Sex helps lower inflammation in older adults

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Biomarkers of Inflammation Mediate an Association Between Sexual Activity and Quality of Life in Older Adulthood

Abstract


Background

Inflammatory processes underlie biological mechanisms responsible for age-related disease and quality of life. Psychological stress can activate acute-phase reactants associated with inflammation, and sexual activity can assist in the management of stress.


Aim

To test whether inflammatory biomarkers (C-reactive protein [CRP], fibrinogen, and white blood cell [WBC] count) would mediate an association between frequency of sexual activity and quality of life in older adulthood.


Methods

Older adults from England (N = 4,554; 2,049 men, 2,505 women; mean age = 66.25 ± 8.89 years) provided blood samples and completed self-report questionnaires on sexual activity, quality of life, and health-related behavior.


Outcomes

CRP (milligrams per liter), fibrinogen (grams per liter), WBC count (109 cells/L), and quality of life (self-report).


Results

Frequency of sexual activity had a negative association with CRP and fibrinogen. An age-moderated effect also showed that frequency of sexual activity had a negative association with WBC count in older participants in the sample (>70 years of age). CRP mediated a positive association between frequency of sexual activity and quality of life. An age-moderated mediation effect also showed that WBC count mediated the association between sexual activity and quality of life in the oldest participants in the sample. All analyses controlled for demographic, anthropometric, and health-related factors.


Clinical Translation

More frequent sexual activity might be a useful auxiliary approach to lowering stress-related inflammation and improving quality of life.


Strengths and Limitations

Strengths of this study include the large sample and multiple control variables. Limitations include the cross-sectional nature of the data and some loss in sample representativeness.


Conclusion

Findings provide evidence that more sexually active older adults exhibit an anti-inflammatory status associated with a perception of higher quality of life. Further research using prospective designs and natural experimental methods is encouraged.

Allen MS. Biomarkers of Inflammation Mediate an Association Between Sexual Activity and Quality of Life in Older Adulthood. J Sex Med 2017;XX:XXX–XXX.

Link to abstract