called Grace Jones to hit 100. The ‘other’ Grace Jones lived in south-east London and, until her death in 2013 at the age of 113, was the last British person alive to be born in the 19th century.

Plausibility rating: 6 out of 10. We’ve explored other types of alcohol before and come to the conclusion that the case for it isn’t that strong. True, there is research evidence that a small amount of alcohol consumption is associated with longer life. However that evidence is disputed and once we go beyond a moderate intake, alcohol is associated with a whole lot of harm.

So why would a ‘wee dram’ be any better? Some people do use it as a nighttime sedative – the classic nightcap – so could that somehow help improve longevity? Sadly no. Alcohol may help you get off to sleep but the quality of that sleep is likely to be poorer. It does seem possible that whisky in the form of a hot toddy might help you with the symptoms of the common cold but surely that’s not enough to extend a lifespan.

However there are one or two qualities of whisky that might just put it above your average alcoholic drink and which perhaps justify our plausibility rating. For one thing, it’s relatively low in calories – about 75 in a small measure – about the same as a glass of dry white wine.  More importantly though it’s full of ellagic acid, gallic acid and lyoniresinol – all of which improve the antioxidant properties of your blood (wonderfully, the older the Scotch, the bigger the effect).  It even seems to work in practice – an admittedly small (in truth, tiny) piece of research involving the comparison of red wine, mature Scotch and a younger spirit found the Scotch had the greatest antioxidant effect. The research concludes that the findings are compatible with suggestions that moderate intake ‘decreases the risk of coronary heart disease’.

Which was exactly what Grace’s doctor said, wasn’t it? So we’re giving Grace (and her doctor), Ruth, Nazar, Agnes and Henry the benefit of the doubt and giving whisky a creditable six out of 10 as a longevity secret. Just remember to choose the very best, longest matured, single malt Scotch if you really want to live a long time.

photo credit: Various Whiskies via photopin (license)

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NEWS: 113-year-old San Francisco earthquake survivor dies. Her longevity ‘secret’ was a Scotch and water every night.

5572751884_7f2877d098Ruth Newman, who died earlier this month, was just four when the San Francisco earthquake struck in 1906, leaving over 3,000 people dead.

Her daughter Beverley Dodds, herself now 85, says her mother remembers her father picking her up and running out of the house. ‘She would tell us she remembered my grandmother being upset because they had just milked the cow earlier… and put it in containers that got thrown to the floor’.

The family was living on a ranch 70 miles north of the city and their home was undamaged but many others were not so lucky: half the city’s 400,000 residents were left homeless. The quake lasted less than a minute but ignited fires around the city that burned for three days,

With Ruth Newman’s death there is now just one known survivor of the earthquake still alive, William Del Monte, who was three month’s old at the time.

Having survived the quake, what was the secret for Ruth’s long life? Daughter Beverley told the Daily Mail that it may have been down to good genes and a glass of scotch and water every night before bed. We’ve seen that alcohol is fairly often cited as a cause of longevity and while there’s some evidence for the belief it remains controversial. We’ll address genes in a future blog but there’s little doubt they are critical to longevity and Ruth’s family is strong evidence for that – her older brother Barney lived to 108 and their younger sister Genevieve to 103.

But there are also other possible contributory factors. Ruth stayed active knitting, baking and gardening, and continued to drive and play golf until her mid-90s. In a future blog, we’ll look at whether ‘a good walk spoiled’, as Mark Twain famously called golf, could help you live longer.

photo credit: San Francisco earthquake and fire, 1906 via photopin (license)

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?

NEWS: ‘Key to longer life is three beers and a whisky chaser’

3208521661_587da1bcd9_oNo surprise to see that another centenarian is extolling the virtues of alcohol as a longevity aid. Agnes ‘Aggie’ Fenton hit 110 this week in New Jersey and delighted the press and internet with her longevity ‘secret’: three Miller High Lifes and a shot of Johnnie Walker Blue Label every day.  Agnes even says that it was a doctor who recommended the regime to her.

Alcohol has turned up pretty frequently so far in 101 ways to live to 100. Pauline Spagnola said that her longevity secret was ‘a lot of booze’ and Gladys Fielden swore it was Guinness. Nazar Singh talked about good food, his family – and his nightly shot of whisky.

And we know there may be some truth in moderate alcohol consumption helping people live longer, though three lagers and a whisky every day may be pushing is just a little.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/33549343@N04/3208521661″>Beers and Cheers 011809</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Secret no.12 A loving family’

Nazar Singh, who died last month in India where he was visiting family, was believed to be Europe’s oldest man. He was though to be 111, though he had no birth certificate.

He told media after his 110th birthday that his longevity was due to good food, good family and happiness. However his fondness for a tot of whisky every night – and perhaps the fact that he was pictured on his birthday with a pint of lager and a whisky chaser – led understandably to the whisky also being cited (we’ve covered whisky in another post).

Nazar was born in the Punjab, India. He navigated two world wars and the independence and partition of India before moving to the UK in 1965. He worked in a foundry in the West Midlands and then moved to Sunderland on retirement. He returned to India in January this year and was being cared for by his two eldest sons.

Plausibility rating: 8 out of 10. We don’t know exactly what food Nazar ate (though we know he drank milk and almond oil}. There is evidence about the beneficial effect of alcohol in moderation but also some that questions it. And he is surely right to emphasise the importance of a loving family to longevity: the absence of strong relationships – whether family or friends – is linked to early death. One study, cited by the Campaign to End Loneliness, says it is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Nazar believed that ‘family need to look after elders’, a view that would be popular with the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who recently worried in public about the number of ‘lonely funerals’. The latter need not have concerned Nazar: he had 34 grandchildren and 63 great-grandchildren.