Men may not have been dealt an equal hand when it comes to immunity. Dr. Maya Saleh, of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, reports in a new study that women have a more powerful immune system than men. In fact, the production of estrogen by females could have a beneficial effect on the innate inflammatory response against bacterial pathogens. Her findings were published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Specifically, estrogen naturally produced in women seems to block the production of an enzyme called Caspase-12, which hinders the inflammatory process. The presence of estrogen would therefore have a beneficial effect on innate immunity, which represents the body’s first line of defense against pathogenic organisms. “These results demonstrate that women have a more powerful inflammatory response than men,” explained Dr. Saleh.
Because the experiments were conducted using a human gene, the researchers consider these results to be applicable to humans. They hypothesize that the female innate immune system might have evolved to better protect women’s reproductive role. Interestingly, the positive effect of natural estrogen on our resistance to infection is also exhibited with synthetic hormones such as 17-beta-estradiol. The new findings might therefore open the door to new therapeutic applications that reinforce the immune system, but a question remains: will men be amenable to the idea of being treated with an exclusively female hormone?