Why Women Are More Likely to Survive the Coronavirus and What That Has to Do with Your Hashimoto’s
If you have Hashimoto’s, your immune system can feel like the enemy. When it gets excited, it rampages through your body, igniting inflammation, zapping your energy, gunking up your thoughts, and using your poor thyroid as a punching bag. But can your overly strong immune system actually be a blessing in disguise? When it comes to the scary coronavirus pandemic, the answer may be yes.
Women are far more likely than men to suffer from Hashimoto’s, and they bear the brunt of all autoimmune diseases. In fact, 78% of autoimmune sufferers are women! Interestingly, emerging data has started to show that women are much less likely to die from the coronavirus and to suffer extreme systems. Scientists have started to develop a range of theories on why women seem to be overcoming COVID-19 in much greater numbers, but part of the answer could relate back to the differences in how the immune system of men and women work.
Let’s take at how the same factors that could be protecting women from the coronavirus could also make them more vulnerable to Hashimoto’s disease.
[Important note: Just because men are more likely to suffer worse outcomes from a coronavirus infection, does not mean women are immune. Unfortunately, plenty of women are dying as well, so take precautions! That means washing your hands, wearing a mask in public, and limiting your contact with others as much as possible, especially if you are part of the vulnerable population.]
Why Are Men Dying of Coronavirus?
As of this writing, the coronavirus continues its march across the globe. So far, over three million people around the world have been sickened, with nearly a quarter–million succumbing to the virus. As scientists have started to dig into the numbers, a startling trend has emerged.
Men are getter sicker than women, and they’re also dying in greater numbers from the virus. According to a report from the academic research group Global Health 50/50, men in some countries are up to 80% more likely to die of the coronavirus than women. Here in the United States, men represent 57% of coronavirus deaths. Out of 70 countries listed in the report, only two (Portugal and Armenia) have reported a higher percentage of female deaths than male deaths.
Not only are men perishing at notably higher rates than women, but the coronavirus seems to hit them harder in general. An article published in Today.com at the end of March found that men represented 40,000 hospitalizations for coronavirus in New York compared to 34,000 female patients.
Scientists and researchers have come up with a number of theories to explain why men may are getting pummeled by the coronavirus. Men smoke at much greater rates than women, which can leave their lungs weakened and susceptible to respiratory ailments. In many countries, men are more like to suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity; all conditions correlated with worse outcomes in the event of a coronavirus diagnosis.
All of these factors surely play a role in the more deadly outcomes for male coronavirus patients, but can they explain all the differences? Many researchers think the answer is no. One big factor that might be shielding women from the worst the coronavirus has to offer could be their stronger immune systems.
Do Women Have Super Immune Systems?
In a fascinating opinion piece in the New York Times, physician and scientist Sharon Moalem (a male, for the record), lays out why women are surviving the coronavirus in much greater numbers compared to their less fortunate male peers.
According to Dr. Moalem, this situation isn’t an anomaly. In fact, it demonstrates something that more and more scientists have started to realize over the past few decades. “When it comes to survival,” Dr. Moalem writes, “men are the weaker sex.”
Dr. Moalem explains that, “This isn’t just the case during once-in-a-lifetime pandemics. This innate biological advantage is apparent at every age and stage of human life.” Baby girls are more likely to reach their first birthday than male infants. Of all those lucky enough to see their 100th birthday, 8 in 10 centenarians are women. Even when controlling for education, drug consumption (including alcohol and tobacco), and economic factors, women still outlast their menfolk.
Why is this, and what does it have to do with the coronavirus or Hashimoto’s? Dr. Moalem believes that women’s secret to survival has to do with their double X chromosomes. In case it’s been a while since you took biology class, women are born with two X chromosomes, while men have an X chromosome and a Y chromosome.
X chromosomes offer a variety of helpful functionalities. For instance, they play a role in building and maintaining the body’s immune system. Dr. Moalem believes that women have a genetic immunity advantage because their bodies can utilize the best aspects of two X chromosomes, while men must rely on only a single X chromosome.
As Dr. Moalem writes in his piece:
“It’s not just that women have a spare X chromosome to swap in. Rather, the more than 2,000 genes that, combined, make up the two X chromosomes, are used by cells that actually interact and cooperate within a woman’s body. Each cell predominantly uses one X chromosome over the other—so if one X chromosome has genes that are better at recognizing invading viruses like Covid-19, for instance, immune cells using that X can focus on that task, while immune cells using the other X chromosome focus on, say, killing cells infected with Covid-19 instead, making the fight against the virus more efficient.”
Pretty neat, huh?
Dr. Moalem also points out that even our hormones can play in our favor. While testosterone has been shown to suppress the immune system, estrogen is known to stimulate the immune system. No wonder, some doctors are beginning to wonder if we should inject men with estrogen to protect then from the coronavirus.
All in all, women benefit greatly from our super immune systems. We’re less likely to get cancer and more likely to survive trauma as an article in Live Science reports. The article, written in 2011, also mentions that some reports indicate women may not get as sick from bacterial and viral infections.
You don’t say!
Unfortunately, there is a downside to having a super immune system. That that downside is called Hashimoto’s.
Too Much of a Good Thing
In his opinion piece, Dr. Moalem suggests that “the cost women seem to pay for having a more aggressive immune system, one that’s better at battling both malignant cells and invading microbes, is being more prone to autoimmune diseases.”
In essence, the immune systems of some women are so strong that they end up attacking her own body, including her poor thyroid! That would certainly explain why women are far and away more likely to suffer from autoimmune diseases, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and Hashimoto’s just to name a few.
Hashimoto’s is caused by a number of factors. We know there is a genetic link (you are far more likely to develop Hashimoto’s if a family member has an autoimmune disorder) and that the condition can be triggered by environmental toxins and even the things you eat. Now, you can add your two X chromosomes to your guilty parties list.
It’s great that your X chromosomes may be able to spare you from the worst of the coronavirus and help you rebound from other illnesses in the future, but that doesn’t help you with your Hashimoto’s!
While you cannot change your genetic sex, you can take actions to reduce and manage your Hashimoto’s symptoms. If you want to thrive (not just survive) with Hashimoto’s, learn more about the ThyroSisters Freedom Programs. You can also receive more information in my free guide here.
In the meantime, be safe and be kind to yourself and everyone in your home and community. We could all use more kindness right now.