Why So Many Centenarians in France?

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Here Come the Centenarians!

by Bill Sardi

Recently by Bill Sardi: The Healthcare Insurance Debate: TheElephant in theRoom

Centenarians:

Japan 2008: 36,000 Japan 2009: 40,000 France 2000: 8,000 France 2008: 20,000

Quite a few battalions of nonagenarians (people in their 90s) are ready to enter the ranks of centenarians across the globe and the most striking examples are found in Japan and France.

According to a Reuters report, in the past year the number of centenarians in Japan has risen to over 40,000, a jump of 10% — remarkable for a country of only 127 million people. [Reuters 9-11-2009]

Even more arresting are the French, with a total population of 65 million, whose ranks of centenarians totaled 8,000 just 8 years ago and whose centenarian population now totals over 20,000 (2008). At the current rate of life expectancy in France, there will be over 80,000 people in France over the age of 100 by 2050. [Web in France, April 2, 2008]

Comparisons

For comparison, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. (pop. 300 million) has the most centenarians in the world with 96,000. But U.S. longevity figures are not very accurate due to poorly kept birth records many decades ago. There is no way to confirm that many Americans are true centenarians.

Japan has the longest life expectancy in the world and they have accurate birth records to prove it. The Japanese consume about 1000 fewer calories per day and by virtue of the fact they must import most of their beef and dairy products, have lower iron and calcium consumption levels, so they age slower.

Developed countries of the world that have grasslands and water to feed cattle have the highest rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Iron in red meat and calcium in dairy products, in greater demand in the growing years, simply accelerate rusting and calcification (aging) in adult males and postmenopausal females.

The much-heralded longevity of Japanese living on the southern-most Prefecture (island) of Okinawa is fast fading into nonexistence. Once the longest-living prefecture in Japan, Okinawa is now ranked 26th among 47 prefectures of Japan in male longevity. [Asia Pac J Public Health. 2008 Oct; 20 Suppl: 95—101]

As of 1988, in Okinawa, daily intake of meat and daily intake of pulses were both approximately 90 grams, which is about 20% and 30% higher than the national average, respectively. Around the same time period daily intake of green and yellow vegetables in Okinawa was about 50% higher than the national average. However, by 1998, daily meat intake and fat energy ratio had surpassed 100 grams and 30%, respectively, and daily intake of pulses and green and yellow vegetables had declined to the level of the national average. Recently, young Japanese, particularly young men in Okinawa, have shown a tendency to avoid the traditional dishes there. [Asia Pac J Public Health. 2003; 15 Suppl: S3—9]

Japanese men (age 61—81 years) living in Japan are 3 times more likely to smoke tobacco than Japanese men living in Hawaii, and experience a higher death rate than Hawaiian males. [Annals Epidemiology 2008; 18: 913—18] One has to ask, just how long would people live on average in Japan if males there didn’t smoke or over-consume alcohol?

Smoking declines

Probably a decline in smoking among French women is responsible for a great amount of the increase in longevity there. Only 8.7% of women smoke tobacco in France compared to 16.9% in Greece and 26.1% in Italy, other Mediterranean countries that have high life expectancy. [World Health Org., Obesity in Europe June 24, 2008] In Japan, about 43% of males and 13% of females smoke tobacco (2007 figures). [Wikipedia] Less than 20% of Americans now smoke.

The anti-aging pill is liquid and it is corked!

Frenchmen are not waiting for the announcement of an anti-aging pill. Traditionally-made red wine, fermented for weeks and aged for two years in oak casks, is still their medicine. In fact the red wine—drinking French are living beyond all expectations, despite their relatively high-fat diet. This phenomenon was first called The French Paradox by French physician Serge Renaud in the early 1990s. [Lancet. 1992 Jun 20; 339(8808):1523-6]

In recent years there has been a decline in alcohol consumption and smoking among adults over age 60 in France. But the consumption of red wine still remains high among older generation French. Furthermore, the death of many elderly adults in France with the heat wave of 2003 brought about changes in the way French families take care of their aged family members. The use of air-conditioning has risen among homes where seniors reside.

As confirmation of the French Paradox, a recent study shows 5 years of extra life for modest wine drinkers compared to teetotalers. [Journal Epidemiology Community Health 2009; 63: 534—40]

Will the next generation in France embrace wine?

There was a day when the French were forced to fight for their wine — during WWII the occupying German army seized great stores of wine, sending tens of thousands of barrels to the Third Reich and ordering the conversion of thousands of hectares of vineyards into war production. (This chapter of French wine history was captured in the book Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure.)

Whether the younger generation in France is willing to fight for their wine, as prior generations have, is yet to be determined. The French consume half as much wine as they did 40 years ago, according to the International Organization of Vine and Wine.

Do the French recognize the medicinal value of their wine as a remedy to the diabesity epidemic that prevails in the Western World?

Add red wine molecules to the diet of laboratory rats and they avoid many of the health problems posed by obesity. [PLoS One 2009; e5557]

One of the underappreciated aspects of red wine is its ability to regulate weight by controlling the production of estrogen by fat-producing cells (adipocytes). Animals given red wine molecules gain less weight than their teetotaling cousins. [Nutrition 2009; 25; 699-705] This may be why the French are so lean yet consume a lot of calories.

