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Sex and Scientific Philosophy – Why Women Live Longer Than Men
It is an accepted fact that women live longer than men. The reasons are multiple. An attempt is made here to briefly describe some of the factors identified in published studies and to suggest new directions for further research.
It is believed that these studies may lead to the discovery of new factors that explain the discrepancy in life expectancy between women and men. One such is the field of fetal microchimerism, which is the persistence of a certain number of fetal cells in the mother after pregnancy. Another can be found in further studies about the system involved in the growth of the mother’s immune system, during and after pregnancy.
Further studies may reveal that women who give birth live longer than those who do not give birth. In addition, those women who live past 100 may have special genes that slow the aging process and reduce the likelihood of heart disease, stroke, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
The X chromosome may be another influencing factor in female longevity. Because women have two X chromosomes, if there is an abnormality in one of them, the normal one can be used rather than the defective one. In this case, the woman becomes the carrier of the disease but not its victim.
Serious studies point to menopause as a major determinant of longevity. Very few species menstruate except for women and certain whales.
The evolutionary force needed to pass on genes and the need to stay alive and bear the maximum number of children may be some of the natural forces that enable women to live longer than men.
In the US and other developed countries, the average life expectancy is about eighty years for women and about seventy years for men. In Sweden, however, during the eighteenth century it was about thirty-seven years for women and thirty-four for men.
The probability of women outliving men during their first twenty-five years is more than four times higher, largely due to men’s testosterone. This factor decreases with age, but the gap still remains in favor of women. Sex hormones are an obvious factor to consider; Young men are aggressive, increased levels of harmful cholesterol that lead to heart disease or stroke.
However, the female hormone estrogen lowers bad cholesterol and raises ‘good’ cholesterol. Recent studies suggest that estrogen treatment after menopause may reduce the risk of death, especially from heart disease or stroke.
Women have longer-lasting hearts and better blood vessels, possibly due to the hormone estrogen. Even diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes ultimately kill more men than women.
The advantage women have over men does not apply, however, to women who smoke, drink, are overweight, or under excessive stress, typical of women working in previously male-dominated fields. In fact, there is no gap at all between male and female smokers.
However, there are some countries where there is almost no such gap, such as India and Pakistan, where sexual discrimination and practices such as female infanticide and bride burning are widespread.
Mortality rates may also be affected by chromosomal differences between men and women. They both carry genetic mutations that can cause certain life-threatening diseases.
Females have two X chromosomes, so if there is an abnormality in one of them the normal one can be used, making the woman a carrier only of the disease. Men have an X and a Y chromosome, so they cannot use an alternate chromosome if a gene is defective. The above-described changes in lifespan have been observed in most animals.
Another fact is that men are much more likely than women to engage in dangerous and violent behavior, thus increasing the male death rate. More men than women die in car accidents, homicides and even suicides.
Fetal microchimerism is the persistence of a certain number of fetal cells in a mother after pregnancy. A number of recent studies suggest that it may be the cause of some autoimmune diseases. However, long-term viability of fetal cells in healthy women is a contraindication. Long-term persistence of fetal cells may also have an importance in the development of fetal tolerance.
If the microchimerism is due to the transfer of cells between mother and fetus, further studies may show the effect of these fetal cells on enhancing the mother’s immune system during and after pregnancy. We know that during pregnancy cells can migrate between mother and fetus in both directions.
As pregnancy progresses, the rate of cell transfer from the fetus to the mother increases. In most cases, fetal cells are compatible with the mother’s immune system, so the mother’s body does not reject them.
It is believed that such women, especially those who live past ninety or a hundred, may have special genes that slow aging and reduce the probability of heart, stroke, cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.
Further studies may show that women who give birth will live longer than those who do not give birth. It may also be that those who give birth to at least one male will live even longer.
The detection of Y chromosomes or male DNA in women after pregnancy, even in a woman who had her last son many years before the blood sample was taken, may support this theory.
In general, stem cells can reproduce and are capable of long-term self-renewal. Since they do not have any specific structure, they can evolve into specialized cells such as heart muscle, nerves or blood cells.
The sources of blood stem cell transplantation are bone marrow, peripheral blood, and the umbilical cord of newborn infants. A new technology that has generated new businesses is the collection of umbilical cord blood stem cells from babies, which are stored for future use.
The advantages of stem cells from the umbilical cord in relation to the fact that there is a transfer of cells between the mother and the fetus may be another factor that explains and supports the theory that women who give birth will live longer than those who do not give birth.
Finally, it should be noted that the reason women live longer is based on many factors, only a few of which are mentioned above.
The Bible (English version) says (Genesis 16): To the woman He said: I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your pregnancy; in grief you will draw out children; and your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you… ‘.
The Hebrew version has: ‘… in sorrow you will draw out boys‘.
Although some may claim that ‘Boys’ or residence is the general name for children, one might wonder if the original was really ‘Boys’…
Longer female lifespans may be part of some grand Darwinian scheme whereby mother nature is rewarding motherhood, and especially those women who give birth to at least one male; Mothers can gain five more years of life for their efforts… and they deserve it…
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