Autoimmune diseases occur when the body's defence system loses its ability to differentiate between self and foreign particles. The immune system starts targeting the body and causes inflammation. However, it has been noted that women and intersex individuals are more likely to develop autoimmune conditions than males. Let's learn what could be the reasons for this:
What is autoimmunity?
Our bodies are designed like a house, like every house we have alarm systems to keep us safe from burglars and robbers. Autoimmunity arises when the alarm systems start attacking the house itself. When our body mistakes a self particle as an outside/ foreign particle, the immune system triggers a response against it and starts damaging the cells of the body. Diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Hashimoto's are some examples of such chronic illnesses. It was found that 70 percent of people in the U.S. who suffer from autoimmune conditions identify as women. People with variations in sex chromosomes have also a higher degree of contracting an autoimmune condition than a biological male. However, men can also develop autoimmune conditions.
Role of hormones in immunity
It has been confirmed that hormones play a role in immunity function. Testosterone has been noted to reduce the function of the immune system by decreasing a specific type of cell called B lymphocytes. It has been linked that males have higher levels of androgens, and thus their immune system would have fewer B cells, thus the chances of an attack on the body itself decreases. B cells are the antibody-producing factories in the body.
Some scientists have also stated that female hormones like estrogen can also play a major role in autoimmunity. Still, hormones are not the root cause of autoimmunity though they can affect it. .
Role of genetic component
The X chromosome has been stated to have genes that participate in immune function. Proteins involved in immune reaction are produced by it and hence can lead to autoimmunity. Even though women have two X chromosomes and intersex individuals can have multiple copies of the X chromosome, only one of the X chromosomes actually works. This is called X inactivation. You can read more about it in the post listed below.
This inactivation can be faulty and is termed as skewed inactivation. This inactivation can lead to the activation of the other chromosomal material. It means more of these proteins and thus an enhanced immune response.
Autoimmune conditions have been a mystery to the medical world. However, with genetic studies, researchers are focused on finding the genetic components that trigger this condition finally deciphering the personalised cure for patients.
Defreyne, J., De Bacquer, D., Shadid, S., Lapauw, B. and T’Sjoen, G. (2017). Is Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus More Prevalent Than Expected in Transgender Persons? A Local Observation. Sexual Medicine, 5(3), pp.e215–e218. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esxm.2017.06.004.
Schmidt, C.W. (2011). Questions Persist: Environmental Factors in Autoimmune Disease. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(6). doi:https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.119-a248.
ScienceDaily. (n.d.). Women caught in a pickle by their own immune systems. [online] Available at:https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190612084355.htm [Accessed 21 Oct. 2023].