Animal and human studies of the biochemical differences between the sexes suggest that selected drugs may be used to help men live as long as women, a Georgetown University Medical School researcher said yesterday.
Dr. Estelle Ramey, a physiologist, said that regular doses of substances such as aspirin and its chemical relatives may act to increase the life span and equalize the differences she says she believes make women the "stronger" sex.
Ramey emphasized that more research is needed to confirm just which substances would be most effective.
But, in a session on "subjective science" at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting here, she charged that bias among the largely male scientific establishment has meant "virtually no research" on the biological strengths of women.
Such studies would be to the "great advantage of women as well as men and the health of society," she said.
Ramey noted that studies in the higher species of animals, including humans, show that females are stronger than males. The advantages begin at conception, increase during puberty, when the hormones dramatically change, and last until old age, she said.
The latest government health statistics document that American women have the edge in longevity, with a life expectancy of 77 years, compared with less than 70 for men.
Ramey says that a major culprit is the male hormone testosterone, which in middle age can affect blood clotting and constriction of the arteries. This in turn contributes, she said, to the life-threatening coronary artery disease, which strikes men far more frequently than women.
In her own laboratory and a handful of others, she says, there is increasing evidence that young males could be treated to equalize the differences without affecting sex drive.
In work with rats, using the drug indomethacin, which chemically acts like aspirin, she and her colleagues have been able to increase the life span of the male animals by a factor of as much as five.
Other studies with medical students have shown that low levels of aspirin affect blood clotting. Ramey suggests that an aspirin a day for men "can't hurt, and might help." She added that women also might benefit from a dosage about half that level.
Large-scale studies of the effect of aspirin on stroke have found a reduction among men, but not women. Another study, however, found that aspirin failed to provide protection against fatal heart attacks.
Ramey criticized that study as using dosages of the drug that were too large and counterproductive, but cautioned that she was not pushing aspirin as a panacea.
Instead, related drugs may be found to be of greater benefit if additional research is continued in this area, she said. She has received federal backing for her research projects.
In criticizing male researchers for ignoring such research in the past, she said she is as subjective as the next person. "I'm a committed feminist. That's one of the reasons I want to keep men alive longer."