In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the average lifespan for a man in the U.S. was 75.1 years. For a woman, it's 80.5 years.
Why is there such a difference? For several years now, medical researchers have been trying to figure out what factors play a role in this disparity.
Recently, a researcher at the University of Virginia had a breakthrough.
Kenneth Walsh, Ph.D., is the director of The Walsh Lab at UVA, which is a part of their Division of Cardiovascular Medicine and the Hematovascular Biology Center.
His team's latest finding gives us a new perspective on lifespans: approximately 40% of men begin to lose some of their Y chromosomes in their cells as they age, which can cause scarring of heart tissue and lead to deadly heart attacks and failure.
“Particularly past age 60, men die more rapidly than women. It’s as if they biologically age more quickly,” Walsh explained in a statement.
“There are more than 160 million males in the United States alone. The years of life lost due to the survival disadvantage of maleness is staggering."
While researchers have known that this chromosomal loss can occur, this is the first connection that has been established between that loss and men's health.
It isn't hereditary, but it can be influenced by factors like smoking, according to Walsh.
Beyond the heart, the loss can also cause scarring in other body organs and tissues, which is called fibrosis.
The good news is that there is already a drug available that could treat this loss. It's called pirfenidone, and it's already been approved by the FDA to treat lung tissue scarring.
So, how do you know if you're a man who will be impacted? Unfortunately, right now, there is no set test. But Walsh said that this finding could change that in the future.
He's working with a researcher in Sweden, who has created a possible test that could detect Y chromosome loss. It's similar to a PCR test, which is used for detecting viruses like COVID-19.
"If interest in this continues and it’s shown to have utility in terms of being prognostic for men’s disease and can lead to personalized therapy, maybe this becomes a routine diagnostic test,” Walsh said.