Life extension that works?

Castration had a huge effect on the lifespans of Korean men, according to an analysis of hundreds of years of eunuch “family” records.

They lived up to 19 years longer than uncastrated men from the same social class and even outlived members of the royal family.

Caveat emptor!  For the pointer (sans endorsement) I thank Mo Costandi.

Comments

"They worked out the lifespans of 81 eunuchs born between 1556 and 1861. The average age was 70 years, including three centenarians - the oldest reached 109.

By comparison, men in other families in the noble classes lived into their early 50s. Males in the royal family lasted until they were just 45 on average."

Somehow I doubt that the average death from natural causes for Royal family males was 45. I suspect they are including deaths in battle, duels and by assassination. So, News Flash being in the line of succession is a high risk occupation.

This model has readily testable empirical implications.

Byzantine royalty often forced rival claimants to take holy orders in monasteries/convents. That is, they had a purely social practice that socially emasculated rivals but did not change them physiologically. Your model suggests that we should see very similar effects on longevity for Byzantine monks as for Korean eunuchs but not (as you suggested) Italian castrato.

I call dibs on control group!

There's room for two in the control group. So count me in. Otherwise, I'm sulking and refusing to participate at all. ;)

You're taking your ball(s) and going home?

Oh yes, I missed the very last part:

""Castrato versus non-castrato singers are probably a better comparison, and showed no difference in lifespan. Non-castrato lived an average 65 years and both groups lived fairly cosseted lives.""

General news, science reporting always seems to be bad.

Good catch. Another study found starving mice prolonged their lives, but the same effects did not hold for humans. Also Atkins Diet, etc. But people base their lives on this sort of anecdotal and small sample size science, it's irrational.

Ray,

You're wrong. Calorie restriction with optimal nutrition has been found to extend the lifespan of virtually every animal in which it has been tested, including many mammalian species. A recent study did cast doubt on its benefits for primates (contra earlier primate studies), however the human experiment is ongoing.

Calorie restriction with optimal nutrition has been found to extend the lifespan of virtually every animal

Isn't that circular? The nutrition that maximizes lifespan being deemed optimal......

http://www.nature.com/news/calorie-restriction-falters-in-the-long-run-1.11297

"The verdict, from a 25-year study in rhesus monkeys fed 30% less than control animals, represents another setback for the notion that a simple, diet-triggered switch can slow ageing. Instead, the findings, published this week in Nature1, suggest that genetics and dietary composition matter more for longevity than a simple calorie count."

No, it has a definite meaning. It really just means "adequate" nutrition- i.e. meeting RDA requirements. Within those parameters, the actual levels of various nutrients matters little if at all. But a lack of adequate nutrition is why starving people in e.g. Africa are not long-lived.

Nicoli,

I believe that is the study I referred to. It's indisputable that in many species, there absolutely is a complicated, diet-triggered switch that slows ageing dramatically and is far more important than dietary composition or genetics (with reasonable nutrition and genetics- obviously at the extremes genetics can dictate immediate death, etc.). We are talking extension of maximum life span (i.e. something not shown in the castration results) of 30-50%. That would be equivalent to a human living to 150. That may not be true in Rhesus monkeys and perhaps not in humans either. But the jury is still out, and there is a lot of evidence going the other way.

think about the experiment you need to generate this data:
the animals have to be caged in a lab, and there lifespans have to be short enough for the experiment to be tractable.
So right away you are talkng about the effect of lab diets (ug - i bet even a mouse doesn't like cheap chow) for animals spending generations in cages...
animals that are probably genetically homogeneous, and not exposed to infectious disease, and....

a few seconds reflection suggests that the results may not extrapolate to humans

or, as those of us making new (pharmaceutical) drugs like to say, if you are amouse with a heart attack, we can work wonders...

Atkins-type diets definitely lead to weight loss. The open questions are their effect on lifespan and ability of dieters to sustain the diet.

Regarding Atkins:

Ray, I have been looking into the evidence on this one. See

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_research_related_to_low-carbohydrate_diets

from what I can tell, the evidence that Atkins actually causes sustained weight loss - and beats every other diet - sees pretty conclusive. Do you have any specific counter-evidence? Or are you just repeating the urban myth that Atkins is somehow a fraud? For example, most people think that eating more fat is bad for your heart. But picking a quote from the wikipedia link, we see that it ain't necessarily so:

"In postmenopausal women with relatively low total fat intake, a greater saturated fat intake is associated with less progression of coronary atherosclerosis, whereas carbohydrate intake is associated with a greater progression."

The evidence on risks to health is not that conclusive.

Man, post-menopausal women and eunuchs have ALL the fun!

I simply have a problem with the way the Atkins diet is presented. It's rationale is a little lacking. Most of the time the focus is simply on eliminating carbohydrate intake. That will force some weight loss through ketosis and better insulin response, but implementation is everything. Normal intake of fruits and vegetables isn't going to hurt insulin response, but provides great nutritional benefit. I totally agree on the exaggerated dangers of saturated fats though. I think the paleo diet guys have really hit the sweet spot in recommendations.

Gary Taube's article in the New York Times magazine from 2002 is what started the mainstream reexamination of the whole anti-fat campaign. There are specific references to the Atkins diet:

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/07/magazine/what-if-it-s-all-been-a-big-fat-lie.html?pagewanted=all

He has since had high profile articles in the Times on salt (2012) :

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/opinion/sunday/we-only-think-we-know-the-truth-about-salt.html?gwh=23F5C06A13A0ACC22DCE5369CCCB700F

and sugar (2011)

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17Sugar-t.html?pagewanted=all

What about a selection effect? Individuals for Eunuch-ization weren't randomly selected I presume?

This is the kind of conclusion that would not survive the faintest of econometric scrutinies.

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But unfortunately no insurance company would touch this discount for fear of sex discrimination law suits.

This sounds like the response hoax to the hoax about increasing male life expectancy by regularly staring at female boobs.

I call dibs on test group!

I wonder if staring at boobs without testicles is a wash.

that says something about korean women, although ì'm not sure what.......

Compare life expectancy of eunuchs to native populations for all nations. The difference is the Succubus Effect. If a nation's eunuchs and males have the same life expectancy, the Succubus Effect is zero.

Perhaps they lived longer because being castrated granted them immunity to a virulent disease that afflicted dynastic governments: being killed by your heirs.

Being robust enough to survive castration: selection effect. In the era of the Islamic slave trade across the Sahara, a large proportion of the castrated male slaves died.

In the era of the Islamic slave trade across the Sahara, a large proportion of the castrated male slaves died.

According to Bernard Lewis, this is because the Arabs feared the sexual potency of black Africans, so they would extra-castrate them "flat with the belly".

Chinese eunics had both bits cut off, I would be shocked if Korean ones weren't the same.

As an additional morbid detail, every year at the Imperial court all eunics were mustered and had to present what they were missing pickled in a jar in order to collect their salary. There is anecdotal evidence for a market in replacement parts.

Castration also stops pedophile abuse by damming up the broken sex drive of the pedophile, and, more importantly, reduces the reoffense rates of more typical criminal acts like rape and murder down to practically nothing. Reversible chemical castration regimens should at the very least be offered as an alternative to prison sentences.

NB: this result applies only to physical castration, not the psychological kind.

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Even if a sample size of 1,000,000 proved castration could double your life expectancy, I would opt for the shorter life.

assuming the article is accurate and holds true today...
I have read at least one other reference from an old dude who said his key to a long life was an active sex life.
Does this now imply the issue is, if you keep it, you better use it?

Brian, I am totally agree with your thoughts. Keep doing these type of work.

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