Study reveals why older women are less healthy than older men

November 28, 2018, University of Exeter
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Genes that act late in life could explain why women have poorer health than men in older age, according to new research.

Scientists have long wondered why are less healthy than older men, given that men at any given age are more likely to die than women (a puzzle known as the "male-female, health-survival paradox").

The answer, according to University of Exeter scientists, is "intralocus sexual conflict— that benefit one sex but harm the other.

The researchers used mathematical models and experimental data on flies to show that such genes can easily spread if they take effect after female reproduction stops.

"Shared genes tether the sexes together in an evolutionary tug of war," said Professor David Hosken, of the University of Exeter.

"Selection is trying to push females and males in different directions, but the shared genome means each sex stops the other from reaching its optima.

"Basically, certain genes will make a good male but a bad female, and vice versa.

"However, after females reaches menopause, they no longer reproduce to pass on their genes which means selection (which is reproduction) on females is greatly weakened.

"So after that point, any genes that improve late-life male fitness will accumulate, even if they harm female fitness."

Professor Hosken said it was important to note that survival and health are not the same thing—and that the accumulation of late-life male benefit genes hinged upon males' ability to continue reproducing after the age of female menopause.

The on flies (Drosophila) supported the findings of the mathematical models on humans, as genes that were better at late-life male reproduction tended to be worse for females.

Explore further: Reproductive strategy drives slower female aging

More information: C. Ruth Archer et al, Intralocus sexual conflict can resolve the male-female health-survival paradox, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-07541-y

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4 comments

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dirk_bruere
2 / 5 (1) Nov 28, 2018
I blame the evolutionary patriarchy
mqr
2 / 5 (1) Nov 28, 2018
Women live longer than men, very well established.
rrwillsj
2 / 5 (1) Nov 28, 2018
Well, if you asked older women? They would tell you that they suffer a lot longer.

What I find dubious about the conclusions voiced in this article?
Is the lack of additional data explaining female physiological changes through puberty, maturity into old age.
Childbearing, besides the physical risks & emotional traumas, depletes women physically.
Then there are the social expectations that burden women. Including those from their husbands & families. The demand that women should submit to meekly accepting being trapped in the "Handmaid's Tale".
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
3 / 5 (2) Nov 29, 2018
Women live longer than men, very well established.


Did you read the article? That was the basis: "men at any given age are more likely to die than women", and went on from there.

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