A recent study in Japan revealed that there is slower immune system aging in women compared to men in the Japanese population. Scientists speculate that this could be the reason behind women’s longevity.
Women typically live longer than men. Historical documents show that women have lived longer than men since the beginning of time — and although men are living longer these days — a woman’s life expectancy is still 81 years today compared to a man’s 76 years.
While many have suspected that women’s healthy living habits, home-cooked meals and less stress are behind the longevity differences between the genders, science pinpoints another physiological possibility. In fact, The Journal of Immunity and Aging discusses how a study in Japan that included 365 Japanese people between the ages of 20-90 found that women’s immune systems age slower than men’s. According to the study, the number of white blood cells which fight infections in the body, decrease at a slower pace for women as they age.
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“Our findings indicate that the slower rate of decline in these immunological parameters in women than in men is consistent with the fact that women live longer than do men,” the study abstract stated.
The research also showed that T-cells, which are responsible for various immune functions, and B-cells, which produce antibodies to fight infections, also declined slower in women than men. Furthermore, there was also an age-related decline in red blood cells for men that didn’t exist for women, which means that men didn’t have as much help getting oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body and returned carbon dioxide from the body to the lungs. Finally, women showed a higher rate of other types of white blood cells, such as CD4 T-cells and natural killer cells, which tend to increase with age.
We have all heard that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. This satirical generalization is meant to prove that the genders are quite different, and science proves that many of these differences are confirmed by the biological differences of the X chromosome.
Professor Katsuiku Hirokawa from the Tokyo Medical and Dental University Open Laboratory, comments about differences between the genders in the BioMed press release for the study:
“The process of aging is different for men and women for many reasons. Women have more estrogen than men, which seems to protect them from cardiovascular disease until menopause. Sex hormones also affect the immune system, especially certain types of lymphocytes. Because people age at different rates, a person’s immunological parameters could be used to provide an indication of their true biological age.”
As for what all this means, the important part is that scientists have identified yet another component of how our bodies change as we get older — and we’ve gained another clue to why women consistently show greater longevity. The jury is still out, however, on whether the changes to the immune system are the cause for women’s longevity. Professor Tom Kirkwood of the Institute of Ageing and Health at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, discusses in a BBC News story:
“It’s likely that the slower aging in the immune system of women reflects a generally slower rate of intrinsic aging, rather than that the immune system itself is setting the pace.”
While science makes interesting observations between the five years women tend to live longer than men, it is obvious that genetics and healthy living still win when it comes to an individual’s life span, both female and male. of course, the more scientists learn about longevity, the more we can pinpoint strategies for healthy aging for both genders.
The good news, Tom Perls, founder of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University, discusses in a Time.com article, is that about 70% of variation in longevity is probably due to environmental factors, while only 30% is due to genetics. That means we have more control over our longevity than we realize.
While genetics obviously play a role in longevity, a healthy lifestyle also contributes to living longer and with a better quality of life. Here are a few secrets to living a healthier life, no matter your gender.
Do women live longer than men in your family? What longevity tips do you have to share? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.