Why do men live less?

Living longer is a common aspiration, but many methods of achieving it are unattractive. More than eighty years ago, in 1939, an experiment on cultured rats at Cornell University (USA) was able to extend the animals’ lives by 33% by restricting the calories they ate, and other recent research shows that, at least in some cases; the cold can help you live longer. Many animal experiments point to a life-shortening trait, masculinity, and a drastic method of prolonging it, castration. Groups of men in US psychiatric institutions who had their testicles removed lived 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 well-known fact, and that includes humans. An analysis of World Bank data shows that women in high-income countries live 5.2 years longer than men, and 3.8 years in low-income countries. The difference between women in countries with the highest life expectancy and men in countries with the lowest life expectancy is about 22 years.

A 2021 paper published in PNAS analyzed 101 wildlife species and estimated that females lived 18.6% longer than males. In humans, this difference is 7.8%, and finding out what mechanisms might explain these differences, and even how much this variation could be reduced if social norms were changed, would help extend healthy lives for both sexes. A study conducted on more than 3,200 mice and published Science Last week, different parts of the genome were identified that influence longevity and found that these genetic influences differ by sex, but also showed that life expectancy depends on many traits that interact in very complex ways with the environment.

Testosterone and estrogens

Starting with biological factors, the effects of castration suggest that hormonal factors are behind the male defect. Estrogens are known to benefit women because they lower bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and raise good cholesterol, while the opposite is true for testosterone, which increases the risk of hypertension or cardiovascular disease in men. In addition, androgens, which can develop sexually attractive features such as large antlers on deer or male-dominating muscles, make these powerful-looking males weaker in their immune systems and more susceptible to infection and disease.

This also suggests that different evolutionary strategies of males and females may explain some of the differences in lifespan. Manuel Collado, director of the Cellular Aging, Cancer and Aging Laboratory at the Santiago de Compostela Health Research Institute (IDIS), recalls the idea of ​​biologist Tom Kirkwood, who said that “females have been selected through evolution for better preservation and conservation. greater compensation because men are more for use.’ For a male to have several years of dominance and access to females may be an adequate strategy to maximize his reproductive success, even if this entails risk and attrition. “Females in many species need more time to have more offspring and devote more time to caring for them in order for them to survive,” Collado adds.

Females of many species need more time to have more young and care for their survival

Manuel Collado, director of the Cellular Aging Laboratory

This may be reflected in the biological characteristics of each sex. A series of animal experiments show that having two X chromosomes is more protective than the XY combination. In the second case, when a harmful defect appears in one of the two X chromosomes, it is silenced, and its function is covered by an identical region of the unchanged one. In the case of men, the Y chromosome, which produces testosterone and its many different properties, will leave them at the mercy of failure.

Maria Blasco, director of the National Cancer Research Center (CNIO), believes that women’s longevity may also be due to “having longer telomeres, which in turn may be a consequence of the telomerase gene being activated by estrogens.” . Telomeres are the protective element of chromosomes, fundamental structures that store and preserve the genetic information necessary for life. Every time one of our cells divides to make another cell, the telomeres get a little shorter, and excessive shortening of these protective layers is associated with disease and premature aging. Blasco, who is also director of the Telomeres and Telomerase group at the CNIO, explains that his group “showed that women’s telomeres are longer than men’s before menopause.” However, also remember that some protective factors can become a threat in some circumstances when new ones appear. While men smoked more, and that translates into more lung cancer, “for the same number of cigarettes, women are at greater risk because of estrogen,” Blasko says.

This last point leads to a 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, around the world, women who, on average, have less control over their lives and 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 among young men. Traffic data show that twice as many men die in road accidents as women and show that men drive faster and more often after taking drugs. But this factor also shows that there is enormous room for improvement through socio-cultural interventions in both sexes, and particularly in males, and particularly in males. 9344 people died on the road in Spain in 1989. In 2019, that figure decreased to 1,755.

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

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

On a possible explanation for women’s longevity despite the worst social conditions, Maria Teresa Ruiz Cantero, professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the University of Alicante, states that one possibility is that “now women have to develop classic roles; their gender, in addition to gender related to their inclusion in the labor market. “This forces women to care, as a rule, more than their partners, and it makes it difficult for them to have more free time with, for example, cigarettes and alcohol,” he continues. “Some roles are healthy, such as the caregiving role, and also, especially at a young age, boys have more risk-taking behavior related to drug use, reckless driving or dangerous sports,” he adds. Overall, Ruiz Cantero concludes, “the reason why women live longer is a very big question that does not have a single answer, but when exposure to risks is similar, life expectancy is the same.”

Along with easy-to-identify, but difficult-to-resolve problems, such as smoking or alcohol use, knowledge of the processes that explain aging and its gender differences, which is still scarce, can help develop strategies targeting men and women. A recent study by the School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles (USA) concluded that while women are now living longer and also have more chronic health problems, these differences differ 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 big advantage, which has now been reduced. On the other hand, “cardiovascular frailty in men can be mitigated by risk control [como la tensión alta] and behavioral changes,” they wrote. “In a world dominated by cardiovascular disease and cancer, the role of differential behavior may increase in weight, 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 exemplify.

In an attempt to disentangle the biological and cultural parts of women’s longevity, in 2004 Mark Liu of the Federal Institute for Population Studies in Wiesbaden, Germany, compared mortality data for 11,000 Catholic monks and nuns. Bavarian communities from 1890 to 1995. Unlike what happened between men and women in the general population of Germany, which saw women’s life expectancy increase relative to men’s after World War II, the difference between these emigrants was negligible. maximum advantage for one-year-old females. Luys had discovered that there were alternative ways to castration to mitigate the harmful effects of uncontrollable desire in men, but they also involved difficult decisions.

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