Over the past few years, gut health has been a hot topic. But, what makes your gut healthy? Diversity, diversity, diversity. And as it turns out, women's gut microbiomes have greater diversity than men's, according to a new study published in the journal mSystems. Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, San Diego State University, and the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology studied the gut microbiome of 8,900 people ages 20-69 and found that women's gut microbiome diversifies sooner than that of their male counterparts.
"Our results suggest that, because girls go through puberty earlier than boys, the [gut] microbiome of men may need time to catch up," senior study author Varykina Thackray, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at UC San Diego, said in a press release. The study also found that gut microbiome continues to diversify until age 40 before it plateaus.
What's more, researchers — who studied people from four geographic regions — found that diverse gut microbiome of women in the U.S., UK, and Colombia was related to age while women's gut microbiome in China was not. More research is needed to understand gut microbiome diversity across different geographic regions.
Gut microbiome diversity is vital for building a strong immune system. According to a study published in the journal Nature, a healthy gut protects your body from pathogens, extracts energy and nutrients from your diet to provide your body with fuel, and facilitates normal immune system function. Developing these defenses early could be part of the reason women have stronger immune systems and live longer than men.
"Men die younger than women, and they are more burdened by illness during life. They fall ill at a younger age and have more chronic illnesses than women," Harvard Men's Health Watch reported for Harvard Medical School's health blog.
By developing diverse gut microbiome at an early age, women's bodies may be able to fight off illness sooner. And because gut microbiome plateaus around age 40 for both men and women, women have more time to develop healthy immune systems than men. In addition, dietary choices affect men and women's gut health differently, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.
This means that what's good for men might not be good for women, and this data is just one more validation that when it comes to health, men and women need to be evaluated differently. In addition, the Foundation for Gender Specific Medicine reported that women's immune systems are more active and therefore better able to fight off disease than men's immune systems.
And while estrogen plays a role in women developing healthy gut microbiome sooner, testosterone in men makes them more prone to parasitic infections because testosterone promotes parasitic breeding, the Foundation for Gender Specific Medicine explained. All of this is good news for women because developing diverse gut microbiome earlier offers an advantage right out of the gate. In addition, eating foods that support your gut health can help you keep that edge as you age.
According to Harvard Health Men's Watch, women live an average of six years longer than men and those later years are generally healthy. Think of it as an extra six years to do all of things you want to do — like living in a condo in Florida with your squad, just like the Golden Girls.