Women and Autoimmune Disorders
Women are healthier and live longer than men. They're less susceptible to infectious diseases but on the other hand 80% of individuals with autoimmune diseases are women. So why does Autoimmune Disease prefer women over men?
In this post we'll explore what may be behind the increased risk and which types of autoimmune diseases are more likely to affect women.
The majority of people living with autoimmune disorders are definitely women, usually of childbearing age. According to the National Institutes of Health, autoimmune diseases are among the leading causes of death and disability in girls and women 65 years of age and younger.
There are now 80 different types of autoimmune diseases, which occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own organs and tissues. The majority of these diseases are far more common in women than in men.
Although it is not yet entirely clear to researchers why autoimmune diseases occur more frequently in women, here are some theories:
- Gender differences in immunity. Some researchers believe that women are at increased risk of developing autoimmune diseases because their immune systems tend to be more sophisticated than men's. Women naturally have stronger inflammatory responses than men when their immune systems are triggered, and inflammation plays a key role in many autoimmune diseases. While this often results in superior immunity among women, it may also increase a woman’s risk of developing an autoimmune disorder if something goes wrong.
- Sex hormones. Another theory that may explain why women are at higher risk of having autoimmune disorders has to do with hormonal differences. Many autoimmune diseases tend to improve and flare along with female hormonal fluctuations (for example, during pregnancy, in line with the menstrual cycle, or when using oral contraception), which indicates that sex hormones probably play a role in many autoimmune diseases. We'll look deeper at this theory below.
- Genetic susceptibility. Some scientists have proposed that women, who have two X chromosomes in contrast to men’s X and Y chromosome, are genetically predisposed to developing certain autoimmune diseases. There's some evidence that defects in the X chromosome may be related to susceptibility to certain autoimmune diseases. The genetics of autoimmune disease are complex, and studies are ongoing.
- History of pregnancy. Statistically, there's a link between repeated pregnancy and autoimmunity, although pregnancy is not a necessary piece of the puzzle as men develop all of these autoimmune diseases too. There is some evidence that fetal cells can remain in circulation in a woman's body for years after a pregnancy, and these fetal cells may be involved in the development or worsening of certain autoimmune diseases. More on this below.
Autoimmune Disorders That Are More Common in Women
Among the autoimmune diseases that affect significantly more women than men are:
- Hashimoto's thyroiditis. For every man who develops Hashimoto's thyroiditis, a disease in which the thyroid gland is attacked by the immune system, 10 women develop it.
- Graves' disease. Graves' disease, which is when autoimmunity causes the thyroid gland to become overly active, occurs seven times more frequently in women than men.
- Multiple Sclerosis. Women are twice as likely as men to develop MS, a disease that affects the myelin sheath that covers nerves.
- Myasthenia gravis. For every man who develops myasthenia gravis, a disease that affects skeletal muscles, two women develop it.
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Lupus, which occurs when the immune system attacks organs and joints throughout the body, affects nine times as many women as men.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis. For every five women who develop rheumatoid arthritis, a disease of the joint tissue, only two men develop it.
Autoimmune Diseases and Women: What the Future Holds
2 reasons I believe more women than men are affected by autoimmune disease all relate to the link between these disease and increased intestinal permeability (a leaky gut).
First of all, keep in mind that 80% of the body's immunity to invaders, infection and disease occurs in the gut. Your body's immune cells are birthed in the marrow of your bones, and in your gut. And they launch from these seedbeds into the bloodstream to circulate throughout the body to do their life sustaining work.
The Hormone / Pregnancy Link
One significant difference between men and women are the reproductive hormones that flood their bodies in very different patterns. While males experience a single dramatic shift in reproductive hormones through puberty that may wax and wane over the years, they remain fairly steady throughout a males lifetime. Female reproductive hormones, on the other hand, surge and recede on a monthly basis, and again in bigger ways with repeated pregnancy and after delivery.
