Sexual dimorphism in cardiometabolic health: the role of adipose tissue, muscle and liver

Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2021 Jan;17(1):47-66. doi: 10.1038/s41574-020-00431-8. Epub 2020 Nov 10.


Obesity is associated with many adverse health effects, such as an increased cardiometabolic risk. Despite higher adiposity for a given BMI, premenopausal women are at lower risk of cardiometabolic disease than men of the same age. This cardiometabolic advantage in women seems to disappear after the menopause or when type 2 diabetes mellitus develops. Sexual dimorphism in substrate supply and utilization, deposition of excess lipids and mobilization of stored lipids in various key metabolic organs (such as adipose tissue, skeletal muscle and the liver) are associated with differences in tissue-specific insulin sensitivity and cardiometabolic risk profiles between men and women. Moreover, lifestyle-related factors and epigenetic and genetic mechanisms seem to affect metabolic complications and disease risk in a sex-specific manner. This Review provides insight into sexual dimorphism in adipose tissue distribution, adipose tissue, skeletal muscle and liver substrate metabolism and tissue-specific insulin sensitivity in humans, as well as the underlying mechanisms, and addresses the effect of these sex differences on cardiometabolic health. Additionally, this Review highlights the implications of sexual dimorphism in the pathophysiology of obesity-related cardiometabolic risk for the development of sex-specific prevention and treatment strategies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance / physiology
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Menopause / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Characteristics*