Why men live less | Health and wellness

An elderly man with a cane leaning on a railing in Madrid.Jaime Villanueva

Living longer is a widespread aspiration, but many methods of achieving it are unattractive. More than eighty years ago, in 1939, an experiment on rats developed at Cornell University (USA) managed to extend the animals’ lives by 33% by restricting their calorie intake, and other recent studies show that at least in some In some cases, the cold may help you live longer. Many animal experiments point to a widespread life-shortening trait, masculinity, and a drastic method of prolonging it, castration. In groups of men in American mental institutions, having their testicles removed made them live an average of 14 years longer than those who kept their gonads, and historical studies of Korean eunuchs showed that they also lived longer than men of the same social class.

The longer lifespan of females in many species is a known fact, including humans. An analysis of World Bank data shows that women live 5.2 years longer than men in high-income countries and 3.8 years longer in low-income countries. Between women in the countries with the highest life expectancy and men in the countries at the bottom of the ranking, the difference is nearly 22 years.

A paper published in 2021 in PNAS analyzed 101 species of animals in the wild and estimated that females live 18.6% longer than males. Among humans, this difference is 7.8%, and finding out what the mechanisms are behind these differences, and even to what extent this variation can be reduced if social norms are changed, would help extend healthy lives in both sexes. A study of more than 3,200 mice and published in Science last week identified several parts of the genome that influence longevity and found that these genetic effects vary by sex, but also showed that lifespan depends on many interacting traits. very complex form with the environment.

Testosterone and estrogens

Starting with biological factors, the effects of castration suggest that there are hormonal factors behind the male defect. Estrogens are known to be good for women because they lower bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and raise good cholesterol, and the opposite happens with testosterone, something that increases the risk of hypertension or cardiovascular disease in men. In addition, androgens, which can develop sexually attractive features like large antlers on a deer or striking musculature on a man, make these powerful-looking men weaker in their immune systems and more susceptible to infection and disease.

It also suggests that the different evolutionary strategies of males and females may explain some of the differences in life expectancy. Manuel Collado, director of the Laboratory of Cellular Senescence, Cancer and Aging at the Institute for Health Research in Santiago de Compostela (IDIS), recalls the idea of ​​Tom Kirkwood, who stated that “women are selected by evolution to have better support and greater reparation because men are more usable”. For a male, several years of dominance and access to females may be an adequate strategy to maximize his reproductive success, even if it involves risk and attrition. “Females of many species need more time to have more offspring and devote themselves to caring for them so that they survive,” Collado adds.

Females of many species need more time to have more young and care for them to survive

Manuel Collado, director of the Cellular Aging Laboratory

This may have been reflected in the biological characteristics of each sex. A number of animal experiments have shown that having two X chromosomes is more protective than having an XY combination. In the second case, when a harmful defect occurs in one of the two X chromosomes, it is silenced and its function is covered by an identical section of the one that remains intact. In the case of men, the Y chromosome, the one that produces testosterone and many of its differential traits, would leave them at the mercy of failure.

Maria Blasco, director of the National Center for Cancer Research (CNIO), believes that the longer life expectancy of women may also be due to “having longer telomeres, which in turn may be a consequence of the fact that the telomerase gene is activated by estrogens”. . Telomeres are a protective element of chromosomes, the basic structures that store and store the genetic information necessary for life. Every time one of our cells divides to generate another, the telomeres get a little shorter, and excessive shortening of these protective strips is associated with disease and premature aging. Blasko, who is also director of the telomeres and telomerase group at the CNIO, explains that her group “demonstrated that women’s telomeres are longer than men’s until menopause.” Remember, however, that some protective factors under certain circumstances can become a threat when new ones appear. Although men smoked more, and that was reflected in a higher number of lung cancers, “for the same number of cigarettes, women are at greater risk because of estrogen,” Blasko says.

This last point leads to the complex interplay between biology and the environment. When longevity is analyzed by social class, poverty is clearly associated with poorer health and shorter life expectancy. However, women around the world, who on average have less control over their lives and have poorer socioeconomic conditions, live longer. Impulsivity and sensation seeking, something that can be biological in origin, reinforced or weakened by culture, is an important factor in increasing male mortality, especially during youth. Traffic data show that twice as many men die in road accidents as women and show that men drive faster and more often after using drugs. But this factor also shows that there is enormous room for improvement through sociocultural interventions in terms of premature mortality in both sexes and in particular in men. In Spain in 1989, 9,344 people died on the road; the figure dropped to 1,755 in 2019.

certain roles [de las mujeres] they are health advocates, such as the caregiving role, and boys also have more risky behaviors

María Teresa Ruiz Cantero, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Alicante

Regarding a possible explanation for women’s greater longevity despite the worst social conditions, María Teresa Ruiz Cantero, professor of preventive medicine and public health at the University of Alicante, points out that one possibility is that “women now have to develop the classic roles of their gender in addition to those implied by their inclusion in the labor market. “This makes women, as a rule, more caring than their partners, and this makes it difficult for them to have more leisure time related to tobacco and alcohol, for example,” he continues. “Some roles are protective of health, such as the caring role, and also, especially at a younger age, boys have more risky behaviors related to substance use, reckless driving or dangerous sports,” he adds. Overall, Ruiz Cantero concludes, “why women live longer is a very big question that doesn’t have a clear answer, but when exposure to risks is similar, life expectancy is similar.”

Along with problems that are easy to identify but difficult to solve, such as smoking or alcohol consumption, knowledge of the processes that explain aging and its gender differences, still scarce, can help develop strategies aimed at men and women. A recent study from the School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles (USA) concluded that although women are now living longer and also have more chronic health problems, these differences vary depending on when and where they live. .

In the past, when infections were a major health problem, women’s better immune systems gave them a great advantage, which is now diminished. On the other hand, “cardiovascular frailty in men can be mitigated with risk control [como la tensión alta] and behavioral changes,” they write. “In a world dominated by cardiovascular disease and cancer, the role of differential behavior may increase in weight in explaining differences in disease prevalence.” [o la mortalidad]”, they add. Different interventions can reduce risks for each gender. “All over the world, men need blood pressure treatment and women need fat management,” they illustrate.

In an attempt to disentangle as much as possible the biological and cultural parts of greater female longevity, in 2004 Mark Lui of the Federal Institute for Population Research in Wiesbaden, Germany, compared the mortality data of 11,000 Catholic monks and nuns from communities in Bavaria between 1890 and 1995. In contrast to what happened among men and women in the general population of Germany, who saw an increase in women’s life expectancy relative to men’s after World War II, World War II, among those closed people, the difference remained at a small maximum advantage for women at one year. Louie had discovered that there were alternatives to castration to mitigate the harmful effects of uncontrolled desire in men, but they also involved difficult decisions.

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