France is sitting on a remedy to the diabesity epidemic that plagues the Western world. Diabesity represents the greatest segment of healthcare costs in the U.S. Notice there is less heated debate over healthcare costs in France.

In a recent World Health Organization health-care ranking, France came in first, while the U.S. scored 37th. The difference in deaths from respiratory disease, is particularly striking: 31.2 per 100,000 people in France, vs. 61.5 per 100,000 in the U.S. And let’s not forget the fact the wine-drinking French exhibit a far lower coronary artery disease mortality rate (78.4 per 100,000) than the United States (163.4 per 100,000). [Novartis Foundation Symposium. 1998; 216: 208—17] And France spends just 10.7% of its gross domestic product on health care, while the U.S. lays out 16%, more than any other nation. [BusinessWeek July 9, 2007]

Who is the marketing agent for French wine? He has fallen on his face in the midst of a global health crisis.

But Americans would rather pop pills than drink wine with their meals. So the French lament over the declining popularity of their wine while consumers choose to buy less expensive wine and pay billions in higher healthcare costs. And they dare call the French arrogant!

At one time France dominated worldwide wine exports. But today France is third behind the U.S. and Spain in wine exports, commandeering only about 15% of worldwide wine exports. The financial pages say the "party is over" for French wine exports. [Forbes.com Sept. 27, 2009] Sadly, worldwide sales of French wine have declined in recent years, led by challenges from cheaper wines made in Australia. The French carry some of the blame as experts there say lack of consistent quality has hurt wine exports.

Yet, unlike other wine makers who produce wine in assembly-line fashion and only ferment their product for 1 week, the French ferment their wine four weeks and produce a dark red wine that is rich in molecules the public is just now becoming familiar with — resveratrol, quercetin and proanthocyanidins. This is true medicinal wine. [Nature. 2006 Nov 30; 444(7119):566]

If confused about which French red wine to try first, taste test wines made from the Tannat grape in the southwestern region of Madiran that are known to be rich in the molecules mentioned above.

Don’t think all French wineries produce medicinal wine. In 2006 masked marauders raided a port and dumped thousands of gallons of cheap wine in protest against the mass-production "industrial" French wine companies. A few of the masked marauders were arrested and later released by the courts. The French government is now paying vintners to tear up their vineyards and grow other crops to reduce oversupply. [Wine Spectator May 26, 2006] French vintners know what they have. They detest pretenders who produce wine with a "made in France" label that doesn’t match traditional standards of quality.

If French wines are not your fancy, traditional dark-reds made from Malbec and Carmenere grapes at high altitude in Chile and Argentina certainly rival the French wines.

Wine for health?

There will be those who argue over the downsides of promoting wine for health. And then there will be arguments of pride over who makes the best wine. But to allay all arguments, the choice of alcoholic beverage has something to do with death rates among males.

In Finland, a country often used for health studies because of its high usage of tobacco and alcoholic beverages, charted the 29-year mortality of 2468 businessmen there according to alcoholic beverage preference. Wine-drinking Finnish males had the lowest mortality due to lower cardiovascular disease rates. The data shows wine drinkers in Finland exhibit a —34% lower mortality rate, beer drinkers —9% lower mortality rate, compared to males who drank alcoholic spirits (hard liquor). [Journal Gerontology A Biol Science Med Science 2007; 62: 213—18, 2007]

The French who drink 3 to 5 glasses of red wine a day experience optimal health benefits. But this is enough alcohol to adversely affect driving and suggests mass inebriation. The Bible warns of tarrying too long with the wine. Doctors in the U.S. have been reluctant to prescribe wine so as to give license for their patients to over-imbibe. Maybe there is room for a red wine pill — remove the alcohol and ingest the wine solids. Some progress is being made in this area though human research studies are wanting.

While charting different courses, the French and Japanese have found their way to longevity. Just look at the decade-old data in the chart below. Obviously France and Japan have markedly increased the estimated number of centenarians since the year 2000 when this data was published. Legions of 80-plus year-olds are marching their way toward their 100th birthday in countries across the globe. France and Japan lead the pack.

Table 3: Number of Aged Persons, circa 2000, selected countries

Country

Age 80 & over

Age 100 and over

Age 100 & over, per 10,000 persons age 80 & over

France

2,131,882

8,752*

41

Iceland

7,465

25

33

Netherlands

505,315

1,323

26

Belgium

356,498

893

25

Italy

2,263,467

5,438

24

Japan

4,755,732

11,546**

24

Switzerland

282,535

678

24

Denmark

208,879

483

23

Norway

190,012

423

22

Sweden

436,373

907

21

West Germany

2,428,787

4,925

20

Austria

280,554

453

16

Finland

171,111

246

14

* Number of centenarians in France has now risen over 20,000 (2008 figures).

** Number of centenarians in Japan has now risen to over 40,000 (2009 figures)

Source: Kestenbaum B, Ferguson BR, Number of Centenarians in the United States, Social Security Administration, 2005, Princeton University

Bill Sardi [send him mail] is a frequent writer on health and political topics. His health writings can be found at www.naturalhealthlibrarian.com. He is the author of You Don’t Have To Be Afraid Of Cancer Anymore.

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