Women Tend to Have Stronger Immune Systems Than Men

Research suggests that men and women have different capacities to combat illness. While women tend to have stronger immunity, allowing them to fight off infection better initially, it may set them up for long-term health complications later.

In experiments, when both men and women were infected with COVID, it was shown that men tend to have worse symptoms while women have milder ones. However, researchers say men are likely to heal faster, while it may take women a long time to recover completely.

Note that this finding applies to illnesses other than just COVID-19. For example, when examining antibody responses to the flu vaccine, antibodies are at least twice as strong for women than for men. This means women generally have a more robust innate and adaptive immune response, yielding a quicker recovery. But this also means they’re more susceptible to inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

Dr. Dean Blumberg, the chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of California Davis, says, “In general, almost all infections are more severe in males compared to females, and there are just a few exceptions with that, and one is with whooping cough or pertussis.”

However, he goes on to say that if the initial infection is too strong, it can cause damage to the immune system, which can lead to tissue or organ damage, as well as autoimmune disease. “So, that’s the balance that needs to be like Goldilocks,” he added. “It needs to be just right in terms of fighting infection but not causing damage to the host.”

Researchers suggest hormonal and chromosomal differences could be responsible for these different immune responses. Dr. Caitlin McAuley, DO, a physician at Keck Medicine of USC COVID Recovery Clinic, says, “The theory is the effects of hormones, specifically estrogen.”

Hormone receptors exist within the immune system, and hormones impact gene expression. For example, the thymus gland (one of our immune system organs) will change size in relation to estrogen levels in the body. “Estrogen affects not only the development of immune cells but also the chemicals they release called cytokines,” she added.

Chromosomal differences impact immunity, as well. X chromosomes have higher densities of genes that correlate with immunity, giving women a stronger immune response since females have two X chromosomes. In contrast, males have one X and one Y chromosome.

These findings could offer more specialized treatment based on gender moving forward.

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