Ah, Fatherhood — Dirty Diapers, Skinned Knees … and Healthier Hearts?

You claim that Junior is giving you gray hairs, but is he really? In actuality your kids may be adding years to your life — one recent study suggests that fatherhood may actually reduce a man’s risk of dying from a heart attack.

The study, which was conducted last year and led by Michael Eisenberg at Stanford and Mark Pletcher at the University of California, San Francisco, addresses the relationship between heart health and fatherhood. Nearly 138,000 men between the ages of 50 and 71 participated in the study, which used data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, a national survey in retired persons. Only men free of heart disease and stroke at the beginning of the study were included, and the heart health of these individuals was followed for over ten years, on average. After adjusting for income, education, health habits, and age, men without children died from heart disease 17% more frequently than men who were fathers.

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One possible explanation for this heart health discrepancy is a difference in testosterone production. Studies have shown that low levels of androgen hormones, such as testosterone, result in both a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and for infertility. The correlation between lower testosterone and infertility may partially explain the higher rate of cardiovascular death observed in childless men.

Eisenberg and Pletcher did not take into account the fertility of the women in these families (male infertility accounts for about half of infertility cases in couples) nor did they take into account the many fertile couples who did not wish to have children. Fatherhood is, therefore, far from a perfect proxy for male fertility.  Furthermore, the theory that testosterone deficiency underlies both infertility and heart disease just a theory, and some older research suggested that very high testosterone levels also increase a man’s risk for heart disease.  Another biological or social factor may, in actuality, be the underlying source of the correlation.  More research is needed to better understand the link between heart health and fatherhood.

So, Dads, next time you’re on diaper duty, don’t think of the sacrifices you are making for your children; think instead of the great health benefits you may be reaping for yourself. Let your children bring joy to your heart.

Editor’s note: Pending an FDA decision, 23andMe no longer offers new customers access to health reports referred to in this post. Customers who purchased prior to November 22, 2013 will still be able to see their health reports, but those who purchased after that time will not. Those customers will have access to ancestry information as well as access to their uninterpreted raw data.





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