Eunuchs examined to reveal role of sex hormone in longevity
San Francisco, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 10/05/2012 -- Many different explanations have been posited for why women live an average five years longer than men in the developed world. Now, a new study by a South Korean University, published in Current Biology journal, has some of the most conclusive evidence yet that testosterone levels in men are directly linked to how long they live.
Biologist Kyung-Jin Min has spent almost five years studying historical records of eunuchs, castrated men, in his homeland. Previous studies on neutered dogs have seemed to suggest that castration results in greater longevity. Now South Korea’s unique ability to trace the genealogy of eunuchs has enabled Min to add to the scientific community’s knowledge of the matter.
Up until the nineteenth century, the Korean royal court employed eunuchs as their servants. They were allowed to adopt castrated boys and all these men’s births and deaths were recorded in a document, dating back four hundred years, called the Yang-Se-Gye-Bo. This served as the primary resource for Doctor Min’s new research.
The Yang-Se-Gye-Bo gave the scientists information on 81 eunuchs, and in order to rule out superior living conditions as the reason for longer life, eunuchs of regular social status were factored in too. They found that eunuchs outlived their non-castrated contemporaries by 14-19 years. Furthermore, the 81 eunuchs boasted 3 centenarians, far outstripping national averages in Japan and the U.S. of one in 3,500 and 4,400 respectively.
“I thought there were errors in our data”, said Min “and checked everything again. I was quite surprised by the big difference in longevity and the number of centenarians.”
A largely unrepresented area of the medical field, this is by no means proof that there is a link between the length of our lives and our hormone levels, but it is difficult to conclude otherwise. The levels of testosterone are the key difference between the eunuchs of the study and their non-castrated counterparts.
Steven Austad, a biogerontologist at San Antonio’s University of Texas Health Science Center adds, “This is the most thorough, well-controlled study of its kind. The sex difference in aging and longevity is an almost unexplored area, and this study highlights that testosterone is part of the issue.”
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