105-year-old Jack Reynolds has three pops a day. Queen Elizabeth, 91, downs four. Donald Trump says he’s never had a drink in his 71 years. Who’s right?
(HEADLINE HEALTH) Does alcohol consumption promote long life, or contribute to an early death?
The answer appears to be ‘yes’ – there are lots of arguments and studies on both sides of this controversial health topic.
For some moderation, may be the answer. For others, total lifelong abstinence is the answer.
Individual differences in body chemistry and drinking habits likely have a lot to do with it.
105-year-old Jack Reynolds has three drinks a day. 91-year-old Queen Elizabeth reportedly has four. 71-year-old Donald Trump says he’s never had a drop in his life.
Two recent stories shed light on the debate:
PRO: 105-Year-Old Man Credits a Whiskey a Day for His Long Life
CON: Alcohol Raises Cancer Risk by Damaging DNA Permanently
105-Year-Old Man Credits a Whiskey a Day for His Long Life
(Melissa Matthews, Newsweek) If you want to live a long life, you could go the traditional route of eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Or you can take the advice of Jack Reynolds, who is 105: drink whiskey.
Reynolds drinks whiskey multiple times a day and credits the habit for his long, healthy life.
“He has a whisky in his tea every morning and two shots of Grouse in a glass with lemonade at night and swears by it,” Reynolds’s youngest daughter Jayne Goodwin told the UK-based Metro newspaper.
He also turns to whiskey as a medication.
“If we’ve got a cold or anything he straight away gives us a whisky, that’s his medicine and it’s not done him bad,” Goodwin told Metro.
Is there any merit to his claim? During Prohibition, doctors prescribed alcohol, including whiskey, for ailments ranging from depression to cancer prevention, reported Smithsonian magazine.
Though, as the story explains, many times physicians did it all for the money.
“There may have been some people who were being prescribed because there was a perceived medical need, but it was really a way for some physicians and pharmacists to make a few extra bucks,” Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, told the outlet.
A very old study reported by the BBC in 1998 indicated that whiskey could have protective benefits for the heart.
Researchers found that whiskey and red wine might help prevent coronary heart disease by boosting antioxidants in your body.
The study was conducted by the Rowett Research Institute, a Scottish institution that looks into food and nutrition research (although the work was sponsored by the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, so perhaps take the results with a grain of barley).
The word itself seems to hint at life-prolonging qualities. According to Merriam Webster, the word derives from the Scottish Gaelic uisge beatha, which actually means water of life.
Despite its history of medicinal use, doctors today will likely never advise drinking alcohol for health purposes.
Drinking any alcohol raises cancer risk, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Last year, the organization released a statement warning that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.
But Reynolds likely will disagree with their assessment.
According to Metro, he’s the oldest person to have done the viral ice bucket challenge and also holds the Guinness World Record holder for oldest roller coaster rider.
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Alcohol Raises Cancer Risk by Damaging DNA Permanently
(Melissa Matthews, Newsweek) Drinking isn’t exactly considered a healthy activity, but a new study shows that it could be even more damaging than most realize and cause irreversible changes to the DNA in stem cells.
Scientists from the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, a research institute in Cambridge, England), discovered these new findings in a study on lab mice, Reuters reported.
The findings are newly published in Nature.
In the study, scientists gave the animals diluted alcohol before looking at their DNA to study the effects of drinking.
They found that a breakdown product of alcohol, called acetaldehyde, acts a toxin and can damage the DNA in blood stem cells.
Acetaldehyde could create a permanent change and is thought to potentially cause mutations responsible for cancer.
“Some cancers develop due to DNA damage in stem cells. While some damage occurs by chance, our findings suggest that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of this damage,” Ketan Patel, study co-author, told Reuters.
Patel’s team found that some may be more susceptible to alcohol damage than others.
According to Reuters, enzymes in the body called aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDH) come to our defense by breaking down the acetaldehyde into a usable form of energy.
Mice who were engineered not to have the enzyme had four times more damage to their DNA than mice with ALDH, the news service wrote.
We also have a second defense mechanism against alcohol that helps repair DNA damage, which the researchers tested, reported The Guardian.
After knocking out both layers of defense in the experimental mice, the team found that the stem cells within the animals were rendered unable to generate fresh blood for up to 10 days.
“Our study highlights that not being able to process alcohol effectively can lead to an even higher risk of alcohol-related DNA damage and therefore certain cancers,” Patel told The Guardian.
“But it’s important to remember that alcohol clearance and DNA repair systems are not perfect and alcohol can still cause cancer in different ways, even in people whose defence mechanisms are intact.”
Research has shown that even light drinking can raise the risk of many cancers including breast, colon, esophageal, larynx and oral.
And as the Centers for Disease Control explained, there is no safe amount of alcohol when it comes to breast cancer and liver disease.
Of course, this study was performed in lab mice, and further research is need in people. But now might be a good time to attempt Dry January.
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