Research analyzed historical data on 81 eunuchs who lived in South Korea. A study based on historical data in South Korea revealed that castrated men live on average 19 years longer than other men of the same social stratum. The research, published this week in the journal Current Biology, examined data from hundreds of years of eunuchs in S. Korea
A study based on historical data in South Korea revealed that castrated men live on average 19 years longer than other men of the same social stratum.
The research, published this week in the journal Current Biology, examined data from hundreds of years of eunuchs in South Korea
The eunuchs had special roles in the societies of eastern China and Korea, especially in the Joseon dynasty, that ruled the Korean empire in the centuries 14-19. They guarded the gates of castles, the food and were the only people outside the royal family with access to the palaces at night.
The researcher, Cheol-Koo Lee, of the Korea University in Seoul, analyzed data from 81 eunuchs who lived in 1556 and 1861. Their average lifepan was 70 years, 19 more than those not castrated of the same social caste. A study also revealed that one of the eunuchs lived 109 years.
The average lifespan for men of the Korean royal family, in the same period, was only 45 years. Many noble Koreans reached a maximum of between 50 and 60 years of age.
Castration performed before puberty prevents boys from becoming totally transformed into men, in biological terms.
"The historical specimens show that the eunuchs had feminine appearance. They had no mustaches, had large breasts, wide hips and fine voices," said Cheol-Koo Lee
One hypothesis raised by this study is that male hormones such as testosterone, may have harmful effects on the body of men. The researchers think male hormones weaken the immune system and cause damage to the heart.
Castration would be a way to "protect" the male body from these effects. The researchers were unable to collect data on women in the same period.
"The data provides compelling evidence that the male sex hormone reduces the longevity of men," Professor Kyung-Jin Min told BBC , from Inha University, also in South Korea, who participated in the research.
He believes there are modern alternatives to castration for increasing male longevity.
"It is possible to use a therapy of testosterone reduction to increase longevity among men. However, one must consider the side effects of this, the main one being the reduction of sexual desire in men."
For David Clancy, the British University of Lancaster, the results are "persuasive, but certainly not conclusive."
He accepts the argument that the high number of centenarians among eunuchs is a sign that testosterone, in fact, has an important role in male longevity. However, he says the lifestyle of eunuchs - who have reserved habits - is also an important factor to be considered.
Many of the eunuchs in Korean society adopted other boy or girl eunuchs.
"In this study, the eunuchs were educated by eunuchs over several generations, and different lifestyles may have been passed on," he says, citing another study on the subject.
"A comparison between castrated and non-castrated singers is probably a better sample, and this comparison showed no difference in longevity," said Clancy. He says that in this case, lifestyles were very similar between the two groups.
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