Men who lack the Y chromosome have a high risk of heart disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 380,000 men die each year from heart disease, which is about one in four male deaths. By now, most of us are aware that various risk factors can make you particularly vulnerable to heart-related death: being obese, smoking, or having diabetes or high blood pressure, for example. Now experts are warning men about a little-known risk factor you never suspect. Read on to find out why some men are at an outsized risk of life-threatening heart disease, and the one thing you can do to lower your risk of the problem.

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doctor consulting an elderly patient
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Made up of proteins and DNA, chromosomes are structures found in the nuclei of cells that contain your genes. In each human cell, there are two pairs of 23 chromosomes (a total of 46), two of which may differ by biological sex. Women have two X chromosomes, while men have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome.

However, experts say that many men begin to lose their Y chromosomes as they age, a phenomenon known to scientists as hematopoietic mosaic Y-chromosome (mLOY) loss. “At least 40% of men lose the Y chromosome from some of their blood cells by age 70. And by age 93, at least 57% have lost some of it.” The New York Times reported recently.

READ THIS: If this happens to you in the bathroom, get checked out for heart failure.

female doctor consulting male patient about heart concern

Although researchers have known about mLOY for decades, much was still unknown about its impact on the body. Now they are exploring its link to age-related diseases and higher risk of mortality in men.

To do this, a group of researchers studied genetically modified male mice, which were “reconstituted with bone marrow cells lacking the Y chromosome”. They found that when the mice lost their Y chromosomes, they developed scar tissue on the heart, leading to “reduced heart function”, heart failure and increased mortality from heart disease.

A doctor listening to an elderly man's heartbeat using a stethoscope

Although the study, published in the July 2022 issue of the journal Science, used mice as subjects, the researchers behind the study believe their findings are applicable to human males. Other studies have supported this notion, having found a causal link between the loss of Y chromosomes and chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Some scientists say this could help explain the difference in life expectancy between men and women. According to the CDC, women live an average of five years longer than men. According to a 2020 report from the health authority, women live an average of 80 years, while men live an average of 75 years.

A 2014 study on the subject published in the journal Natural genetics looked at data from 1,153 men in Sweden. The team found that men who lacked the Y chromosome in a large percentage of their blood cells had a particularly increased risk of death in later years. “I saw that men with a loss of Y in a large portion of their blood cells survived only half as long, 5.5 years versus 11.1 years,” Lars Forsbergresearcher at Uppsala University and one of the lead authors of the study, told the Time.

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how cutting down on alcohol can help you quit smoking

The New York Times reports that low testosterone is unrelated to loss of the Y chromosome and that testosterone supplements do not benefit men with mLOY.

However, experts say there is one known way to reduce your risk of Y chromosome loss: quit smoking. In fact, according to a separate study published in Sciencesmokers are up to four times more likely to lose all Y chromosomes from blood cells than non-smokers.

Addicted to nicotine? Talk to your doctor for advice on how to quit smoking and to learn more about the benefits of doing so.

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