International Women's Day Part 2: Here’s why women are more prone to autoimmune diseases than men

Researchers have found that there are major differences in the number and functions of male and female regulatory T cells found in adipose or fat tissues.

Myupchar February 27, 2020 17:39:51 IST
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International Women's Day Part 2: Here’s why women are more prone to autoimmune diseases than men

It is a fact universally acknowledged that men and women are different. They have different anatomies, physiologies and even their immune systems don’t react the same way to diseases. This is the reason why men are more susceptible to certain diseases and women are more prone to others.

International Womens Day Part 2 Heres why women are more prone to autoimmune diseases than men

Representative image. Image: Reuters

And if you’re wondering why exactly that is, a recent study may have finally found the answer and it lies in the regulatory T cells in your body. Researchers at the Doherty Institute and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia have discovered that there are major differences in the number and functions of male and female regulatory Treg or T cells found in adipose or fat tissues. 

T cells and your immunity

These regulatory T cells maintain immune response and play a key role in preventing autoimmunity (a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body). The above-mentioned research, published in Nature in February 2020, found a new type of stromal cell that communicates with T cells and is found only in men. This adds to the efficiency of the T cells in men and makes them less prone to autoimmune diseases while being more susceptible to obesity.

While this recent research was conducted on mice, it bears immense significance on science and medicine, especially when it comes to the prevention and treatment of autoimmune diseases. A study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases in 2004 revealed that approximately 8% of the global population suffers from autoimmune diseases, and 78% of that population is female. Further research into regulatory T cells and stromal cells is therefore much needed.

Autoimmune diseases that women should beware of 

Until such breakthrough is made, women should beware about the occurrence of the following autoimmune diseases.

  • Alopecia areata: This disease can cause hair loss on the scalp, face and body.
  • Antiphospholipid syndrome: This autoimmune disease can cause rashes on the wrists and knees, blood clots and multiple or recurrent miscarriages.
  • Autoimmune hepatitis: This can lead to fatigue, enlarged liver, itchy skin, joint pain and liver failure.
  • Celiac disease: Apart from diarrhoea and constipation, this disease can also lead to irregular periods, infertility and miscarriages.
  • Diabetes Type 1: With your immune system attacking the cells that make insulin, this disease can go on to even cause heart disease.
  • Graves’ disease: This occurs when your immune system causes your thyroid to become overactive. It can cause insomnia, irritability, weight loss, bulging eyes and shaky hands.
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome: The immune system attacks the nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body, and can cause paralysis in severe cases.
  • Hashimoto’s disease: The thyroid gland does not make enough hormones as a result of the body attacking the thyroid gland, and so it leads to fatigue, weakness, weight gain, etc.
  • Hemolytic anaemia: The immune system destroys the red blood cells, leading to all the symptoms of anaemia and ultimately to heart failure.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease: This disease causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, and also leads to rectal bleeding and ulcers.
  • Multiple sclerosis: The immune system attacks the protective coating of the nerves in the brain and spine, and can lead to paralysis.
  • Myasthenia gravis: In this disease, the immune system attacks all the nerves and muscles throughout the body, and leads to paralysis.
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis: The immune system slowly destroys the liver’s bile ducts, causing the liver to slowly harden and scar, and finally stop working.
  • Psoriasis: In this disease, new skin cells grow too fast and cause itchy and painful red patches on the head, elbows, hands and feet.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: The immune system attacks the lining of the joints throughout the body, and can lead to painful, swollen, deformed joints as well as reduced mobility and function.
  • Scleroderma: This disease causes the abnormal growth of connective tissue in skin and blood vessels. 
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus: Also known as just lupus, this disease damages the joints, skin, kidneys, heart and lungs.
  • Vitiligo: The immune system destroys the cells that give your skin its colour, and causes white patches on the areas exposed to the sun.

This is the second article in a series on International Women's Day 2020. 

For more information, read our articles on Women’s Health.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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