Whether we like it or not, we all accumulate fat. However, the way we accumulate it tends to vary depending on our gender. While women often put it on around their hips, resulting in the so-called pear-shaped look, men get it building up around their abdomens, creating an apple shape.
But which is healthier? A pear shape or an apple shape?
That’s what scientists at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) set out to discover in a recent study involving rodents.
Leading the study was Djurdjica Coss, associate professor of biomedical sciences at the UCR School of Medicine. Coss and her colleagues examined the role the female hormone oestrogen plays in accumulating fat, as well as the different health consequences of being overweight for both males and females.
Do Female Ovaries Provide Protection?
Older studies have previously found that women tend to be lean while they are young, and gain weight post-menopause. This suggests ovarian oestrogen helps to keep excessive fat at bay in premenopausal females.
To investigate this, Coss and her team removed the ovaries of a group of female mice and then fed them a high-fat diet. They found that the ovariectomised females proceeded to gain weight, suggesting that their ovaries do indeed protect against weight gain.
At the same time, a group of male mice were also given a high-fat diet. As expected, they too gained weight. Furthermore, the scientists also noticed that the male mice showed low testosterone and sperm counts, as well as neuroinflammation – microscopic swelling of nerves in the brain brought on by the body’s immune system.
However, the ovariectomised female mice did not exhibit any signs of neuroinflammation, leading the scientists to believe that they are protected by not just oestrogen, but something else.
“But we found, too, that these female mice exhibit neither neuroinflammation, nor changes in reproductive hormones, suggesting that they are protected by factors other than ovarian oestrogen. This is a novel finding,” said Coss.
The Other Effects Of Obesity
Obesity in men is often linked with lower testosterone levels, which causes low libido, low energy and reduced muscle strength. These conditions were all seen in the male mice too. In fact, obese male mice showed nearly 50% decreases in both testosterone and sperm number.
Similarly, in the same way that obese women sometimes struggle with their menstrual cycles, so too do obese female mice. They don’t ovulate, which leads to decreased fertility.
Nevertheless, females are better protected than males when it comes to the harmful effects of obesity, as highlighted by the study.
The way women accumulate fat around their hips, leading to that pear-shaped figure, is thought to be one of the reasons why they are better protected. This is because women accumulate fat just below the skin (subcutaneously), while men tend to store it much deeper, closer to their internal organs in the body’s visceral region. This type of fat can get more inflamed and affect internal organs.
Obviously, being overweight or obese isn’t good for anyone. But the findings of this new research suggest that women could be better protected than men, possibly due to their tendency to have more pear-shaped bodies.
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