Use of the pill either for contraception or to regulate a wonky menstrual cycle flood the bloodstream with synthetic hormones that also feed yeast and fungal overgrowth. And pioneers in systemic yeast overgrowth like Orian Truss, MD (The Missing DIagnosis) and William Crook, MD (Yeast Connection and the Woman) observed in their clinical practices that being female and using oral contraceptives OR experiencing repeated pregnancy would speed the onset of systemic Candida overgrowth. This matters because this unchecked imbalance in the gut microbiome would lead to chronic inflammation and the rapid development of allergies and other autoimmune responses in the body.
Why this matters
The result of unchecked overgrowth in an otherwise healthy microbiome is the damaging effect it has on the permeable membranes of the body which these colonies inhabit. As they reproduce, they introduce elevated acetaldehyde, oxalic acid and ethanol to the surface of these membranes which inflame and irritate tight junctions in this very thin barrier to the bloodstream. These acids and alcohol cause girls and women to feel brainfog, headachy, irritable and crampy as the hormones surge, which we've come to call Pre-Menstrual Syndrome or PMS. And this same chemical dance that creates PMS repeats each month creating more permeability of the mucous membranes of the body leading to increased sensitivity in the body to triggers in the food and air and environment.
Understanding how these reproductive hormones can encourage further microbiome imbalance, consider how multiple pregnancies could march a woman's body progressively toward autoimmune disease with each repeated wave of shifting hormones at conception, delivery, and throughout babies first year of life.
These sex hormones interact with microbial overgrowth in a similar way to flooding the bloodstream with sugars. Both sugars and hormones are like pouring kerosene on a fire as they feed and encourage the further growth of bad bacteria, mold and yeast. Inflammation can't be sustained without a steady flow of insulin in the bloodstream. ...Unless you have a steady flow of sex hormones circulating the body as well.
See links at bottom of this post to learn more about the fascinating connection between dietary sugars and a myriad of alcohol related symptoms like heart palpitations, bradycardia and tachycardia that people can experience without ever touching a glass of alcohol to their lips.
The Relationship Fixation Link
The second reason women may be more susceptible to autoimmune disease is that women tend to internalize and hold emotions in their abdomen. When they aren't at ease in their significant relationships they feel it in their gut.
According to the National Institutes of Health, women are twice as likely to have peptic ulcers than men. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) also occurs 2 to 6 times more often in women than in men. And Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) which includes both Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis is twice as frequent in women than men. These statistics all point to a link between the female gut and autoimmunity.
When a person, male or female experiences emotional stress it elevates adrenalin and cortisol that have a corrosive effect on the health of the gut lining. And this gut lining and a healthy balanced microbiome living there are your front line of defense against disease. This isn't to say men don't experience relationship stress too, they certainly do. Read more here about Relationship Stress May Be Messing With Your Gut.
Researchers are still investigating why women are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases than men in hopes of finding new ways to prevent, treat, and cure these diseases. Among the clinical trials currently underway, some are looking at how women with autoimmune diseases respond during pregnancy, whether endometriosis is an autoimmune disease, and why women with lupus tend to have a higher risk of coronary heart disease ( Here's one good reason why).
While researchers are doing all that, we at Tumtree Gut Health will continue supporting women and those they love in healing their autoimmune diseases from the inside out, beginning with their leaky gut. We don't need more associative evidence or understanding than we currently have to begin turning these miserable conditions around.
Please click the Results tab to read Reviews based on individual symptoms and visit my Youtube channel, Jonell Francis Leaky Gut Girl to view dozens of short testimonial videos from women and men who've reversed their diagnosed autoimmune conditions. They've done it all by focusing on healing the gut just 30 days at a time. And the results are astounding.
Reviews: Will this work for me too? Playlist, Jonell Francis Leaky Gut Girl Youtube Channel
Hi I’m Jonell West Francis. I heal Leaky Gut. I 'm a nerd when it comes to the science of feeling fabulous and obsessed with guiding women (and those they love) back to vibrant health.
As a mom of 9, I’m known for taking tight corners, burning through blenders and overfilling the washing machine. But as a professional Health Coach, I have a deep understanding of the body’s immune system and blueprint for healing. Especially from autoimmune disease.
I can teach you to lean into your own intuition, trust your gut AND embrace crazy beautiful life however it shows up. Best of all, I’ll show you my secrets for securing sustainable wellness for yourself and those you love.
Trust me with your health … but not your home appliances.