Women live longer than men, health statistics show. Now scientists have determined a possible reason why: Women’s immune systems age more slowly than men's. That may help women stave off age-related diseases that are more likely to cut men’s lives shorter.
The findings, published in the journal Immunity & Aging, are based on an analysis of levels of immune system cells in the blood of healthy Japanese men and women, ranging in age from 20 to 90 years old.
Researchers with the Tokyo Medical & Dental University Open Laboratory found that the total number of disease-fighting white blood cells known as “neutrophils” decreased with age in both sexes. But the number of “lymphocytes” — another type of small white blood cell that plays a key role in the body’s immune defenses — decreased in men, but actually increased in women with age.
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The researchers also found that age-related declines in a variety of other immune system cells — including T cells and B cells — were slower for women than men. What’s more, both CD4+ T cells and NK cells increased for both sexes with age, but the rate of increase was higher in women than men.
“The process of aging is different for men and women for many reasons,” noted researcher Katsuiku Hirokawa. “Women have more estrogen than men which seems to protect them from cardiovascular disease until menopause. Sex hormones also affect the immune system, especially certain types of lymphocytes. Because people age at different rates a person's immunological parameters could be used to provide an indication of their true biological age.”
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