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Scientists: 'Castration is the key to a longer life'

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Bollocks boffins studying the effects of male sex hormones on life expectancy have concluded that becoming a eunuch may be the key to living a lot longer.

Male members of many species, including Homo sapiens sapiens, live shorter lives than their female counterparts, and castrating some male animals will make them live longer. Scientists have long thought that the increased stresses on the heart caused by male sex hormones and the deleterious effect they have on the immune system is a factor in this.

Naturally, trying this out on humans would cause some ethical problems – not to mention a shortage of volunteers – so scientists researching the issue have had to use historical records from times past when eunuchs were less unique. So the team made an in-depth study of the lives of Korean eunuchs in the Chosun Dynasty (1392–1910), based on court records that could be verified against other historical data.

Eunuchs were the only males allowed to remain in the royal palaces overnight (apart from their masters), and many occupied important roles in the Korean civil service. China had a similar policy, as well as requiring all African slaves sold in the Middle Kingdom to be castrated before setting foot in the country.

The Koreans, as with many Asian civilizations, were prodigious record keepers, and the Yang-Se-Gye-Bo, compiled in 1805, gives a detailed family history of the eunuch class at court. Important eunuchs would adopt children who had either been accidentally castrated, or who had been deliberately neutered so that they could work in the palace.

The confirmable records for 81 castrati were cross-checked against those of three Korean families of a similar socio-economic background to exclude genetic differences. These came from the Mok and Shin families, who were predominantly high-ranking administrators, and the more martial Seo family.

The results, published in the journal Current Biology, show that eunuchs lived to an average age of 70, up to 19 years longer than their intact counterparts. Three of the eunuchs made it into triple figures, reaching 100, 101, and 109 years old - although it probably felt much longer. That's 130 times the rate of centenarians you'd expect to finds in a sample of humans today, and the team concludes that male sex hormones do have an effect on male longevity.

While the research is all very interesting El Reg wonders how much practical use this is. People work out, use potions and lotions, and try any number of remedies to gain a few more years on Planet Earth, but odds are that scrotal removal isn't going to be as popular a choice as regular exercise and eating five portions of fruits and veggies a day. ®

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