Oct 23 , 2023
As the prevalence of autoimmune disease continues to grow in our country, a worrisome trend in disease distribution remains unchanged: women are far more likely to develop autoimmune disease than men. In fact, almost 80% of autoimmune disease sufferers are women, making them twice as likely as men to develop these difficult conditions, and placing autoimmune disease as the 5th leading cause of death in young women.
Why Women are More Likely to Develop Autoimmune Disease
As more research begins to focus on the cause of this disparity, multiple factors have been identified as to why women seem to be more susceptible to autoimmune disease. Differing hormone levels, the presence of two X chromosomes, and the makeup of male and female gut biomes all seem to play a part.
Hormones & Autoimmune Disease
Hormones have a huge impact on many processes within our bodies and autoimmune disease appears to be no different. Estrogen, it has been found, may be one of the drivers of certain autoimmune conditions, while testosterone, conversely, is believed to be an immunosuppressant. This alone puts women at more risk for autoimmune disease, but also dramatically increases the chance of developing the condition during one of the major life stages in women that are tied to heavy fluctuations in hormones - pregnancy and menopause. Research backs this up not only with the prevalence of when autoimmune disease presents itself in women but has also found that men afflicted with autoimmune disease often have lower levels of testosterone than would be found in the average population.
The X Chromosome Effect
In addition to hormones, studies are beginning to show that the X chromosome itself may be tied to the prevalence of autoimmune disease. Since women are born with two X chromosomes (men are born with just one alongside a Y chromosome), this increases their chances of receiving duplications of certain proteins that stem from the X chromosome. This is also backed up with studies that show an increased prevalence of autoimmune disease in people with conditions that are associated with an extra X chromosome.
Gut Biome & Autoimmune Disease
The gut biome has very strong ties to autoimmune disease and overall health in general, both for men and women, but studies are beginning to show clear differences in the makeup of these biomes depending on sex. While it is still unclear exactly why this happens, a likely theory has emerged: an evolutionary adaptation has occurred within the gut biome of women that increases the likelihood of pregnancy. This aligns with what has been found through hormone research on autoimmune disease and also with what we know about the evolution of most species and procreation.
What Can You Do?
For women with autoimmune disease, this information, while validating, may also be disheartening. As research for autoimmune disease increases, however, many remedies and lifestyle changes have emerged that can minimize symptoms and sometimes even reverse disease. Changes in diet, sleep habits, exercise and removing stressors have been shown to have positive effects on many autoimmune conditions. It is also important to be aware that having one autoimmune disease increases your chance of having another, so listen to your body when new symptoms arise. Initiating the power of proactive health management is important and can be beneficial now as well as in the long run. With ID30, you can take charge of your well-being and continue to retest annually, ensuring you stay informed and empowered on your path to lasting health.