Women live longer than their male counterparts because their immune systems age more slowly, a Japanese study suggests.
White blood cells protect against disease and infection
The report, published in Immunity & Ageing, investigated the link between the immune system and one’s biological age.
The human body’s immune system has evolved to protect against disease, such as cancer, via complex biological processes. Over time however the immune system can diminish and diseases may develop.
The investigation attempted to find our whether the ageing of an immune system could cause a difference in life expectancy in men and women.
According to the World Health Organization, the UK average life expectancy in men is 79 years and 82 years in women.
Professor Katsuiku Hirokawa from the Tokyo Medical and Dental University led a team of scientists to analyse blood samples from some 350 healthy adults of both sexes between ages of 20 and 90.
The density of white blood cells and molecules called cytokines connected with the immune system to control the response to disease were measured.
The levels of white blood cells decreased with age in both women and men, which previous studies had already confirmed.
However scientists discovered that two vital components T-cells and B-cells, which prevent infections and secrete antibodies respectively, highlighted differences in men and women.
The number of both T and B-cells declines at a quicker rate in men which indicates there immune system ages faster leading to a lower life expectancy.
Prof Hirokawa said: "Age-related changes in a variety of immunological parameters differ between men and women.
"Our data indicates that the slower rate of decline in these immunological parameters in women than in men is consistent with the fact that women live longer than do men."
Previous studies performed on mice have showed similar results and strengthens the theory that women live longer due to a tougher immune system.
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