Why Are Men More Prone to Heart Disease Than Women?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 652,000 Americans died of heart disease in 2005. In fact, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United states. But, common knowledge among the medical community is that women are less prone to heart disease until the age of 55 years, whereas, men can suffer from heart disease at a much earlier age. There are a number of reasons for this.

An elderly man laying down while a doctor listens to his chest with a stethoscope. (Image: moodboard/moodboard/Getty Images)

Physical Stress

One theory on why so many more men suffer from heart disease earlier than women is stress. Although women have changed their traditional "stay at home" role model years ago, men still endure more stress from heavy physical activities or actions than women. Men also have more limited ways to express emotional stress in the workplace than women. Crying and expressing emotional feelings is more socially acceptable for women than men, which in turn relieves stress.

Abdominal Fat

While many people can accept that obesity is a primary risk for heart disease, many are surprised to learn that where you carry your fat is just as important as how much you carry. There are two traditional shapes--the apple and the pear. Apple-shaped describes people who store their additional weight around their waist. Pear-shaped describes those who store their additional weight lower, around their hips and thighs. As it turns out, there is a high correlation between heart disease and apple-shaped men and women. Extra abdominal fat also contributes to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type II diabetes.

The Male Disadvantage

According to the findings of a new study published in 2008 by Dr Maciej Tomaszewski, New Blood Lecturer in Cardiovascular Medicine in the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Leicester, men's higher risk for heart disease, compared to women may be related to the specific effects of sex hormones.

Dr Tomaszewski and his research team published a study in the journal "Atherosclerosis" that involved 933 men with an average age of 19 years and looked at the interaction of estradiol, estrone, testosterone and androstenedione and how they influenced three of the six major risk factors for heart disease: high cholesterol, hypertension and obesity.

The Findings

The researchers found that estradiol and estrone (together, called estrogens) were linked to higher levels of low density lipoproteins (LDL), or the bad type of cholesterol and lower levels of high density lipoproteins (HDL) or the good type of cholesterol in men. According to Dr. Tomaszewski, "We hypothesised that circulating concentrations of sex hormones were associated with cardiovascular disease risk factors in men long before any apparent manifestations of cardiovascular disease such as stroke or myocardial infarction".

After looking at the associations between estrogens and androgens (testosterone and androstenedione) and the previously mentioned heart disease risks, Dr. Tomaszewski concluded that, "Our studies showed that one of the sex hormones - estradiol - was associated positively with total cholesterol and negatively with HDL-cholesterol. Circulating concentrations of another sex hormone--estrone--showed strong positive associations with both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol." He went on to say, "Our data suggest that higher levels of estrogens may have negative influence on lipid profile in men early in life, before the apparent onset of cardiovascular disease."

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