There are over 100 different Autoimmune Conditions! An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body. The immune system normally guards against germs like bacteria and viruses. When it senses these foreign invaders, it sends out an army of fighter cells to attack them.
They can be classified into different categories based on which parts of the body they affect. For instance, Autoimmune Conditions which affect the joints (the Rheumatologic System) including Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylitis.
Autoimmune Conditions which effect the Endocrine (Hormone) System include Type 1 diabetes, Grave's Disease, and Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
Autoimmune Conditions that effect the GI system include Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn's disease, and Primary Biliary Disease.
Autoimmune Conditions that effect the Neurological System include Multiple Sclerosis, Myasthenia Graves and Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
And then there is ONE category of Autoimmune Conditions that effect potentially ALL of our body systems - so we call these conditions - Systemic Diseases. This category includes Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and Sjogren's Syndrome.
Interestingly when it comes to some of the Autoimmune Conditions, Women are at much higher risk than men. Not all of them, but certainly a lot of them. For instance, 89% of ALL cases of Systemic Lupus, and 75% of all cases of Rheumatoid Arthritis are Women. And a staggering 95% Hashimotos and 94% Sjogren's are Female!
Naturally this has led researchers to investigate the Effects of Sex Hormones on the Immune System, and though there is still very much to learn, this research has exploded over the last decade. The Immune System is a very complex system that inter-plays with the other systems in the body, (especially the Nervous and Hormones Systems). Genetics, exposure to environmental toxins and your lifestyle, such as diet, exercise, habits and hobbies, all play a factor in how Your Immune System functions .
There are two main pathways in the Immune System called the T-Helper 1 Pathway and the T-Helper 2 Pathway. (TH 1 and TH 2 for short.) These pathways balance each other, like a See-Saw on a playground. When one side is overstimulated, the other side is less active. This causes an imbalance within the Immune System and provides an opportunity to turn on an Autoimmune Disease.
Different Sex Hormones can effect the TH 1 and TH 2 Pathway balance too. Estrogen and Progesterone push the Immune Function further to the TH2 side and DHEA and Testosterone do the opposite, push the Immune System to favor the TH 1 pathway. Since different Autoimmune diseases overstimulate one Immune Pathway over the other, it was discovered that in some Autoimmune Diseases, Sex Hormones could counteract the effects of an Autoimmune disease by balancing out this TH 1 and TH 2 See-Saw.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Systemic Lupus are the two main Autoimmune diseases we know most about that can actually be altered by the use of Sex Hormones.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is known to have an overactive T-Helper 1 Pathway. During pregnancy when Estrogen and Progesterone rise, the Pathway is shifted over to the T-Helper 2 Pathway, helping balance an overactive TH 1 pathway. This allows women to enjoy a remission in their symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis during Pregnancy. Unfortunately these women often suffer from a relapse within a year following pregnancy when Estrogen and Progesterone plummet back to their more usual lower levels. Then fast-forward to Menopause when Estrogen and Progesterone decline even further, Rheumatoid Arthritis often worsens. This is why women with Rheumatoid Arthritis improve with Hormone Replacement during menopause, (and always).
Systemic Lupus has also been very carefully studied regarding Sex Hormones. Lupus is manifested with an overactive T-Helper 2 Pathway. (Opposite of Rheumatoid Arthritis.) During Pregnancy, when Estrogen and Progesterone increase, the T-Helper 2 Pathway is stimulated even more, causing an even Greater imbalance between the TH 1 and TH 2 Pathways, and Lupus worsens.
This led to the research of what Androgen Hormones would do for women who suffer from Lupus because DHEA and Testosterone Stimulate the Opposite Pathway than Estrogen and Progesterone! And sure enough, women with Systemic Lupus, BENEFIT from both DHEA and Testosterone! These Androgen Hormones push the pathway toward TH 1, thus providing a better Immune Function balance between the two pathways.
As few as 10 years ago, researchers were excited about this discovery between the TH 1 and TH 2 pathways and how Sex Hormones could be used to help balance these Pathways, calm the symptoms of these conditions, and actually reduce the entire Autoimmune response. Researchers set out to determine which Immune Pathway numerous other Autoimmune conditions favored in hopes that they could "push" the pathway in the opposite direction with Sex Hormones. But this simply didn't pan out.
For instance, Sjogren's Syndrome and Scleroderma are Autoimmune Diseases that have a dominant TH 2 pathway like Systemic Lupus - but unlike Lupus, the symptoms of Sjogrens and Scleroderma IMPROVE with Estrogen and Progesterone, not worsen like Lupus does. So we know there is more to the picture than hormones alone.
And Hashimotos Thyroiditis and Graves Disease are both dominated but a TH 2 Pathway and though both of these conditions usually result in early menopause, Sex Hormones offer no improvement or cause no worsening of either of these conditions. Again, there is more to the whole picture when it comes to the complicated and vastly unknown Immune System!
But we make it easy for you! Below is an outline of the most common Autoimmune Conditions, dominated by women, with the defined use of Sex Hormones for each of these Autoimmune conditions. You will see that only one Autoimmune Disease dominated by women which should NOT use Estrogen and Progesterone during and after menopause - and that is Systemic Lupus. However, if you have Systemic Lupus, You SHOULD be looking into supplementing with DHEA and / or Testosterone!
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