Got Stress? You'll React Differently, From Male to Female

Big surprise. Men and women react differently to stress.

Researchers focused on an area of the brain called the hypothalamus, which has a number of functions, among them helping the body adjust to stressful situations, controlling hunger and satiety, and regulating blood glucose and energy production.

When stress hits, cells in the hypothalamus step up production of a receptor. It was known that this receptor contributes to the rapid activation of a stress-response sympathetic nerve network – increasing heart rate, for example. But since this area of the brain also regulates the body’s exchange of materials, the team thought that the receptor might play a role in this, as well.  The receptor is expressed in around half of the cells that arouse appetite and suppress energy consumption.

After some pretty complicated experiments involving mice and the receptor, researchers found that male and female bodies may exhibit significant differences in the ways that materials are exchanged under stress. Indeed, the fact that the receptor suppresses hunger in females may help explain why women are much more prone to eating disorders than men. 

The researchers removed the receptor in mice from just the cells that arouse appetite in the hypothalamus, and then observed how this affected the animals’ bodily functions. At first, the team did not see any significant changes, confirming that this receptor is saved for stressful situations. But when they exposed the mice to stress – cold or hunger – they got a surprise, according to newswise.com. 
 
When exposed to cold, the sympathetic nervous system activates a unique type of fat called brown fat, which produces heat to maintain the body’s internal temperature. When the receptor was removed, the body temperature dropped dramatically – but only in the female mice. Their temperatures failed to stabilize even after the stressor was removed, while male mice showed hardly any change.

Fasting produced a similarly drastic response in the female mice. Normally, when food is scarce, the brain sends a message to the liver to produce glucose, conserving a minimum level in the blood. But when food was withheld from female mice missing this particular receptor, the amount of glucose their livers produced dropped significantly. In hungry male receptor-deficient mice, the result was similar to the effects of exposure to cold: the exchange of materials in their bodies was barely affected.

“We discovered that the receptor has an inhibitory effect on the cells, and this is what activates the sympathetic nervous system,” say researchers.








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