Do women and men respond equally to the same foods?

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Do you think the only differences between men and women is the X and Y chromosomes and the levels of the hormones oestrogen and testosterone? Well, science is starting to shed more light on the subject as it seems that our gut bacteria are different as well.

Scientists have only recently begun to appreciate the vital role played by the human microbiome, which consists of all the bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites that live in or on a person’s body. The gut microbiome alone is home to approximately 100 trillion microorganisms made up of hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of different species of microbes, each varying in abundance.

The delicate balance maintained by the trillions of microorganisms influences so many aspects of our health. When our gut microbes are in harmony, we maintain a healthy weight, feel great and keep disease at bay. Unfortunately, when that delicately orchestrated ecosystem inside our gut loses its state of harmony — as so frequently happens in our modern world — it can have serious consequences.

Current research is focusing on learning the connection between gut bacteria and various health conditions. The goal is to learn how to use the new understanding of different strains to develop strategies to help people recover from health conditions. Inflammatory conditions including IBS, colitis as well as diabetes, heart disease and depression are just a few conditions that can benefit from healthy gut flora.

One key area of focus is looking at diet to help manipulate the gut microbes to help these conditions. And here is where a monkey wrench has been thrown into the process.

A new study led by The University of Texas at Austin reveals that the gut microbes of males and females react differently to the same food.

In the study published in Nature Communications, researchers found several key pieces of information:

  1. To date, the influence of the diet has been assumed to be the same for both men and women.
  2. Sex hormones may be influencing gut microbes and directing the preference for one strain over another.

This new information means it is no longer as simple as telling people to eat more vegetables.

Future research is going to have to focus on genetics, environment, diet and now hormones and how they all interact. Normally research looks at each of these individually but this is no longer sufficient.

In looking at the mice studies, it was found that for the most part, the gut microbiomes of both sexes of mice responded to diet in the same manner. This finding, which raises questions about how well mice studies can be generalised to other species, could have a great impact on future studies, as most dietary research is conducted on mice.

This makes the issue of what to eat even more confusing. It certainly should make you think twice the next time you pick up a book that is trying to tell you what is right or wrong about food.

We know that we need nutrients for our body and our microbe friends. However, we need to develop more intuition for listening to our body and apparently, to our microbes, which are working hard to communicate with us, about what we should and shouldn’t eat.


Individual Diet Has Sex-Dependent Effects On Vertebrate Gut Microbiota, Daniel I. Bolnick, Lisa K. Snowberg, Philipp E. Hirsch, Christian L. Lauber, Elin Org, Brian Parks, Aldons J. Lusis, Rob Knight, J. Gregory Caporaso, Richard Svanbäck, Nature Communications, 2014; 5

Sex Differences in the Gut Microbiome Drive Hormone-Dependent Regulation of Autoimmunity, Janet G. M. Markle1, Science 17, Jan 2013

Chris ebook Gut Health

Medical Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. For medical advice always consult your physician. The information provided in this blog is based on the best knowledge of the author at the time of writing and we do not assume liability for the information within this blog, be it direct or indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages.

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