Today a look at why women are more likely to get an autoimmune condition. Trigger times may be during puberty, post pregnancy and peri-menopause.
As the list of autoimmune diseases continues to rise, research indicates that women may be more at risk for developing autoimmune disorders than men. The reason being our hormones. As women are more impacted by hormonal fluctuations throughout their lifetime, they are more likely to experience disruptions in immune function. This is due to levels of the sex hormone oestrogen, which is higher in women than it is in men.
Much research has been done in recent years exploring the connection between oestrogen and autoimmune diseases. One conclusion we can make is that when oestrogen levels become imbalanced, they stimulate inflammation in the immune system, leading to more antibody production.
Why is it that higher levels of oestrogen creates more antibodies? The reason for this increased activity is to create a higher immune response that protects the body against invaders during a woman’s reproductive years. However, too much oestrogen in relation to progesterone can cause antibodies to attack its own tissues, rather than the invaders it’s supposed to.
This overstimulation of the immune system is a leading cause in developing an autoimmune condition, or worsening an existing one.
Similarly, autoimmune flare ups can be seen for women experiencing menopause (for some already postpartum) when the ratio of oestrogen to progesterone is out of balance. As the reproductive cycle changes in peri-menopause, oestrogen production increases and decreases at rapid rates. With this variation comes an increase and decrease in antibodies as well, leading to heightened immune response and symptom flare up. For this reason, many women find relief with their autoimmune symptoms after menopause, as oestrogen levels drop or become balanced and the immune response begins to regulate.
So balancing oestrogen production may be a key component to reducing risk of developing an autoimmune condition. Unfortunately, oestrogen excess sometimes referred to as “dominance” has become a common occurrence in today’s world.
Remember that this is when oestrogen levels are too high in relation to progesterone. Oestrogen and progesterone act as a checks and balance system in the body, regulating each other’s functions. The problem occurs when one is incredibly high or low in relation to the other. This can happen naturally during times of puberty, pregnancy, or menopause, or it can occur due to environmental changes.
Oestrogen excess is currently at an all time high, with factors such as diet, environmental toxins, and chronic stress, playing a major role.
Our modern day diet contains many hormone disrupting chemicals that increase oestrogen levels in the body. Conventionally raised animals are injected with growth hormones and antibiotics that make their way into your system, disrupting your body’s natural balance. Pesticides and herbicides used in conventional farming also disrupt your hormones.
Environmental toxins found in many household and personal care products contain endocrine disrupting chemicals known as xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens mimic the body’s natural production of oestrogen, leading to an imbalance in hormone production and oestrogen excess. Xenoestrogens are commonly found in household cleaners, plastics, fragrances, skin care products, and hair care products.
Chronic stress levels can lead to elevated cortisol in the body. Cortisol is the ”fight or flight” hormone responsible for helping you handle stressful or dangerous situations. Since cortisol and progesterone are produced by the same hormone (pregnenolone), more cortisol production means less progesterone production.
Without the progesterone there to keep oestrogen levels in check, oestrogen rises, leading to the imbalance of oestrogenversus progesterone. Managing stress and keeping your cortisol production regulated will help keep progesterone and oestrogen levels balanced.