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Men & women have different drivers leading to weight gain.

Men & women have different drivers leading to weight gain.

According to recent studies, men’s and women’s brains are affected by obesity in distinct ways, possibly necessitating sex-specific treatment methods.

This study investigated differences between males and females with high BMI compared to individuals with a normal BMI by analyzing various types of brain scans in combination with other clinical information. While some brain imaging studies have shown how obesity impacts eating behaviors.

Men and women with high BMI showed differences in particular brain regions, the researchers discovered, suggesting that treating each patient according to sex may be essential in the fight against obesity.

The researchers assert that when investigating obesity, it’s crucial to take gender variations between men and women into account.

To discover sex-specific processes in the brain that cause obesity, the study, which was published in the journal Brain Communications, analyzed data from MRI scans, clinical characteristics, and medical histories. It concluded that men and women experience obesity for various reasons.

Previous studies using brain imaging have demonstrated how obesity impacts eating behaviors; however, few studies have examined various forms of brain imaging to determine how obesity differs in males and girls.

Brain changes related to BMI

The study comprised 105 men and women with a lower BMI and 78 men and women with a high body mass index (BMI) that classified them as overweight or obese.

A measurement of body fat based on height and weight is called BMI. Having a higher BMI does not necessarily mean having more body fat.

Participants answered questions about their personality features, gastrointestinal symptoms, food addiction, childhood trauma, sensitivity to common symptoms including headaches and dizziness, anxiety and depression symptoms, and other topics.

Additionally, they received three MRIs to evaluate the connections between various brain regions as well as the anatomy and function of the brain. The findings demonstrated that high BMI in both men and women was related to distinct alterations in brain connectivity.

According to researchers, this included “changes in many regions of the brain that respond to food or food-associated cues,” which were linked to traumatic early life experiences. 

In addition, they discovered that in contrast to men with high BMI, women with high BMI exhibited connection abnormalities linked to higher anxiety and weaker resilience.

Other abnormalities in connectivity found in women with high BMI raise the possibility that women may struggle to link emotions to goal-directed action planning. According to them, women may experience more “emotional overeating” as a result than men.

Additionally, certain brain alterations raise the possibility that high BMI women are more sensitive to the look, smell, and flavor of too processed foods.

Kinds of brain scans

To learn more about how obesity presents differently in the brains of men and women, the researchers used multimodal brain imaging (structure, connectivity, and function) using a data-driven methodology.

Data from 183 subjects, including 78 with high BMI and 105 with normal BMI, were examined for the study.

The researchers gathered information on mood, early life events, and eating patterns using a variety of brain scans and surveys.

They tested their ability to distinguish between participants with high BMI and those with normal BMI, as well as between males and females with high BMI, by utilizing a technique called DIABLO to analyze this data.

Differences between men and women for weight gain

Gupta and her colleagues discovered in a previous study that emotional and compulsive eating appears to have a higher impact on the onset of obesity in women.

Contrarily, men’s eating habits are typically more influenced by their knowledge of gut feelings and visceral reactions, such as those brought on by abdominal discomfort.

According to Gupta in the release, these findings “may be important to focus on emotional regulation techniques and vulnerability factors in designing treatment plans for females with high BMI.”

She and her coworkers warn that this study merely identifies correlations between BMI, clinical markers like anxiety and depression, and alterations in the brain.

To find out whether brain alterations cause an increase in BMI or whether being overweight or obese has unique effects on the brain, more studies, including longitudinal studies, will be required.

This study, according to Dr. Mir Ali, a bariatric surgeon at Orange Coast Medical Centre in Fountain Valley, California, and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Centre, demonstrates that weight loss is more involved than just what you eat and how much exercise you get.

“Hormones, emotions, metabolism, genetics, and many other factors play a role,” said Ali, who was not involved in the new study. Furthermore, “this study shows that there is a significant difference between men and women, in terms of emotions and eating.”

Continual hunger and overeating

Dr. Gupta observed that changes in emotion-related brain areas in obese women were associated with higher levels of compulsive eating. In contrast, gut and visceral sensations linked to abdominal discomfort and hunger were correlated with brain areas involved in eating behavior and obesity in men.

The article is intriguing for two reasons, according to Dr. Florencia Halperin, chief medical officer at Form, a business that offers medical treatment for metabolic disorders linked to obesity.

First, although the causes are unknown, there are gender disparities in obesity.

Second, obesity has biological roots, and knowing how obese individuals’ brains differ from those of non-obese people may aid in both diagnosis and therapy.

This study implies that we may be able to distinguish between individuals with obesity and those with a healthy BMI using MRI-based imaging tests. The present study, however, has certain drawbacks. Dr. Florencia Halperin explained that because the study was cross-sectional (comparing one group to another group), causality could not be established in any way.

According to Dr. Sarah-Nicole Bostan, director of Behaviour Change Strategy at Signos, the study is “compelling as it bows to the age-old therapeutic question of “what works, for whom, and under what conditions.”

The findings of this article hint towards a more holistic, personalized approach to weight loss that takes into account lifestyle factors, emotional management strategies, and potentially vulnerable characteristics like early puberty, said Kelsey Costa, a registered dietitian nutritionist at MIDSS.

Second, details on the majority of the significant male obesity factors were lacking. Even though this knowledge is crucial, there are still unanswered issues regarding the factors that affect male obesity the most, she continued.

Ways to prevent obesity

According to Ali, whether people are candidates for obesity treatments like a gastric sleeve or gastric bypass surgery relies on criteria outside their sex, like their BMI and other medical issues.

But in his experience, males are more likely than women to succeed with surgical obesity therapies.

According to studies by Gupta and her colleagues, men’s eating behavior may be influenced by gut feelings. According to Ali, “surgery primarily affects the visceral sensation,” such as the feeling of fullness after eating.

Surgery alone may not be as helpful for patients who are emotional eaters because, he explained, “their body may be telling them that they are full, but their emotions are telling them to continue eating.”

However, Ali said that patients’ experiences can vary significantly, with some women recovering well from surgery for years while others might have a weight increase soon after.

Weight loss treatment

Other forms of obesity therapies may be more significantly impacted by the latest study’s findings. Research has already examined how emotional control affects weight loss in both older women and teenagers.

Customizing obesity therapies, however, is not a novel concept. With their patients, doctors already perform such actions, however they consider a variety of other aspects as well as biological sex.

Dr. Ilan Shapiro, chief health correspondent and medical affairs officer at AltaMed Health Services in Los Angeles, who was not involved in the new study, stated, for instance, “It is important to acknowledge each patient’s metabolic system and the social determinants of health.”

“When we address age, gender, mental health, and chronic diseases, it helps us to achieve the best interventional outcome,” he said.

He added that in addition to these aspects, doctors also consider the patient’s nutrition, exercise routines, sleeping patterns, stress levels, and coping mechanisms, and mental health.

There isn’t currently a proven technique for sex-based obesity therapies, according to Shapiro, but “hopefully, in the future, we’ll have more research to create an intervention template for patients.”

A person’s culture or community is another important element that, in his opinion, should be taken into account while developing obesity interventions.

Shapiro cited the example of community health professionals, known as promotors or promotes in Spanish, who can assist Hispanic populations in adopting appropriate weight management practices.

He stated, “As doctors, our goal is to assist patients in establishing healthier and happier lifestyles. Therefore, having medical professionals who are aware of cultural differences will benefit patients’ efforts to lose weight.


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