Why Men Die Sooner (And How They Can Beat The Odds)
No matter the research study, scientific finding, or health care statistic, one of the most consistent health facts around is that men, in general, do not live as long as women.
• Coronary artery disease (CAD) is three times higher among men who are clinically depressed.
• Male suicides outnumber female suicides in every age group.
• Homicide and suicide are among the top three causes for death among males between the ages of 15 and 34.
• By the age of 85, women outnumber men in the U.S. 2.2 to 1; this rises to 3 to 1 if they reach their 90s.
These very sobering numbers force us to ask a very important question: why?
According to Marianne J. Legato, MD, there are various biological, cultural, and personal reasons that men’s life span in the U.S. lasts an average of six years less than women’s.
“Male mortality is shorter in part, Legato says, because males are more fragile and inherently vulnerable than females from birth. And unlike women, who have fought hard to have their specific health needs validated and addressed, men haven’t demanded equal treatment.”
• Conditioning. The challenges in men’s health are in part a byproduct of the rules set shortly after birth, Legato says: Suck up the pain, don’t be a wimp, show no weakness, and “man up.” Many men only seek medical counsel when under duress from a spouse or when their condition has deteriorated to a severe state.
• Women are better at demanding help. “Women are able to logically ask for help,” says Legato, who has long promoted the concept of gender-specific medicine. “They’re hardwired in the brain and very motivated.”
What Men Have To Do To Extend Their Lives
In general, there’s a lack of awareness among men — and even the medical community — regarding the specific health needs of a male that could help prevent male deaths.
Below are the leading factors of death in men. Tackling these areas can help men make a significant difference in their health and improve their life expectancy:
1. Men need to really talk to the doctor. Leave embarrassment in the waiting room. Women are taught at an early age to be candid and open with their doctors. Symptoms that can be uncomfortable to talk about — such as erectile dysfunction — can be tied to more serious ailments such as diabetes and heart disease. Men, despite cultural tradition, should also request breast checks.
“It’s a part of the body and should be examined,” Legato says.
She encourages men to perform testicular self-exams in the way women are taught to check their breasts for irregularities. Although men may cringe at getting a prostate check, they are far less uncomfortable than experiencing the pain of cancer treatment.
2. Men need to monitor their testosterone levels. Beginning at age 30, testosterone begins to dip by 1% each year, says Legato. Lowered testosterone levels can lead to a decrease in vitality, muscle mass, ability to perform prolonged exercise, memory, concentration, and libido. Not only does this impair quality of life, it can contribute to depression, which can have a significant effect on male health, potentially increasing the risk of coronary disease. There are several treatments available — including gels, patches, and injections — that can help restore this vital hormone to proper levels.
3. Men need to protect their immune systems. The male immune system is not as vigorous as those of females, and men die from seven of the 10 most common infections at a higher rate, Legato says, particularly tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases. Sanitary sexual practices are essential, beginning with use of a condom. Men should check for updated vaccinations with their doctor when traveling to foreign countries. A tetanus shot should be administered every 10 years.
“Immunization is not finished after the second year of life,” Legato says. Also, proper nutrition and supplementation can also be beneficial. Despite the gender-focused attention it receives, osteoporosis also strikes men.
4. Men need to recognize, acknowledge and treat their depression. Male depression may be much more common than has been previously estimated. Symptoms aren’t always obvious, and the current medical system sometimes prevents doctors from obtaining a proper understanding of a patient’s personality and life.
“While we like to say that women are twice as depressed as men, what depressed men actually do is turn to behaviors that are semi-socially acceptable: drinking alcohol, TV watching, greater sexual exploits.”
Legato is convinced the vulnerability of depression can compromise men’s health in other ways, leading to increased instance of disease and greater male mortality from such conditions. It’s also a common symptom of “andropause,” which is marked by a decrease of testosterone in males that is similar, if less dramatic, than the effect of menopause in females. Indeed, males are also susceptible to the notorious hot flashes that have often marked the change of life for women, albeit years later.
Left untreated, depression can have catastrophic results.
Regarding suicide, Korman says that while women typically make more attempts, “men are much better at completing it.”
Men need to realize, Legato says, how destructive depression can be to their health and openly discuss their concerns with a doctor.
5. Men need to know their risk for coronary disease. Coronary disease, Legato says, “takes a toll on men in their prime and leaves families bereft.” It’s imperative to sit down and assess the risks along with any predisposed genetic tendency and discuss these with a doctor. Have any relatives died of heart disease before the age of 60? What are your cholesterol levels? Have you experienced fainting episodes, loss of consciousness, or shortness of breath?
“We downplay this tremendously,” Legato says.
Again, men aren’t genetically blessed compared to women in this area. The female hormone estrogen provides women with a layer of protection that men don’t naturally possess, asserts Legato. Men can begin developing signs of coronary artery disease at the age of 35, Legato says, while women don’t present a risk of a heart attack similar to men until much later. Men with a family history of heart disease should alert their doctor and take proper precautions beginning in their 30s.
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Legato says. “We should be turning a very critical eye on why coronary disease starts in the mid-30s.”