Tying it all together: telomeres, sexual size dimorphism and the gender gap in life expectancy
10 June 2005
Medical University of Vienna, Austria
The authors provide just two explanations for the phenomenon of longer telomeres in women, oestrogen and somatic cell selection.
In January 2004 I published a third one, namely sexual size dimorphism.
Stindl R. Tying it all together: telomeres, sexual size dimorphism and the gender gap in life expectancy. Med Hypotheses 2004;62(1):151-154.
Abstract of the 'telomere-gender gap' paper, published in January 2004
20 June 2005
Medical University of Vienna
The classic explanation that women outlive men solely due to hormonal and lifestyle differences, does not withstand a critical analysis. In developed countries, the average gap in life expectancy between the sexes is 7 years. It has widened over the last decades, despite the trend of women copying the 'unhealthy' lifestyle of men. Estrogen levels in postmenopausal women are virtually identical to estrogen levels in males and can hardly explain the discrepancy. Furthermore, testosterone got its bad reputation from one study on mentally retarded men, which has to be interpreted with caution. However, sexual size dimorphism with men being the larger sex in conjunction with the limited replication potential of human somatic cells might account for higher mortality rates in males, especially at old age. The hypothesis, as presented here, is based on the well-known concept of a cellular mitotic clock, which was discovered by Leonard Hayflick almost half a century ago. The underlying counting mechanism, namely the gradual erosion of chromosome ends (telomeres) due to the end replication problem of linear DNA molecules, was first described by Alexey Olovnikov in 1971 and with minor modifications has become a widely accepted paradigm. In a recent Lancet study, an inverse correlation between mean telomere length and mortality in people has been found. In this and two other studies, it was confirmed that males do have shorter telomeres than females at the same age. This is almost certainly a consequence of men being usually taller than women, although nobody has done an investigation yet. Clearly, a larger body requires more cell doublings, especially due to the ongoing regeneration of tissues over a lifetime. Accordingly, the replicative history of male cells might be longer than that of female cells, resulting in the exhaustion of the regeneration potential and the early onset of age-associated diseases predominantly in large-bodied males. Inherited telomere length variation between unrelated individuals might have obscured a clear correlation between body height and mortality, leading to conflicting results in some studies. Finally, I propose that the secular height increase over the last decades, of about 2.5 cm per generation in the western world, has to be blamed for the widening of the gender gap in life expectancy.
Med Hypotheses. 2004;62(1):151-4.
Tying it all together: telomeres, sexual size dimorphism and the gender gap in life expectancy.