A traditional African proverb that warned men against marrying too many wives may be true after all.
Scientists now agree that men in polygamous marriages face a higher risk of heart disease than those in monogamous relationships.
The risk to a man’s heart, the study shows, increases as the number of wives and his age increases.
“Men in polygamous relationships are associated with two to four times higher odds of heart diseases,” says the new study.
The researchers say this is the first study to investigate the relationship between high rate of heart disease in societies that practice polygamous marriages.
The study sampled 1,068 men undergoing treatment for heart disease. Out of these, 687 were married-229 of them to between two and four wives.
The study appearing in the current issue of the International Journal of Vascular Medicine found that a higher proportion of men with heart disease were polygamous.
The research led by Amin Daoulah of King Faisal Specialist Hospital, investigated heart patients attending five hospitals in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for a year.
Other institutions involved in the study included the Zayed Military Hospital, UAE, Suez Canal University, Egypt and Tufts University School of Medicine, US.
“After adjusting for other variables, there was a significant association between polygamy and the heart conditions,” concluded the researchers.
Still, Daoulah and his team concluded that marriage is a healthier option than leading a single life. Their research found that married men were more likely to live longer than bachelors, and that widowers would be making a healthier decision to remarry.
However many wives, according to this study, seems to be a case of too much of a good thing.
The researchers came up with several reasons associating polygamy with severity and number of heart conditions.
“It could be that the need to provide and maintain separate households multiplies the financial burden and emotional expense of polygamy,” they said.
The demands of treating all wives equally, the researchers concluded, was too much for a man’s heart to bear.
It becomes worse when polygamous men fall ill. The researchers found that such men have difficulty adhering to their medication or getting enough time for physical activities, further worsening their condition.
The stress associated with polygamy, the study suggests could also trigger a ‘stress hormone’ that interferes with a man’s biological processes, and ultimately, his heart condition.
“It is also possible that the resultant stress can significantly lower the male hormone testosterone levels allowing the increase of the ‘stress hormone’ called cortisol,” the researchers concluded.
This hormonal imbalance is thought to affect among others the tone and contraction of blood vessels in the heart and sex drive.
Stress related to polygamy, the researchers suggest, may have a role in raising blood pressure in men, reduced sleep time, impairing physically activities and poor dietary habits.
The study focused on the highly polygamous Ariaal community of Karare, in Marsabit, northern Kenya. Polygamous Ariaal males were found to have lower levels of testosterone compared to their monogamous counterparts.
The study will no doubt be bad news for an estimated 700,000 Kenyan men in polygamous marriages.
The Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) estimates about 50 per cent of men in the country are married with seven per cent of them in polygamous unions.
However, the study says nothing on the health of women in polygamous marriages and those in multiple relationships.