Autoimmune diseases have something in common with horses, bachelor’s degrees, and daily flossing habits – women are more likely to have them.
One of the reasons for the prevalence of autoimmune diseases in women may be differences in inflammation based on gender. In a new study, Jonathan Busada, a researcher at the University of West Virginia, investigated how sex hormones affect stomach inflammation in both men and women. He found that androgens – or male sex hormones – can help control inflammation in the stomach.
“Stomach cancer is primarily caused by rampant inflammation,” said Busada, an assistant professor in the School of Medicine and a researcher at the Cancer Institute. “The main theme of my lab is understanding what controls the balance between a protective immune response, which targets only infection, and a pathogenic immune response, which is like a toddler throwing a tantrum and damages everything. It sounds like androgens. can be really important in shifting that balance towards a protective response. “
His findings appear in Gastroenterology.
Busada’s study focused on testosterone, the primary male sex hormone.
The study also looked at glucocorticoids – steroid hormones that the adrenal glands secrete. Unlike testosterone, glucocorticoids are not sex hormones. Their production does not differ significantly between women and men.
Glucocorticoids are “the main anti-inflammatory hormones produced by your body,” Busada said. “You can think of them as the brake pedal of the immune system.”
While looking for mice without glucocorticoids or testosterone, Busada, his research partner John Cidlowski – a principal investigator at the National Institutes of Health – and their colleagues observed that the inflammation of the stomachs of men increased as much as that of women.
Plus, when he and his team gave female mice testosterone, their inflammation disappeared.
“We were able to save them completely from their stomach inflammation,” Busada said. “We have proven that androgens are the hormones that give male mice this double layer of protection against inflammation. In females, the only anti-inflammatory hormone was glucocorticoids. In males, it could be glucocorticoids or androgens. This study potentially explains why women have a much higher incidence of autoimmune and chronic inflammatory diseases. “
For example, celiac disease is two to three times more common in women than in men. Multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis are three times more common. Thyroid problems? Five to eight times.
“In fact, eight in ten people with autoimmune diseases are women,” Busada said.
Based on these research findings, clinicians can determine whether disruptive glucocorticoid or androgen signaling contributes to inflammatory stomach disease in their patients.
“If a person has an inflamed stomach, it might be worth it for clinicians to study what’s going on with their endocrine system,” Busada said.
And this is not only the case if the patient is female. Although women are more susceptible to chronic inflammatory stomach diseases, men are more susceptible to stomach cancer, of which inflammation is the main cause.
Globally, stomach cancer is the fifth most common form of cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death.
“Persistent and smoldering inflammation over many, many years is the breeding ground for the growth of stomach cancer.” Said Busada. “It is an important and little studied human health problem.”
“These findings may help us understand how inflammation promotes cancer development, but we cannot make direct inferences about stomach cancer from this work,” he said. “This is the direction we are heading, however. We are currently studying how sex affects carcinogenesis using a real cancer model.”