Sex, Gender and Heart Health

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Research at U of G is opening new doors to discussing sex and gender impacts on heart health.

“Female and male hearts look the same to our eyes, but they are not the same at the molecular, cellular or functional level,” says biomedical sciences professor Tami Martino. She heads the Centre for Cardiovascular Investigations in U of G’s Ontario Veterinary College.

Martino studies the heart’s circadian clock, which regulates the organ’s day-night cycle. Working with researchers across campus – notably Prof. Marica Bakovic in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences and psychology professor Elena Choleris – she has discovered important differences between male and female hearts.

First, the team found that cell membrane lipid molecules are remarkably different in male and female hearts. Then they showed that the circadian clock regulates membrane composition.

Finally, disrupting the circadian mechanism in male mice led to changes in cell membranes and development of heart disease. However, female mice were protected by ovarian hormones, even when their circadian mechanism was disturbed.

Researchers have connected disturbances in circadian rhythm as in shift workers with greater risk of heart disease.

“These findings are important for understanding why some people are resilient to heart disease and not others,” says Martino, who speaks about her research at heart health conferences. “They have real-life implications for our heart health, so we can live longer, healthier lives.”

Learn more about Tami Martino’s research.