Of all the people affected by autoimmune (AI) conditions, 75 percent of them are women.
Many doctors and scientists have long believed there is a strong link between female hormones (estrogen in particular) and autoimmunity. A recent study’s findings support that link.
This study discovered that the involved in AI responses have estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) on their cell membranes. This receptor’s job is to bind estradiol: the predominant estrogen type in women.
The researches deleted these estrogen receptors in the immune cells of mice who were prone to autoimmune colitis, to interesting effect. Deleting these receptors caused the mice to be less likely to sicken from that condition.
Autoimmune Conditions Tend to Activate when Estrogen Levels Fluctuate
This effect on the mice was linked to T cell activations that are involved in AI processes. Hormone receptors on T cells’ surface seem to stimulate these cells into “attack mode”. Basically what happens is that the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks healthy skin, brain, joint, and organ tissues.
Since women’s estrogen levels fluctuate wildly during the postpartum period and in perimenopause, this may explain why so many women develop autoimmune conditions during these transitional times.
When a woman is postpartum, her estrogen levels go from very high, to very low, and then rise again over time so menstrual cycles will start up again.
Similarly, during perimenopause, a lot of women experience extreme hormone fluctuations as their bodies adjust to having fewer periods, before their cycles wane and stop entirely.
Autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Grave’s Disease are often seen during these transitional periods in women’s lives.
Imran Mohammad, Inna Starskaia, Tamas Nagy, Jitao Guo, Emrah Yatkin, Kalervo Väänänen, Wendy T. Watford, Zhi Chen. Estrogen receptor α contributes to T cell–mediated autoimmune inflammation by promoting T cell activation and proliferation. Science Signaling, 2018; 11