Even for Aging Studies August is the Silly Season. What people really want to be told about old age is how to avoid it entirely or, paradoxically, how to prolong it indefinitely by putting off dying as long as possible. Hence a babble of late-summer-feel-good advice in Newspapers and Twitter on how we may manage this.
My favorite in this summer harvest of feel-good stories is a new recycling of the hoary anecdotes so often told about apocryphal relatives or acquaintances who lived to a remarkable and rumbustious old age by ignoring temperate behaviour. Agnes Fenton, of Fenton, New Jersey, believes that she reached 110 on August 1 st this year because, for the last 70 years, she has drunk at least 3 pints of Millers High Life Beer and a shot of Johnny Walker Blue Whisky every day. The site, drinkaware.com, sponsored by Koparberg Premium Cider of Sweden, adds comments by Dr Jiangou Fang, of Lanzhou University on an article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggesting that regular beer drinking may stave off Parkinson’s, Alzheimers and other dementias because hops contain a benevolent flavonoid, xanthohumol. This is excellent news for those of us scrabbling for reasons to trust the increasingly dicey evidence that copiously drinking red wine may also prolong life and benefit the aging brain.
Another encouraging Chinese study published on 4 August 2015 (BMJ 2015; 351 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h3942 ) found that in samples of 199, 293 men and 288, 082 women aged 30 to 79 ( excluding participants with cancer, heart disease, and stroke at baseline) people who reported eating spicy foods on 6 or 7 days a week showed a 14% reduction in mortality compared to those who ate them on 1 day a week or less. A gratifying detail is that the benign interaction between spice and longevity is stronger in people who also drink alcohol. Though the interaction between the effects of alcohol and spice, at p = .03, is not as robust as we would wish this is still an encouragement for British Males who can now claim that their traditional pungent Curry Dinners following evenings in pubs are not a luxury but an essential regimen for body and brain maintenance.
A slightly less encouraging finding by Danxia Yu and 10 others, (PLOS Med May 26, 2015) comes from their study of the effects of very faithfully keeping to a diet based on the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Between 2002 and 2009 among 84,735 persons, with below average incomes, aged from 40 to 79, who were citizens of the 12 South Eastern States of the USA. fewer of those who rigorously kept to the diet died. This is interesting information but, given the wide difference between junk-food and the US Guideline Diet, perhaps not surprising. For a cognitive gerontologist there is also the issue whether individuals who were sufficiently motivated and steadfast to maintain the Guideline Diet were not also different in important ways from those who could not do so. Comparisons of obesity in the two populations would also be useful.
Keeping to a sensible diet can be difficult, especially if you are poor. However meditation and looking on the sunny side of life are available, free, to all of us. Scores of recent articles insist that cheerful and positive people live longer and so retain their mental abilities later than the morose or miserable. This tells us little new because there are many reasons for being more morose than average: among these are socio-economic disadvantage and illnesses that also shorten our lives and speed mental decline. Similar problems apply to the many studies showing that people with high youthful scores on intelligence tests are likely to live longer than their less able peers. These are particularly encouraging to self-satisfied academics but we must remember that higher intelligence buys many things. Among these are greater affluence and so better medical care, a more salubrious lifestyle and environment, better education in healthy living and choice of diet and even perhaps more and better wine, beer, whisky and curries.
The August prize for the best advice on how to live (nearly) forever must go to a story giving cutting edge scientific credence to a sanguinary medieval aspiration. Many sources, including the Guardian (Aug 4, 2015) comment on a paper in Nat Med 2014 (6) 659-63 by S.A. Villeda and 17 others claiming that “ Young blood reverses age-related impairments in cognitive function and synaptic plasticity in mice”. This has a titillating range of historical resonance: from lethal C16 th to C18th experiments in transfusion of blood from young to elderly humans, through C19 overtones of Vampirism, to warnings by C20 Science Fiction writers that visions of capitalists draining the lifeblood of the poor may transcend metaphor to become horrid reality. With added revivals of Medieval speculations that not only the age, but the quality of the fluid is crucial. I hope that my GP takes note and eagerly look forward to being prescribed at least two litres of Extra Virgin a week. As soon as our National Health Service gets its act together.