Younger women's bodies are better able to counter the effects of insulin resistance, which may help explain why they typically develop heart disease 10 years later in life than men, a new study suggests.
Insulin is a hormone that takes glucose (sugar) from the blood and carries it into cells, where it is used for energy. Insulin resistance – the term used when the body doesn't use insulin properly – increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The new study included 468 women and 354 men with similar levels of insulin resistance. Among those aged 50 or younger, women had lower blood pressure, lower fasting blood sugar levels, and lower levels of fats in the blood (triglycerides) that can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The 'female advantage'
However, these differences between women and men were not seen in participants aged 51 or older, according to the study published Sept. 24 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
"This gender difference may illuminate the 'female advantage' – a phenomenon where the onset of cardiovascular disease tends to happen a decade later in women than in men," study lead author Dr Sun Kim, of Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a news release from the Endocrine Society.
"The findings suggest young women are uniquely equipped to offset the negative effects of insulin resistance," Kim explained. "Although there is no difference in the level of insulin resistance between genders, young women are still able to avoid the worst complications from insulin resistance."
This may be a natural form of protection for women in their reproductive years, but more research is required, Kim added.
The US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about insulin resistance.