The Perils (& Positives!) of Being Left-handed

Healthy Living

June 3, 2021

Left-handed people die sooner than their righty counterparts, correct? Nope, not so fast! Luckily for all the lefties out there, current research is busting the myth that left-handers are doomed to earlier deaths.

There are fewer lefties among older generations because, in the not-so-distant past, kids were chastised for using their left hands. And while it’s unfortunate that folks weren’t allowed to write with their preferred hands, it’s a relief to know that short lives aren’t an inherent lefty trait.

That said — and weird as it sounds — it does seem that left-handers are at higher risk than the rest of the population for some health issues.

Whether you’re a lefty or you know one, it’s worth being aware of the perils (and the positives!) that may come with a dominant left hand.

But first: how did you get to be a lefty?

Ah, the million-dollar question. The truth of the matter is that scientists are still trying to figure this out.

On one hand, they’ve found genes that are linked to left-handedness. Left-handedness does seem to be a common trait in some families. On the other hand, it’s not unusual for identical twins to use opposite hands, so that casts some doubt on genetics as the sole answer.

Some experts suggest, in fact, that genetics contributes to only about 25% of handedness determination. That would imply that environment plays a much bigger role than genes in which hand you use. And environmental factors may reach all the way back to before you were born.

Evidence indicates that left-handedness occurs more often in babies born to older, stressed or depressed mothers. Infants with a low birth weight are more likely to end up left-handed as well.

Early development affects a lot more than just which hand you use, though. It may also influence your future well-being. It’s possible that the same factors that lead to left-hand usage may also contribute to certain health problems as you get older.

For instance . . .

Left-handed people may not sleep as well.

Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) is a sleep condition that affects about 4% of the adult population. People with this condition may be awakened by jerky movements of their arms and legs as they sleep.

Day or night, brain hemisphere activity seems to be different in many left-handed people than it is in right-handed ones. This may explain why one study found that left-handers are more likely than righties to experience movement on both sides of the body while sleeping.

And these bilateral movements could be a sign that lefties are more likely to suffer from PLMD.

Knowing that you may be at greater risk for this issue won’t do much to prevent it. What it could do, though, is serve as a reminder to be on the lookout for issues. If flailing arms and legs are disrupting your sleep, talk to a doctor about ways to reduce these movements.

And left-handed women have higher breast cancer rates.

Early in life, left- and right-handed women seem to have pretty even rates of developing breast cancer. Unfortunately, after menopause, the left-handed crowd may be at greater risk.

In one small study of postmenopausal women, 5.3% of right-handers got breast cancer. But the disease affected 7.5% of the left-handed group.

The difference isn’t huge, but it’s still enough to make researchers speculate about possible explanations. Scientists suggest that environmental factors during fetal development may play a role.

Breast health is important for all women. But it may be even more critical for left-handers. If you’re a lefty, take note. Keeping up with your annual mammograms is a must, especially as you get older.

Lefties may also be at greater risk for mental health disorders.

Something about brain development or activity in left-handers may leave them more susceptible to mental health troubles. Surveys have shown that 40% of people with schizophrenia are left-handed. That’s a good deal higher than the lefty rate among the general population.

The incidence of ADHD is also higher among left-handers. The same holds true for figures regarding dyslexia. Post-traumatic stress disorder is another condition that may affect lefties more than right-handers.

That said, being a lefty doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to end up with a mental health disorder.

But it may prompt you to pay a little more attention to your emotional wellness. Therapy and self-care can be beneficial no matter what’s going on in your life. And if you’re noticing symptoms of a mental health problem, be sure to touch base with a healthcare provider.

As a side note, depression and bipolar disease affect right- and left-handed folks pretty equally.

Left-handed folks may get in more accidents as well.

It may feel like the world was built for righties. That’s probably because it was. Many tools and machines are designed with right-handed users in mind, which can make left-handed operation trickier.

As a result, there may be a greater potential for accidents.

Some research shows accidental deaths occur six times as often in left-handed people.

Lefties are also four times as likely to be in car accidents. It’s not that they’re bad drivers. It’s just that roads and vehicles weren’t designed with them in mind.

If you’re left-handed, add an extra dose of caution to everything you do. Moving just a little slower with power tools or automobiles could help you avoid some major accidents.

But before you throw your hands up in despair, take heart! There are advantages to being left-handed, too.

Being a lefty isn’t all doom and gloom. Sure, there are some health problems that might affect your group more. But righties have their share of issues, too.

For example, some studies show that right-handed people are more likely to get Parkinson’s disease.

Many accomplished athletes are left-handers. Relying primarily on your left hand can be especially beneficial in one-on-one sports. Lefties are more likely to skillfully respond to their opponents’ actions whether they’re delivered from the right or the left. Righties, on the other hand, may not be as adept at hitting balls or defending against punches that come from the left side.

Left-handed folks may also have a leg up on others when it comes to out-of-the-box thinking. Research says that some lefties’ brains may pass more signals from one side of the brain to the other. As the info crosses hemispheres, more creative connections may be made.

Now, the science behind this isn’t a slam dunk. After all, creativity is a hard concept to quantify. Just know that there’s a chance that many lefties are poised for success in the modern workforce.

Some studies even indicate that left-handed men who have plenty of education under their belts earn more than their right-handed peers. Conversely, though, lefties seem to earn less than righties in the general population. (If you’re a lefty, these seemingly opposing studies may motivate you to keep going with your education.)

In the end, though, which hand you use plays only a small role in your life.

Being a lefty doesn’t doom you to early death, horrible car accidents or mental illness. It also doesn’t guarantee that you’ll never get Parkinson’s or that you’ll bring home the big bucks.

Overall, other genetic and environmental factors as well as your own choices are much more likely to determine where your life ends up. Being a lefty makes you unique, but it’s far from the only thing that will ultimately chart your course.