Biological clue to why women live longer than men

Biological clue to why women live longer than men

Women live longer than men partly because their immune systems age more slowly, a study suggests.

As the body’s defences weaken over time, men’s increased susceptibility to disease shortens their lifespans, say Japanese scientists.

Tests of immune function could give an indication of true biological age, they report in Immunity & Ageing journal.

The immune system protects the body from infection and cancer, but causes disease when not properly regulated.

The Japanese study set out to investigate the controversial question of whether age-related changes in the immune system could be responsible for the difference in average life expectancy between men and women.

Prof Katsuiku Hirokawa of the Tokyo Medical and Dental University and colleagues analysed blood samples from 356 healthy men and women aged between 20 and 90.

They measured levels of white blood cells and molecules called cytokines which interact with cells of the immune system to regulate the body’s response to disease.

“It’s likely that the slower ageing in the immune system of women reflects a generally slower rate of intrinsic ageing, rather than that the immune system itself is setting the pace”, Prof Tom Kirkwood University of Newcastle upon Tyne said.

In both sexes, the number of white blood cells per person declined with age as expected from previous studies.

However, closer examination revealed differences between men and women in two key components of the immune system – T-cells, which protect the body from infection, and B-cells, which secrete antibodies.

The rate of decline of most T-cell and B-cell lymphocytes was faster in men, while men also showed a more rapid age-related decline in two cytokines.

Two specific types of immune system cell that attack invaders – CD4 T-cells and natural killer cells – increased in number with age, with a higher rate of increase in women than in men.

The researchers believe a person’s immunological parameters could provide an indication of their true biological age.

“Age-related changes in various immunological parameters differ between men and women,” Prof Hirokawa and colleagues report in the online journal Immunity & Ageing.

“Our findings indicate that the slower rate of decline in these immunological parameters in women than that in men is consistent with the fact that women live longer than do men.”

Commenting on the study, Prof Tom Kirkwood of the Institute of Ageing and Health at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne said the findings, while valuable, were not fundamentally surprising.

“It’s likely that the slower ageing in the immune system of women reflects a generally slower rate of intrinsic ageing, rather than that the immune system itself is setting the pace,” he told BBC News.

Dr Donald Palmer, senior lecturer in immunology at the Royal Veterinary College, said studies in mice had shown similar results.

Life expectancy

  • Life expectancy in the UK is 79 years for men and 82 for women
  • In Japan, the gap is wider, with women living to 85.5 on average
  • Source: World Health Organization

Copyright: BBC News

Read more:

Related Posts

  • Reports on Gender EqualityIn this section you will find a list of links to some important reports on Gender Equality. Do you know of more reports or resources that should be added to this list? Write to Thanks! Time For Equality Team       Website of The Global Gender Gap Report 2012…
    Tags: gender, equality, women
  • Gender stereotyping - European Parliament Library Key SourcesIn 1979 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which defines what constitutes discrimination against women. Applying the Convention as the primary framework, it is essential to provide strategies for combating gender stereotyping. Several methodologies require naming operative gender stereotypes, identifying…
    Tags: gender, women, equality
  • Below is a collection of useful links GENDER   Websites of Institutions and Organisations Europe European Commission - Gender Equality Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality of the European Parliament European Institute for Gender Equality EIGE European Network of Equality Bodies - Equinet The European Community of Practice on…
    Tags: gender, equality, women
  • The gender dimension of the Millennium Development Goals I 2013 ReportSince their adoption in 2000, significant and substantial progress has been made in meeting many of the eight Millennium Development Goals, including visible improvements in all health areas as well as primary education, and halving the number of people living in extreme poverty. However, progress is uneven, particularly for women…
    Tags: women, equality, gender, men, health
  • Gender and Climate Change, the Warsaw Climate Change Conference 2013The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has adopted several resolutions on gender equality and women’s participation beginning in 2001. Last year at the Conference of the Parties (COP-18) in Doha, Qatar, they committed to gender balance in the Secretariat and member delegations.  (Read the Secretariat Report on Gender Composition…
    Tags: gender, equality, women

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.