An autoimmune disease (AD) occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases. While 8% of the US population has an AD, 78% of those cases are women. Here are three major theories to explain why AD disproportionally affects women.
1. Testosterone Levels:
A link exists between testosterone, the male hormone, and protection against AD. Testosterone reduces the amount of B cells, which release harmful antibodies into the body, and suppress the protein BAFF, which make B cells functionable. Women only possess 1/10 as much testosterone as men, so they are less protected. There is also a link between BAFF levels and lupus, one of the most common autoimmune diseases affecting women.
Women have more of VGLL3, a molecular switch, in their skin than men do. An overabundance of VGLL3 puts the immune system in overdrive, making the body attack its skin and sometimes its internal organs.
3. Pregnancy Compensation Hypothesis and Hormone Levels:
According to the “Pregnancy Compensation Hypothesis,” the female immune system evolves in order to provide extra protection during pregnancy. However, these days the female immune system does not actually face the challenges it is biologically prepared to face. Because of this, women are more susceptible to AD. Additionally, due to our modern sedentary lifestyles and the overconsumption of calories, women commonly maintain a high level of the hormone estradiol increases. Having constantly high levels of hormones in general can also increase this risk of AD.
Many ADs have similar early signs, including skin rashes/irritation, fatigue, and rapid weight change. Those that are experiencing any of these systems without explanation should seek professional help. Healthy diets, regular physical examinations, and understanding the unique risks women face are most effective in preventing the development of AD.
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Reference: Larson, Chad. (Feb/March 2021). Three New Scientific Theories to Explain Why Women Are More Susceptible to Autoimmune Disease Than Men. Townsend Letter, (451/52). 54.