A Follow Up to Men’s Health Month: Coronary Heart Disease
The Gender Difference
Maybe men truly are from Mars and Women are from Venus. Well if this is true, the good folks on Mars tend to last a good 7 to 10 years fewer than their counterparts on Venus. Why is it that women live longer than men on average? In continuation of our celebration for Men’s Health Month this past June, let’s investigate another topic that is largely connected to men and their shorter life spans: Coronary Heart Disease.
If you received your social understanding of the world through sitcoms and cartoons from the 1950’s, you are probably likely to buy into the notion that men live a dramatically different lifestyle than women. Fred Flintstone worked a stressful job down at the stone quarry, devoured whole racks of red meat, washed it all down with stone goblets of beer, and probably stepped outside for a few cigarette breaks in between. His nagging wife Wilma on the other hand, was able to relax at home all day, with enough spare time to outlive Fred by a few decades.
Thankfully, progressive reasoning backed with epidemiological studies have shown that there may exist more reasons for the differences in mortality between genders, while still adjusting for unhealthy behaviors that still are in fact risk factors. Early studies have shown a higher association for the risk factors we’ve known about: cigarette smoking, alcohol intake, blood viscosity, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides in men than women (Noda, 2010). But how else can we explain such a drastic disparity between men and women?
What Do We Actually Know?
When paired with biologic science, there are acceptable social studies that can lead to our better understanding of the differences between men and women. Studies show that men are less likely to develop emotional interpersonal relationships where they feel comfortable sharing feelings. As a result, inward anger produces biological consequences such as lower reactivity of neuroendocrine and higher stress hormones (Moons, 2010). Women tend to exhibit more social support networks and alternative communication skills.
Biologically, there exist several metabolic differences between genders that may explain the coronary heart disease that kills men before women. First and foremost, coronary artery flow has been shown to significantly improve by estrogen in women, as opposed to no change in men (Kallikazaros, 2008). As women age and approach menopause, estrogen therapies are then likely to improve their cardiovascular health. Physical inactivity is more associated with cardiovascular risk in men than women (Kruger, 2003). So while both a man and his wife may sit on the couch, reminiscing about high school glory days, the joke is actually only on him. Lipoproteins have been shown to have a stronger association with cardiovascular disease in men than women (Prenner, 2014). Lipoproteins are required for a variety of cellular transport purposes, and the differences between men and women suggest large differences in metabolic function between genders.
Men and women also gain weight differently. Other than different aesthetics of getting older, there are likely real health implications of fat-gain. Most men accumulate adipose tissue, or fat, in the central or upper parts of their bodies. Women on the other hand, are more likely to gain weight in the central to lower parts of their bodies. Guess what other body system originates in the central to upper side of the human body? The heart of course. Male-pattern obesity has been revealed as a potential factor in higher mortality in men (Livingston, 2002).
Have no fear men, we aren’t doomed just yet. While it is true that we are more likely to kick the bucket first, we can choose to be proactive about our lives. First, we must invest real energy into expressing our emotions and finding positive outlets for our everyday frustrations. Then we must address our diet and exercise concerns to mitigate inescapable biological risk factors for disease. But here’s the secret, the two strategies I just listed don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Don’t be afraid to try new fitness routines, artistic expressions, cooking recipes, and social activities. Check in with Lyfebulb and see what new healthy lifestyle choices you can use to relieve issues related to chronic disease.
For more updates and tips on how to use fitness for chronic disease management and prevention. Follow me on twitter @roycHealth
Kallikazaros I, Tsioufis C, Zambaras P, et al. Estrogen-induced improvement in coronary flow responses during atrial pacing in relation to endothelin-1 levels in postmenopausal women without coronary disease. Vascular Health and Risk Management. 2008;4(3):705-714.
Kruger HS, Venter CS, Vorster HH; THUSA Study. Physical inactivity as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in communities undergoing rural to urban transition: the THUSA study. Cardiovasc J S Afr. 2003 Jan-Feb;14(1):16-23
Livingston EH, Huerta S, Arthur D, Lee S, De Shields S, Heber D. Male Gender is a Predictor of Morbidity and Age a Predictor of Mortality for Patients Undergoing Gastric Bypass Surgery. Annals of Surgery. 2002;236(5):576-582.
Moons WG, Way BM, Taylor SE.Oxytocin and vasopressin receptor polymorphisms interact with circulating neuropeptides to predict human emotional reactions to stress. Emotion (Washington, DC). 2014;14(3):562-572. doi:10.1037/a0035503.
Noda H, Iso H, Irie F, Sairenchi T, Ohtaka E, Ohta H. Gender difference of association between LDL cholesterol concentrations and mortality from coronary heart disease amongst Japanese: the Ibaraki Prefectural Health Study. J Intern Med. 2010 Jun;267(6):576-87