Oh Nuts: Eunuchs Live Longer?
An extra 19 years to your life in exchange for the family jewels. Sound like a fair trade lads?
I didn’t think so, but a study of hundreds of years of Korean family records has turned up a surprising, if teeth-gritting, tidbit: there’s evidence to suggest eunuchs may live considerably longer than their intact counterparts.
A study published in the journal Current Biology tells that researchers tracked the lives of 81 eunuchs from the Chosun Dynasty, which ruled in Korea from 1392 to 1897, and compared this, the only known complete record of eunuchs’ lives, with the genealogical records of other men of a similar social rank.
What they found was quite astounding. On average, eunuchs lived to be 70 years old, an additional 14 to 19 years beyond the average for non-castrated men.
In fact, three of the 81 eunuchs lived to be over 100 years old which put the rate of “centenarians,” or those that lived for a century or more, at almost 130 times above that of other men.
However, this study did not establish a causal link, and there are caveats: the study didn’t adjust for lifestyle factors like diet and exercise.
Eunuchs in the study were privileged in the sense that the Korean Chosun dynasty used eunuchs for important positions like guarding the palace and managing food stores. In fact, it is likely they were the only non-royal men allowed to spend the night in the palace.
Also, there’s the fact that eunuchs, unable to have children of their own, would often raise young eunuchs. This may have helped refine whatever lifestyle choices they were making that kept them alive and perpetuated the cycle.
However, when not at the palace, the conditions in which eunuchs lived were largely the same as non-eunuch males which means that lifestyle factors may not account for the considerable increase.
Also, there’s the fact that there are other studies that have shown, for instance, that mentally impaired men of more recent times who were castrated tended to live up to 14 years longer. To the counter argument, though, comparing castrato versus non-castrato singers shows no difference in lifespan from the male average of their period even though they lived fairly comfortable lives.
Still, all that said, this new study has pointed to a tantalizing avenue for future research.
It’s an established fact that women tend to live longer than men. This, coupled with other evidence and now factoring in the evidence that eunuchs, who were castrated before the onset of puberty, seemed to live longer, has led the study’s authors to muse that it may be male sex hormones like testosterone that shorten the male lifespan.
The researchers said the hormones could weaken the immune system or damage the heart. Castration would prevent most of the hormone from being produced, protecting the body from any damaging effect and prolonging lifespan.
Dr Min said: “It is quite possible that testosterone reduction therapy extends male lifespan, however, we may need to consider the side effects of it, mainly reduction of sex drive in males.
Dr David Clancy, from the University of Lancaster, said: “The results are persuasive, but certainly not conclusive.”
Researchers have warned, though, that this is early-days research and not an established fact.
They also remind us that the process to becoming a eunuch is very unpleasant. They warn, too, that using drugs to reduce male sex hormones would be a flawed approach as it would have no impact on overall life-span post puberty and may dramatically reduce quality of life — sex drive, for instance, would decrease.
Men: you may cease cradling your precious man parts and go jump on the treadmill.
A good diet and frequent exercise is still the recommended course if you plan on living until you’re long in the tooth.