Certainly men tend to be physically larger than women, are more likely than women to have a physically challenging job, and for sure men typically carry more muscle mass than women. So from a calorie needs perspective, most men need more daily calories than women. They also need more protein than women. And if you’ve ever gone on a diet, at the same time as your male spouse, you know they tend to drop weight faster, even if you’re eating less food. What gives?? A new study suggests that the microbes in the gut of a man and woman react differently to diets, even when the diets are precisely identical. So maybe we’ve been going at “diet and weight loss” all wrong. According to this study, there may be a need to take gender into account when it comes to best practices in dieting.
The challenge in this discussion is that most lab experiments use mice, fish or other animals to extrapolate data that can then be (hopefully) connected to findings in humans. Different animals seem to have different gender responses, which may or may not mimic human response. In this case, the researchers studied gut microbes in both fish and mice. They observed that different diets affected the microbes in the gut of these animals differently, depending on male or female gender. And very specific species of microbes dominated in response to the diets, depending on the species of animal being tested (fish or mice) and within the species, depending on whether the microbes were in the gut of male or female test subjects.
Researchers believe that this research paves the way to thinking about nutrition therapies that are gender-specific, taking into account how a man or woman would respond because of the unique and different impact of the diet, on their gut microbes. It should be noted that there are hundreds, possibly thousands of species of microbes in the human digestive system. Researchers know that genetics and diet (also specific therapies and illnesses) can impact the populations of specific microbes in a person’s gut, changing them in the short term or for longer periods. In fact, the risk of developing obesity, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease may be related to gut (gastric) populations and their numbers. We also know that after a person takes an antibiotic to treat a myriad of infectious conditions, there is also a loss of healthy gut microbes, which is why a course of probiotics is now routinely recommended when an antibiotic is prescribed.
So it seems intuitive, that manipulating diet could be one key to helping people avoid disease or reduce the risk of disease, but this study suggests that gender specifics may have to be factored into dietary choices. If you’re wondering why there’s a difference between men and women’s responses to a particular diet, then consider the different levels and kinds of hormones present in men and women’s bodies. Or it may be that immune response to diets may differ in men and women. One caveat in the research was that mice often used in experiments, actually showed very minor gender differences when it came to the impact of the same diet on their gut microbes. Because of this finding, researchers will need to perform additional phases or next generation studies, on a variety of animals, before they can reference human gender responses.
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