It is common knowledge women have a naturally higher body fat percentage than men - this is to give a stock of energy for future anticipated pregnancies. Interestingly, the location of fat deposits in women vary according to climate; in warmer countries fat tends to be more concentrated around the bum, hips and navel. Whereas in colder climates it’s more evenly distributed, giving the body better protection against cold weather. Women may have more subcutaneous (under the skin) adipose tissue, but men have more of the dangerous viscera (intra-abdominal, stores around organs) adipose tissue. This, together with differences in hormones and adipokines, creates an environment in men which favours insulin resistance.
Studies show us estrogen (female sex hormone) has a favorable effect on insulin sensitivity, despite women having higher overall adiposity than men. The beneficial effects of estrogen may be down to a number of mechanisms, including a direct effect on insulin and glucose homeostasis. One study - Short-term 17beta-estradiol decreases glucose R(a) but not whole body metabolism during endurance exercise (Carter S, McKenzie S, Mourtzakis M, Mahoney DJ, Tarnopolsky MAJ Appl Physiol (1985). 2001 Jan; 90(1):139-46) found higher estrogen concentrations may be associated with significantly more lipid and less carbohydrate metabolism during exercise in women than in men - meaning women may be more efficient at burning fat.
Other studies have concentrated on estrogen and the relationship to oxidative stress, with animal studies showing the female sex hormone to have antioxidant properties. This allows increased resistance to oxidative stress - Studies noted that mitochondria from females produced fewer reactive oxygen species than those from males. Does this mean women have more efficient recovery from exercise than men? The jury’s still out, but it’s certainly evident in animal studies.
Furthermore and crucially, estrogen has been shown to increase the expression of longevity-associated genes, including those encoding the antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase - Estrogen, insulin, and dietary signals cooperatively regulate longevity signals to enhance resistance to oxidative stress in mice. (Baba T, Shimizu T, Suzuki Y, Ogawara M, Isono K, Koseki H, Kurosawa H, Shirasawa TJ Biol Chem. 2005 Apr 22; 280(16):16417-26). So not only do women potentially burn fat better than men, recover from exercise better, but they also have the capabilities to live longer - and they say it’s a man’s world… hmmmmmm.
Don’t worry though fellas, you’ve got the power of testosterone (male sex hormone) - just remember, either end of the test scale (too high or too low) can reduce insulin sensitivity and lead to a whole host of problems. In a natural world though, you should only ever experience the downfalls of low testosterone, which can be remedied though exercise and diet, as well as replacement treatments in extreme cases. Just don’t make the mistake of “assisting” its production artificially (and unnecessarily) unless under the supervision of someone who knows what they’re doing, and not the sted at your local gym - excess androgens reduce insulin sensitivity in men - Insulin action and dynamics modelled in patients taking the anabolic steroid methandienone (Dianabol). (Godsland IF, Shennan NM, Wynn V Clin Sci (Lond). 1986 Dec; 71(6):665-73).