"Our findings, for the first time, suggest that males and females respond to high-fat diets differently," said Deborah Clegg of the Cedar-Sinai Diabetes And Obesity Research Institute in Los Angeles. "The data would suggest that is probably 'ok' for females to occasionally have a high-fat meal, where it is not recommended for males.
"The way we treat patients and provide dietary and nutritional advice should be altered. We might be less concerned about an occasional hamburger for women, but for men, we might more strongly encourage avoidance, especially if they have pre-existing diseases such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes."
Earlier data from Clegg's team and others had suggested that inflammation in the brain is tied to overeating, blood sugar imbalances, and increased inflammation in other parts of the body, including fat tissue. Those effects can be triggered, in males in particular, by short-term exposure to a high-fat diet.
The researchers say they were initially shocked to discover that male and female brains differ in their fatty acid composition. When they manipulated male mouse brains to have the fatty acid profile of females, they found that those animals were protected from the ill effects of a diet high in fat.
When males with average male brains entered an inflammatory state after eating diets high in fat, they also suffered from reduced cardiac function in a way that female animals in the study did not. Those sex differences in the brain's response to fat are related to differences between females and males in estrogen and estrogen receptor status.