Why men live less than women and how fatherhood affects health

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Why men live less than women and how fatherhood affects health

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In the public mind, the fact that men live less than women is taken for granted. But what is the reason for such differences? Especially when most of the world's population does not need to fight or go hunting. The natural prerequisites for this phenomenon were explained by Yale University professor of anthropology, ecology and evolutionary biology Richard Bribiskas in the Nautilus material. "Theories and Practices" retold the most important.

Shorter lifespans and higher mortality in males are common in many species. Natural selection encourages traits that promote reproduction, even if they negatively affect the health of the individual.

This trade-off between longevity and reproduction is clearly seen in women: pregnancy, childbirth and lactation are physically burdensome and energy-consuming. Studies have shown that the more children a woman has, the higher the oxidative stress, which in turn can lead to accelerated aging after menopause.

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Men, of course, do not bear the hardships of pregnancy, but at the same time they spend a huge amount of energy in order to increase their chances of reproduction. In particular, this is expressed in more risky behavior and muscle building of the shoulders, back, arms.

Hormones are responsible for maintaining balance in the body. In men, reproductive behavior is regulated by testosterone. Women also have it, but in much smaller quantities. Testosterone promotes muscle building and speeds up metabolism. It also helps to burn fatty tissue.

In the wild, smaller fat stores make the individual more susceptible to infections and food shortages. Therefore, an increase in testosterone levels, which has a positive effect on reproductive abilities, may infringe on other needs of the body.

For example, males of the northern marten have an enormous testosterone surge, which results in active mating and high mortality due to the exhaustion and aggression that males show towards each other. Females live up to three years, for males a year is already an excellent result.

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Assessing the impact of testosterone on people's life expectancy is more difficult. Since it is unethical to conduct experiments on humans specifically by changing the level of the hormone, researchers have to look for more cunning clues, often referring to historical data. At the end of the 19th century in China and the Ottoman Empire, for example, men of certain religious views were subjected not only to castration, but also to the complete removal of the genitals. Eunuchs also lived at court in pre-industrial Korea; one can also recall the choristers in the 17th-18th centuries in Europe. Records of males without genitals in China and European choristers show that their lifespans were no different from those of other males. At the same time, Korean eunuchs lived longer than their uncastrated compatriots.

Scientists have also tried increasing testosterone levels in animals. According to ornithologists, males with increased testosterone build more nests, fight off rivals more actively and have more offspring. If the hormone has such a positive effect on reproduction, why shouldn't all males keep it at a high level? But we must not forget that birds with higher testosterone have a harder time surviving because they accumulate fat less.

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Experience with men taking testosterone (in the form of injections or tablets) can be considered for scientific purposes. So, according to a 2014 study, older men who take testosterone have a higher risk of myocardial infarction. A higher level of the hormone helps build muscle, but other organs may not be able to withstand such a high metabolism. In addition, testosterone suppresses the immune system, while the main female hormone estradiol strengthens it.

However, from an evolutionary standpoint, high reproduction compensates males for the negative effects of high testosterone. Hypothetically, a male who mated with a hundred females in a year could father more than a hundred cubs. For females, the same option does not work.

Today, men have developed an alternative reproductive strategy. It consists in increasing the "contribution of the father", which is quite rare in mammals. That is, males try to stay close to their offspring as long as possible in order to take care of them. This is where risky behavior takes a backseat. Indeed, when men become fathers and take care of a child, their testosterone levels may decrease and their weight may increase. Perhaps we should say that fatherhood is good for health.

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