Florence Bearse says that she knows the key to a long, healthy life. Bearse recently celebrated her 100th birthday, surrounded by her friends and family at the Westgate Center for Rehabilitation in Bangor, Maine. The centenarian spoke to local news channel WLBZ-TV, succinctly explaining her secret. “I like my wine,” she told the station, a broad smile breaking across her face. “Don’t take it away from me.”
The Bangor resident was a successful restaurateur, and she says that her career helped her learn to appreciate other people. “The people have taken me, I think,” she said before cracking a joke. “They understand me…that I’m crazy.” Bearse also provided a bit of simple advice for living life to the fullest: “Don’t take any baloney.” With that in mind, we decided to look into the science of red wine. Does it really provide notable health benefits—and could moderate wine consumption help a person reach age 100?
Science supports some centenarian claims.
Some red wines include resveratrol, one of several antioxidants that protects cell membranes, potentially reducing some of the effects of aging. Cornell University researchers recently discovered that wines from New York state tend to have the highest resveratrol concentrations, with the Pinot Noir variety holding higher concentrations than Cabernet or Merlot. White wines contain much lower levels of resveratrol, since the antioxidant is most commonly associated with the skins of red grapes. Research also shows that moderate consumption of red wine can reduce the risk of heart disease. Scientists frequently cite this as a potential explanation for the “French paradox.” That paradox notes that the French diet, which is high in saturated fats, doesn’t seem in line with the country’s relatively low rate of coronary heart disease. Some researchers believe that red wine may help to mitigate some of the effects of high-fat diets. The American Heart Association notes that moderate intake of any type of alcoholic beverage seems to be beneficial to heart health, and red wine seems especially beneficial. However, the AHA stops short of recommending a glass of red wine each day, as excessive alcohol use contributes to high blood pressure, neurological disorders, and a host of other health issues. “Patients are not advised to drink wine for their health,” wrote researchers Paul E. Szmitko and Subodh Verma, “but rather to drink—moderately—to their health.”
Bearse’s love of wine isn’t unique among centenarians.
According to the latest census data, the number of centenarians in the United States is growing. As of July 2015, the U.S. Census reported 76,974 individuals aged 100 or older. John and Charlotte Henderson, 104 and 102, told USA Today that they typically enjoy wine or cocktails before dinner. But John noted that moderation is key. “We never do anything,” he said. “Eat well. Sleep well. Don’t overdrink. Don’t overeat. And exercise regularly.” Charlotte concurred with her husband, adding that their marriage is a source of strength. “We had such a good time when John retired. We traveled a lot,” she said. “We just stay busy all the time, and I’m sure that helps.”