May 29, 1997 in Nation/World

A Killer Sex Drive Male Hormones Blamed For Shorter Life Span

Knight-Ridder
 

Why do men live shorter lives than women?

Blame it on raging male hormones.

Men are programmed to live longer than women, but don’t because of their relentless pursuit of sex, a British scientist theorizes.

The shortened male life span theory won some support Wednesday from American researchers, who said sex hormones seem to be the culprits that prevent men from living longer.

“The thing that is important is the protective effect of estrogen in women and the nonprotective effect of testosterone,” said Albert J. Finestone, director of the Institute on Aging at Temple University.

Estrogen protects women from cardiovascular disease and bone loss, and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s in postmenopausal women, although it is suspected of promoting breast cancer. Testosterone leads to more heart attacks and strokes, and can promote prostate cancer.

The theory that men’s zeal for sex shortens the life span comes from geneticist David Gems of University College London, who based it on studies with nematode worms.

Male worms, the researcher found, dramatically increased their life spans when isolated. But when grouped with other male worms, they lived about 10 days - half as long as the isolated worms lived. The monkish worms’ 20-day life span was even longer than the 16-day average life span for the hermaphrodites, which Gems considered females.

Gems said males in the group died young because they put so much effort into defending territory and competing for mates.

He bolstered his theory with a 1969 study of 319 eunuchs that showed castrated males had a median life span 13.5 years longer than intact males. But not all scientists believe men are designed to live longer than women.

“There’s certainly no evidence in humans that males are designed to live longer,” said Steven Austad, a biogerontologist at the University of Idaho who just published a book called “Why We Age.”

“Males die at a higher rate than females throughout their entire lives.”

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