Manliness may well be one of the glories of the human race, but now even scientists are agreeing that it comes with a hefty price tag to everyone – and to no one more than to men themselves.
Three scientists from Korea - Kyung-Jin Min, Cheol-Koo Lee, and Han-Nam Park - got to wondering about the biological cost of testosterone production to male health and longevity. While it has long been known that the average male lifespan is significantly shorter than that of women, and the difference has frequently been traced back to male testosterone production, there is still no conclusive proof that this is the explanation. But how could they proceed? It’s not as if there is a large control population of castrated men out there waiting to be surveyed. Yes, there are plenty of cancer victims, but they are dealing with too many other health variables to be useful testing subjects. The same goes for the appalling number of American who have experienced horrific and traumatic lower body injuries from improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Previous studies of castrati, i.e. castrated singers, showed no difference in life expectancy vis-à-vis sexually intact men.)
So the Koreans decided to fall back on a rich treasury of historical data, namely the records of eunuchs from the Korean court during the Chosun Dynasty, which lasted from 1392 to 1910. Korean eunuchs, court servants and often high officials who had become eunuchs either by birth or by accident, or who had their testicles and frequently also their penises severed as a prerequisite for court service, led what practically amounted to a charmed life compared to their contemporaries in other Asian monarchies. As the authors write in the latest issue of Current Biology (Vol 22, No. 18),
Eunuchs of the Chosun Dynasty lived with privileges: Korean eunuchs were conferred with official ranks and were legally allowed to marry, a practice that was officially banned in the Chinese Empire. In addition, married couples were also entitled to have children by adopting castrated boys or normal girls. The boys lost their reproductive organs in accidents, or they underwent deliberate castration to gain access to the palace before becoming a teenager. Although the family of a eunuch was compose of non blood-related members, the bonding in these families is believed to have been as strong as that in traditional blood-related families.
The genealogical records the scientists examined – the so-called Yang-Se-Gye-Bo from 1805 - contained the vital data for 385 eunuchs. The scholars reconstructed a total of eighty-one life stories and compared them to the records of non-eunuchs. They came up with remarkable findings. The average lifespan of the eunuchs was seventy years, compared to between fifty-one and fifty-six years for the non-eunuchs. What’s more, “out of the 81 eunuchs, three were centenarians, aged 100, 101, and 109 years. The current incidence of centenarians is one per 3,500 in Japan and per 4,400 in the United States. Thus, the incidence of centenarians among Korean eunuchs is at least 130 times higher than that of present-day developed countries.” This remarkable longevity certainly had nothing to do with spending most of one’s time in a palace – the average age for Korean kings and non-castrated palace officials was forty-seven and forty-five years respectively.
This average life expectancy increase of seventeen years for Korean eunuchs matches the results from a recent study of castrated men in mental hospitals in the West: They live an average of fourteen years longer than their testosterone-generating comrades.
Overall, the scholars conclude, their study supports the long-standing theory that testicles and testosterone production – which demand a considerable expenditure of energy and resources from the male body, and have adverse effects upon the cardiovascular and immune systems, among other complications – reduce men’s life expectancy. But before you start making subtle hints to the man in your life, you might want to try rationing his smokes and chips first.
Image source: Alternative Archeology