Married or formerly married men who have had no children are at a higher risk of cardiovascular-related death than those who have become fathers. Why this is true, it's too early to say. But Stanford urologist Michael Eisenberg, MD, wonders whether this may be because of a higher prevalence, among the childless men, of fertility problems that ultimately could be tied to some of the same factors responsible for heart disease.
In a 10-year study of some 135,000 men, all of them over 50 years old and basically healthy when the study began, Eisenberg and his colleagues observed a 17 percent increase in cardiovascular-related (heart-disease and stroke) deaths among men with no children, compared with those who'd had two or more.
To make sure that the men they were looking at had both the intent and the opportunity to reproduce, Eisenberg and his colleagues, whose work appears in the journal Human Reproduction, restricted their sample population to those who were married or had once been married. They reasoned that the absence of children among currently or formerly married men might suggest a reduced ability to conceive.
And indeed, in another recent, much smaller study that was widely reported - no doubt because of its provocative main conclusion that men's testosterone levels sink upon becoming fathers - one finding was that men with higher testosterone levels seem to have better luck finding mates and producing offspring.
I lean toward another theory, myself: Having kids is just plain good for you. It's not so much that the drop in a man's testosterone count after having kids (especially among highly nurturing dads, as that smaller study found) is good for the heart (which, according to the medical literature, it may or may not be). It's that the cumulative blessings accruing from taking care of kids overwhelms the acute brain damage arising from those early sleepless nights and, shall we say, "arms-length transactions" of early parenthood.
Photo by Michelle Brandt