Scientists at the German Research Center for Environmental Health have proposed that treatments for certain diseases should be gender-specific, following the discovery that male and female metabolic profiles differ significantly.
Metabolism is the name given to the set of chemical reactions that take place inside our bodies. At any one time there are many different metabolites, molecules involved in these reactions, present in our blood. Links between metabolites and various diseases, including diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease, have been investigated in recent years in the hope that metabolic data can be used to predict these diseases in the future. The onset, prevalence and response to treatment of these diseases has also been shown to be affected by a person’s gender, but the relationship between gender and metabolism has so far rarely been considered.
In a study published in the journal PLoS Genetics this week, a group of researchers lead by Professor Thomas Illig investigated the metabolic differences between genders on a much larger scale than ever before. They analysed the concentrations of 131 metabolites in samples of blood serum taken from over 3000 volunteers. For 102 of these metabolites, including important sugars, lipids and amino acids, there are significant differences in concentration between men and women. This reveals that the differences between male and female metabolism are greater than previously thought, and that men and women belong to different ‘categories’ in terms of metabolic profiles.
Professor Illig and his colleagues suggest that gender should be taken into consideration when using metabolite concentrations to help predict disease, and in some cases there may even be a need for gender-specific treatments or drugs. They conclude “Our study provides new important insights into sex-specific differences of cell regulatory processes and underscores that studies should consider gender-specific effects in design and interpretation.” These findings may also help to explain why susceptibility to common diseases is often different in males and females.