Sex-Specific Differences in Hepatic Fat Oxidation and Synthesis May Explain the Higher Propensity for NAFLD in Men

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Context and Objective:

In most populations a greater proportion of men have hepatic steatosis than women. Sex-specific differences in hepatic dietary fatty acid (FA) metabolism have not been well characterized. We compared fasting and postprandial hepatic FA synthesis (de novo lipogenesis [DNL]) and oxidation in men and women.

Participants and Methods:

Fasting and postprandial hepatic FA metabolism was studied in 22 healthy men (n = 11) and women with similar age, body mass index, and liver fat content using metabolic substrates labeled with stable-isotope tracers (2H2O and [U13C]palmitate). Dietary FA oxidation was assessed by appearance of 13C into plasma 3-hydroxybutyrate and breath CO2 as markers of liver and whole-body FA oxidation, respectively.


Despite similar liver fat content, fasting and postprandial plasma triacylglycerol (TG) concentrations were significantly (P < .05) higher in men compared with women. The appearance of 13C from dietary FA into plasma 3-hydroxybutyrate and breath CO2 was greater (P < .05) in women compared with men. Although the contribution of DNL into very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL)-TG was similar (∼10%) in the fasting state, there was a divergence in pattern over the course of the study, with men maintaining a higher contribution of DNL to VLDL-TG than women (P = .006 time x sex interaction).


The combination of lower dietary FA oxidation and a prolonged increase in DNL observed in men may represent partitioning of FA into esterification and storage pathways within the liver, leading to greater VLDL-TG production, and predispose to the sex difference in hepatic steatosis.

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