Retrospective studies suggest that women have more active brown adipose tissue (BAT) than men, but little is known of the effect of fluctuating sex steroids across the menstrual cycle on thermogenesis in women.
To characterise the effects of sex and sex steroids on BAT activity we recruited healthy weight men (n = 14) and women at two stages of the menstrual cycle (luteal, n = 9; follicular, n = 11).
Infrared thermography measured supraclavicular temperature to index BAT thermogenesis in response to both cold (immersion of one hand in water at 15°C) and meal (Ensure, 10 kcal/kg body weight) stimuli.
Adaptive BAT temperature responses were greater (P < 0.05) in women than men, irrespective of stage of menstrual cycle. Whereas during cold exposure, the increase in BAT temperature was abrogated (P < 0.05) in women during follicular phase compared to men and women during luteal phase. Plasma concentrations of progesterone, 17β-estradiol, testosterone and cortisol were measured. Regression analyses demonstrated that baseline BAT temperature was positively correlated (P < 0.05) with progesterone levels, but was inversely associated (P < 0.05) with cortisol concentration. Both cold- and meal-induced changes in BAT temperature mildly correlated (P = 0.07; P < 0.05) with 17β-estradiol levels, but not with testosterone concentrations.
Baseline supraclavicular temperature is elevated in women during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, which correlated with elevated progesterone concentrations. Women exhibited greater thermogenic responses than men, irrespective of the state of the menstrual cycle, which was associated with plasma levels of 17β-estradiol. We conclude that sex steroids may regulate BAT thermogenesis in healthy adults.