Sex, gender and the microbiome

Research shows that the human microbiome plays a critical role in human health and disease, from child development to autoimmune disorders. Innovative therapies are emerging from the application of microbiome science. Treatment for resistant cases of Clostridium difficile infection is one such therapy, with others yet to be discovered. Recently, sex and gender have been flagged as two important variables that have a significant influence on the microbiomeFootnote 1.

While we know that gender norms and roles influence factors such as diet, antimicrobial exposure and conditions such as anxiety or depression, we don’t yet know enough about how both sex and gender differences influence the many facets of the human microbiome. Increasing our understanding of sex, gender and the microbiome will lead to better science and improved health outcomes for everybody.

Did you know?

  • The mother’s microbiome may have a significant influence on bacteria present in breast milk, which is important for healthy child developmentFootnote 2.
  • Sex differences in microbial exposure early in life may influence the lifetime risk of autoimmune diseasesFootnote 1. One such disease is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which has demonstrable sex-specific interactions with gut microbiota and women’s increased symptom severity and impairmentFootnote 3.
  • Men and women exhibit sex-specific responses to the exact same dietFootnote 4, and have distinct microbiome patterns populating the gutFootnote 5. Stress, ovarian hormones and sex-specific brain processes all potentially play a role in gut dysfunction, including modulation of pain and stress reactionsFootnote 6.
  • In women, the cervical/vaginal microbiome has been associated with an increased susceptibility to HIV infectionFootnote 7.
  • Microbiome research is an exciting avenue of inquiry for treating male-female differences in inflammatory bowel disease, which is more common in women and may respond to probiotic treatmentsFootnote 8Footnote 9.
  • Stroke levels skyrocket in women after menopause, when they experience significant changes in their sex hormone levels. Women also have an increased prevalence of microbiome-related risk factors such as hypertension, abdominal obesity and metabolic syndromeFootnote 10.
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