New Study: Stress Affects Males and Females Differently

According to The Science Daily, a new study from the Weizmann Institute of Science found that "a stress receptor in the brain regulates metabolic responses to stressful situations differently in male and female mice". Moreover, the results could help develop treatments for regulating hunger or stress responses, including anxiety and depression. 

Weizmann Institute of Science researchers asked themselves this question, "How does stress -- which, among other things, cause our bodies to divert resources from non-essential functions -- affect the basic exchange of materials that underlies our everyday life?". They found the answer to this question by looking at a receptor in the brains of mice and what they found was surprising. Their research may help in developing better drugs for stress-related problems and eating disorders. 

The researchers focused on the hypothalamus, located in the brain, and has a number of functions, including "helping the body adjust to stressful situations, controlling hunger and satiety, and regulating blood glucose and energy production". When we feel stressed, cells in the hypothalamus increase production of a receptor called CRFR1. The researchers already knew that this receptor contributes to the rapid activation of a stress-response sympathetic nerve network -- increasing heart rate. However, since the hypothalamus, also regulates the body's exchange of materials, the researchers thought that the CRFR1 receptor might play a role in this, as well.

Professor Chen and his group of researchers "characterized the cells in a certain area of the hypothalamus, finding that the receptor is expressed in around half of the cells that arouse appetite and suppress energy consumption". These cells make up one of two main populations in the hypothalamus, the second populations promotes satiety and the burning of energy. The researchers were surprised to find this, as they expected the receptor to be expressed on the cells that suppress hunger.

The researchers decided to remove the CRFR1 receptor in mice from just the cells that arouse appetite in the hypothalamus, and then observed how this affected the animals' bodily functions. The team did not see any significant effects from this and confirmed that this receptor is saved for stressful situations. However, once they exposed the mice to stress, such as cold or hunger, they found another surprising result. 

When mice are exposed to cold temperature, the "sympathetic nervous system activates a unique type of fat called brown fat, which produces heat to maintain the body's internal temperature". The researchers found that when the receptor was removed, the mouses' body temperature dropped dramatically, but only in the female mice. Their temperature did not stabilize even after the stressor was removed, while the male mice did not show any change.

The researchers also found that fasting produced a similar response in the female mice. When food is scarce, the "brain sends a message to the liver to produce glucose, conserving a minimum level in the blood". However, when food was withheld from the female mice missing the CRFR1 receptor, the amount of glucose their livers produced dropped. In the hungry male CRFR1-deficient mice, the "result was similar to the effects of exposure to cold: the exchange of materials in their bodies was barely affected".

Dr. Kuperman says, "We discovered that the receptor has an inhibitory effect on the cells, and this is what activates the sympathetic nervous system". 

This study revealed how the CRFR1 receptor works and how it contributes to the stress response, ultimately finding that male and female bodies show significant differences in the ways that materials are exchanged under stress. The fact that the receptor suppresses hunger in females may help explain why women are much more prone to eating disorders than men.

According to the study, "because drugs can enter the hypothalamus with relative ease, the findings could be relevant to the development of treatments for regulating hunger or stress responses, including anxiety disorders or depression". Several pharmaceutical companies have already begun developing psychiatric drugs to block the CRFR1 receptor. The Weizmann Institute of Science researchers cause that because the cells are involved in the exchange of materials, blocking the receptor could turn out to have such side effects as weight gain.

While stress affects male and female bodies differently, stress management tips are beneficial to everyone, no matter the sex. At Community Well we offer a variety to stress reducing classes, including Community Yoga, Holistic Life Coaching, and so much more. 

For a list of classes and services to help you manage stress, check out our complete listing of services and classes.