Being a man has health downsides

2013-10-14
PUNCH Newspaper

It’s no more news that, on the average, women outlive men. Scientists say some of the reasons are psychological; others are social, while most have to do with health challenges.

Right from the womb, researchers note, the male child seems engaged in a battle to live. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Ralph Catalano and Tim Bruckner at the University of California, Berkeley, states, “Male foetuses are wimps, as a mother’s body will purposely abort a male when times are tough.”

They aver that during times of social or economic stress, a woman’s liver tends to produce more of a hormone called cortisol that proves very damaging to male foetuses.

Gender gap

Two scientists — Linda Partridge of the University College, London; and Jennifer Regan, of Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing, Cologne, Germany — in a study published in Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, argue that sex differences in lifespan exist worldwide, with women outliving men by more than a decade in some countries.

The scientists say while gender gap is not a uniquely human phenomenon, “ageing responds to natural selection on traits that arise as a consequence of sexuality.”

“The sexes can respond differently to dietary restriction and altered activity of nutrient-sensing pathways, with females showing a greater plasticity for life extension,” the researchers submit.

Big size, big ‘headache’

In terms of size, men are bigger than women; but beyond whatever physical advantages big size confers on a man, it has many downsides, experts say.

For instance, a study published in Medical Hypothesis notes that larger individuals within a species tend to have shorter lives. “This holds true, not only for humans but also for most animal species, including fish, insects, primates and dogs,” the researchers warn.

Natural deficits

Experts warn that the first year of life is very crucial for a male child, because he is much susceptible to infections. The chief science officer of Rio Grande Neurosciences in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, Sean Hagberg, warns that “in the first year of life, men have a higher mortality rate,” which persists throughout life.

The scientist laments that neurologically, male kids don’t develop as quickly as females, especially “as it pertains to intelligence and across the board.”

Genetically, men suffer natural deficits, scientists say. “While every cell in a woman’s body has two large X chromosomes, men have one X and one smaller Y chromosome; the Y is half the size. The “spare” X chromosomes allow women’s bodies to compensate when faced with damage in ways that men’s cells cannot. In addition, mutations are three to six times more likely in a Y chromosome than an X chromosome. This genetic deficit could be part of the reason why miscarriages, infections, birth defects, cancers, and many other health problems strike males especially hard,” researchers note.

But beyond neurological development, scientists also say men are more likely than women to die from injuries, suicide, occupational hazard, and a host of preventable causes.

“Women outliving men is persistent across all cultures, so it’s likely a real biological effect,” Hagberg concludes.

Well, you didn’t choose to be male at birth; and while we do agree that certain causes of mortality are linked to your being a man, you can adopt healthy lifestyle and prevent dying in your prime.

What are the preventable causes of death among men? Here…

Smoking

The World Health Organisation notes that in adults, cigarette smoking causes heart disease and stroke; while studies have shown that early signs of these diseases can be found in adolescents who smoke. Experts say on the average, someone who smokes a pack or more of cigarettes each day lives seven years less than someone who has never smoked!

Ms. Barbara Blatt Kalben of the Society of Actuaries, in a paper entitled, Why Men Die Younger: Causes of Mortality Differences by Sex, notes that smoking increases mortality; and since more men than women smoke, the situation exacerbates the sex mortality differential.

Again, the Centres for Disease Control notes that for most smoking-related cancers, the risk rises as the individual continues to smoke. It warns further that smoking is associated with a host of other risky behaviours, such as fighting and engaging in unprotected sex — all of which shorten lifespan.

Heart disease

Regan and Partridge say “Sexual dimorphisms in vertebrates are mediated by sex-steroids, such as androgens and oestrogens, both of which regulate biological processes that can affect ageing and lifespan.”

In simpler terms, a cardiologist with St. Joseph Health System in Orange, California, Dr. Larry Santora, says the higher levels of oestrogen in women protect them from heart disease for 10 to 15 years longer than men.

Scientists agree that apart from raising the levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and lowering the level of bad one (LDL), “oestrogen makes the inner lining of the coronary arteries more flexible, so it’s less prone to injury and inflammation related to plaque formation and atherosclerosis.”

Physicians advise men to regularly monitor their blood pressure and cholesterol level when they are in their 20s, so that they can act immediately once they suspect anything untoward.

“Sensible dietary habit is also a good way to start,” scientists counsel.

Cirrhosis

Two and a half times more men than women die from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, experts say.

According to Public Health Specialist, Dr. Rotimi Adesanya of St. Ives Clinics, Lagos, heavy alcohol consumption and infection with Hepatitis C are mainly responsible for cirrhosis.

“Cirrhosis is a serious condition where normal liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue (fibrosis). It tends to progress slowly and often does not cause symptoms in its early stages. However, as the function of the liver gradually becomes worse, serious problems can develop,” experts enthuse.

Again, because men tend to drink more than women, the results are there for all to see.

How men can lengthen their lives

•Know your blood pressure, no matter your age

•Exercise vigorously every day to increase your naturally low HDL levels

•Start getting screened for coronary artery disease in your 20s

•Let your doctor know if you’re having a health problem of any kind

•Our culture may reward stoic behaviour from men, disease does not. This is especially true for men who feel sad or depressed for extended periods. It is extremely common for men to internalise and ignore their problems. Seek help.

•Minimise tendencies to act in a boneheaded way — don’t drive recklessly, observe safety protocols at work, don’t operate machinery while intoxicated

•Keep off excess weight to avoid a phalanx of chronic diseases that will impair your quality of life well before they actually kill you. Coronary artery disease, diabetes, and prostate cancer are a few extremely common risks associated with being overweight that typically take a toll on your well-being—including the ability to have an erection—long before life is actually cut short.

•Do regular medical screening appropriate for your age

•Protect your head, and tell your doctor if you receive hard blow(s) to the head.

 

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