Which is the healthier gender?

Erin Wood

On average, American women live about five years longer than American men, leading many to believe women are the healthier gender.

But men are physically stronger, so are they healthier than their female counterparts?

There is evidence favoring both men and women as the superior sex, but the debate has yet to be settled.

What is indisputable is that there are crucial differences between the sexes that tip the scale in either direction.

Brain

Neuroscientists have shown that women’s brains are about 10 percent smaller than men’s, on average, even after accounting for women’s comparatively smaller body size. But research has shown that women’s brains are more tightly packed with cells in the area that controls mental processes such as judgment, personality and memory.

However, as they get older, women appear to shed cells more rapidly from this area than men, which may account for the fact that more women than men are affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

“Women have a greater risk of getting the disease than men,” said Alisha Dault, patient and family services coordinator at the Alzheimer’s Association Central Illinois Chapter. “It’s pretty well known than women live longer than men, but even when you put the two genders on an even playing field, women still get Alzheimer’s more than men.”

But women are more likely to do something about it, Dault said.

“Women are more likely to reach out for help, probably because we are more social beings and are more willing to talk about our problems,” she said.

Once diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, patients deal with the disease differently, but that has nothing to do with gender, Dault said.

“Alzheimer’s is an individual disease,” she said.

Bones

Both men and women get osteoporosis, but women get it much more commonly than man, according to Dr. John Miller, director of the Women’s Health Services at Methodist Medical Center.

“Estrogen helps with bone health, but once women hit menopause, estrogen declines and osteoporosis kicks in,” he said. “We’re also finding that many people in Central Illinois are Vitamin D deficient, which can also lead to osteoporosis.

“If women look fair-skinned and slender, they are likely at a higher risk for osteoporosis,” Miller added. “But a lot of women need extra supplementation.”

Miller said most women should consider taking a calcium supplement, which usually includes Vitamin D.

Skin

Men tend to develop skin cancer on their backs and chests, while women see it more frequently on the backs of their legs, which can be explained by the ways in which each gender expose their skin.

Men tend to be exposed to ultraviolet radiation more than women because of their jobs and other outdoor recreational activities but are less likely to wear sunscreen.

Research also shows they fail to get suspicious skin changes checked out by a dermatologist before they get dangerous.

However, women are more likely to use tanning beds.

“Guys may have their shirts off more often, but there are a lot of ‘sun goddesses’ out there — women who are sunning a lot, which takes a toll on the skin,” he said. “It’s a cumulative thing. I have patients say, ‘I haven’t been in the sun in 10 years,’ but it turns out they were heavy sunbathers in their 20s, so all of the sudden, skin cancer shows up.”

Eyes

Men’s and women’s eyes, anatomically speaking, are quite similar, said Dr. Tim Kundiff of Vision Care Outreach. However, some diseases affect the genders differently.

“The No. 1 problem we see more often in women, across the board, is dry eyes,” Kundiff said. “If you look at women who wear contacts, that can make the situation even worse.”

Kundiff said it is unknown why women have dryer eyes than men, but the biggest culprit is working long hours in front of a computer.

“You’re reading a memo or typing something, and you forget to blink,” he said. “This brings on Computer Vision Syndrome, which can mean dryness, focusing problems and fatigue.”

Kundiff said he encourages his patients — especially women because they have dryer eyes to begin with — to follow the “20, 20, 20 rule.” For every 20 minutes people spend in front of a computer screen, they should look away for 20 seconds at something 20 feet away.

Many other eye conditions, such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and cataracts happen to men and women equally.

But one fashion trend favors women, Kundiff said.

“They seem to wear bigger sunglasses, and bigger is better because they not only protects the eyes, but they also protect the sensitive skin around them from UV light.”

Ears

According to a 2007 study of 2,500 people by Cochlear Americas, 17 percent of men suffered from hearing loss, compared to 10 percent of women.

“This is likely due to environmental factors. Men are more likely to be exposed to high levels of noise,” said Katie Wyman, audiologist at Peoria Ear, Nose and Throat. “They spend more time in

loud factories and in the military, as a few examples.”

While men are more likely to experience hearing loss, women are less likely to seek treatment, Wyman said. Of the 2,500 people who participated in the Cochlear Americas study, 57 percent of women did not seek treatment, whereas 37 percent of men did not seek treatment.

“Maybe it’s a vanity issue, and women don’t want to wear hearing aids,” Wyman said.

Heart

Men are more likely to suffer a heart attack than a woman, but women are less likely to realize they are having a heart attack, according to Mary Brown, program coordinator for the OSF Saint Francis Medical Center Heart Hospital.

“The symptoms are different, and women don’t necessarily have chest pain,” Brown said. “Often women think it’s heartburn or stomach problems, when it’s actually a heart attack.”

Brown said fatigue, a toothache and even jaw pain are common “silent” symptoms of heart attacks in women. Shortness of breath and dizziness are more common than the severe, squeezing chest pain men often experience.

“What people don’t understand is heart disease kills more women than breast cancer does,”

Brown said. “If they have these symptoms, it’s important they see a doctor or call an ambulance.”

Women’s arteries are smaller, Brown said, so plaque tends to build up faster than it does in men’s arteries.

“It’s thought that women are mostly protected until after menopause, then plaque starts to build up,” she said. “However, we are starting to see this in younger and younger women because of smoking, poor diets and inactivity. Instead of seeing heart attacks in women at 65, we’re seeing them at 45.”