Why are autoimmune diseases more common in women than men?
I have noticed that here are more women suffering from autoimmune conditions than men and I am wondering why this might be. For example, my sister has an autoimmune thyroid issue but my brother and I have no such issues.
As a licensed Naturopathic Doctor, I use integrative physiology to witness unique patterns, treat the root cause and support daily thriving.
Endobiogenic Medicine and Integrative Physiology recognizes the human body as a complex system and as such, it follows the rules we understand regarding complex systems. One of these is that systems have a manager which has to meet certain criteria - able to communicate and influence with every part of the system, present from beginning to end, and able to manage itself. The endocrine system (our system of hormones and their intricate relationships to one another) meets the criteria for manager. When we look at physiology from this perspective, we have a really beautiful understanding of why certain patterns arise, why people are unique, have their own gifts, super powers, and ways of growing, developing and adapting and why they are vulnerable to certain diseases, symptoms or imbalances.
Autoimmune diseases are often a state of hyper immunity, a dysregulation of the immune balance which is managed by the endocrine system. There are any number of aggressions, stressors, demands or unmet needs on or within the body which can solicit an immune response, and can solicit a particular endocrine response dependent on each person’s unique endocrine patterns, management and ways they have had to adapt previously in life. These aggressions are often multiple, involving unmet nutrient needs, digestive compromise, mental/emotional patterns, beliefs, thought forms, physical aggressions, infections - anything that demands an adaptation response and that inhibits or compromises the bodies ability to adapt with ease. When the body forms a new pattern of adaptation, like autoimmunity, it is often initially a protective pattern, a way of adapting to chronic or intense stimuli when the various tools the body has have become depleted or overwhelmed.
While immunity is managed by several hormones all working together, estrogen is the hormone that initiates the building of protein in the body. White blood cells and immune elements are protein based. In an excess estrogen environment along with other aspects of immune and endocrine dysregulation, the system may be more prone to a hyperimmune and then autoimmune condition. While all humans have estrogen and androgen activity in varying relationships depending on the individual, in general, women, during their reproductive years, have both relative and absolute higher estrogen activity and circulating hormone. This is one of the factors that makes women more vulnerable to an autoimmune response, but also certainly recognizes the great potential for immune dysregulation and autoimmunity in men as well.
This model also helps explain why one person might develop lupus while another develops an autoimmune inflammatory bowel disease and another an autoimmune demyelinating disorder. In contrast, and for example sake, men, with a relative and absolute higher testosterone activity and circulating hormone in reproductive years are more prone to heart disease. Again, the development of heart disease is a complex physiology that is based on multiple areas of dysregulation, but the androgen activity is a part of the picture.
The beauty of this model is that we can look at individual physiology like a map. Who is the person who is developing this disease and what are the many factors through their life, exposures, experiences, and patterns of adaptation have led to this place? This gives us a more precise direction for treatment and for prevention as well that is catered to the individual. It is important to first look at the person, their individual patterns, strengths and unique ways of adapting. Then, recognizing the areas of vulnerability, the aggressions that can be removed, and the places where needs can be met more effectively can allow the body to resume a more balanced adaptive pattern which allows for thriving rather than simply managing disease.
My 65 yr. old husband of 40 yrs. has been a diabetic since the age of 7. Living with his mother for 20 yrs. and loving her dearly as my own, I think the psych aspect is very pertinent in a child that develops this autoimmune condition - gestational trauma, birth order, sibling rivalry, parental strife/suppression, learning/behavioral problems in public school and other factors that come to the readers here. To complicate matters, a skiing accident & diabetic complications caused the amputation of his right leg at age 12 - fortunately saving his knee.
Juvenile diabetes is very much on the rise as well as the adult-onset condition. I have a friend research chemist specifically studying obesity factors in Type 2 diabetes - he says treating that condition alone is projected to completely bankrupt the national health system. The only up side being that my so-called 'health mania' over the years became somewhat vindicated.
I like this question. It is getting to heart of what may be driving chronic disease.
I think the more important question, however, is "why does one person develop autoimmune disease X, the next person autoimmune disease Y and the next autoimmune disease Z regardless of gender?"
Many experts are suggesting autoimmune disease's core cause is due to leaky gut and I tended toward that theory until I ask the question posed above. Some people with a damaged gut lining develop rheumatoid arthritis, (joints) some Lupus (skin/connective tissue) some Hashimoto's (thyroid), some Crohn's (intestine), etc. What dictates which tissues are targeted?
I'm finding that shock and trauma, as uniquely experienced by the human (or animal,) may dictate the area of the body affected by what's termed "autoimmune". I would also posit that it is unlikely our immune system makes these sorts of mistakes. Nature is not designed to destroy itself or attack itself. The microbes are present in the various tissues to heal the organism - not destroy it. Afterall, we are their human - they are not "our" microbes. It is in their interest to live in and on a vital host!
I believe women suffer more self devaluation in many cultures than men. Women are more likely to blame themselves, feel unworthy, useless (especially older women), undervalued in society. Could this account for the difference? I would love someone to design a research project with these questions in mind.
For more information on the role shock and trauma has on the human, visit www.learninggnm.com.
Also examine the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study which is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being. Some clues may be found there.
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What an interesting observation! As a man, my initial thought would be this is due to reporting bias. I observe plenty of men with autoimmune conditions, but they are less likely to discuss their issues and to seek help.
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I think part of it may also be that women tend to be nurturers more than men--not that man don't nurture, but there is a tendency for women to do this to a greater extent. I see many clients who have autoimmune disorders who state that they never take time for themselves, they don't have time to be sick, too many people depend on them, etc. When we care for others more than we care for ourselves, or we care for others to the exclusion of caring for ourselves, we tend to ignore the messages that our bodies are sending to slow down, take care, and pay attention. When we ignore these messages, our bodies may decide to fight back, creating disorders that force us to pay attention. A little questioning around when symptoms started to appear supports this idea...
That is a really interesting observation and one that I notice as well. I think it is important to recognize that from a very young age we are taxing our bodies. When we eat processed foods, food coloring, inflammatory foods we are setting ourselves up for autoimmune issues in the future. Using toxic personal care items and cleaning products also has an impact. I find in general girls/women use more perfumes, personal care products like shampoo and lotions then boys/men. All of these have an effect on our bodies as well.
I have seen good results with helping people eliminate as many toxins from their environment as possible, as well as discovering what foods are causing an inflammatory process for them.
I hope this answer is helpful :)