EAST LANSING, Mich. -

Could women have better protection from certain digestive conditions? A new Michigan State University study of mice is raising that question.

The study, funded by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, found at least with mice, females have innate protection from certain digestive conditions. 

The findings could help scientists better understand and care for Americans who have inflammatory bowel diseases.

There are about 1.4 million Americans suffering from inflammatory bowel diseases, or IBD. The two common forms of these diseases are Crohn’s disease and colitis. They can cause damage to the digestive tract, inflammation, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and other symptoms.

Researchers in this study induced colitis in mice with weakened immune system. 

Six weeks into the study, the males had significantly more severe symptoms than the females and had more of the bacteria left in their guts. Researchers said the males also showed more deterioration of their bones.

Studies have have connected deterioration of bones to gut inflammation.

“It seems females are protected from bad bacteria-induced bone loss, and it’s because they have reduced gut inflammation,” said co-author Laura McCabe, a professor in the MSU Departments of Physiology and Radiology. “When we looked at markers of inflammation in the male mice, they were really high, whereas the females didn’t have that kind of bad response. They can somehow handle these nasty bacteria.”

McCabe said it's not clear from the study whether women have the same kind of resistance to the condition as the female mice.

“We want to know what it is about female mice allowing them to be protected,” she said. “If we can understand that, we might have a potential therapeutic target for people with IBD.”

The study is in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.