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Brain Reacts differently to High-Fat Meals based on Gender

Update Date: Oct 16, 2014 12:06 PM EDT

A new study found that male and female brains react differently to high fat foods. According to the researchers, the brains of male rats had greater inflammation and had more health risks after eating fatty meals in comparison to the brains of female rats that consumed the same kinds of food.

"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."

Prior to this study, Clegg and her team, as well as other researchers, suggested that brain inflammation is caused by being overweight, an imbalance in blood sugar levels and an increase in inflammation in other parts of the body, such as fat tissue. In this study, Clegg and colleagues found that similar levels of brain inflammation could also be triggered only in men by a high-fat diet.

Male mice that ate a high-fat diet also experienced a reduction in their cardiac functioning. Female mice were protected from these side effects. The researchers reported that when they changed the brains in male mice to resemble the fatty acid composition found in female brains, the effects of the high-fat diet were nullified.

The researchers explained that these differences were due to the fact that females and males had different estrogen and estrogen receptor status.

"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," Clegg said according to the press release. "We have always had 'one size fits all' with respect to our nutritional information and our pharmaceutical approach. Our data begin to suggest that sex should be factored in, and men should be more closely monitored for fat intake and inflammation than women."

The study, "Hypothalamic PGC-1alpha Protects Against High Fat Diet Exposure by Regulating ERalpha," was published in the Cell Press journal, Cell Reports.

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