The Effect of Testosterone on Auto-Immune Function and Multiple Sclerosis

Written by Dr. White, Published on April 29th, 2018

Though we ultimately associate Testosterone with libido, masculinity, and sexuality, Testosterone plays an influential role in maintaining and optimizing health. The influence of Testosterone has a significant effect on the incidence and prevalence of a variety of diseases and conditions. For example, men are less prone to osteoporosis than women, because the influence of Testosterone directly contributes to stronger and healthier bones.

It also appears that Testosterone has a strong influence on the prevalence of auto-immune disorders. Women only produce about 1/8th of the Testosterone of their male counterparts, and medical research shows that this leaves women significantly more at risk for conditions related to immune health, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease, and multiple sclerosis. Depending on the situation, women experience auto-immune issues at 3-9 times the rate of men.

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Many auto-immune problems are age-related, only occurring as individuals grow older. Men that do experience these conditions also appear to suffer from them later in life on average than women. It's a highly complex subject. Clinical evidence has strongly suggested that Testosterone played a central role in these sex-differences. Luckily, due to advances in medical knowledge, we're beginning to piece together the puzzle.

What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis is a harrowing medical condition which depletes Central Nervous System function by interfering with the normal operation of neurons. Our neurons are encapsulated by a cell membrane known as the Myelin Sheath. Any condition which breaks down this cell membrane will have detrimental effects on human function and rapidly increases mortality rate. Multiple Sclerosis is an auto-immune disease which is caused by the runaway production of Th17.

Under normal circumstances, the body uses Th17 as a means to fight off infection, but in the case of Multiple Sclerosis, elevated levels of the cytokine wreak havoc on the Central Nervous System, leading to symptoms such as loss of cognitive function, motor control, and tremors. Patients with Multiple Sclerosis have their lives shortened by 7-14 years on average and experience an extreme decline in quality of life.

Animal Research Regarding Testosterone and Multiple Sclerosis

As with most medical disorders, Multiple Sclerosis is a condition that can afflict other mammals, which is a boon to researchers. In a recent study, scientists analyzed how Testosterone modulates Multiple Sclerosis in mice. Unfortunately, Testosterone Therapy is of limited use and availability for female patients for obvious reasons, but by studying the immune cells that are influenced by Testosterone, we can come up with treatments that help women overcome the auto-immune issues that are directly correlated with their lower concentrations of Serum Testosterone.

This research, which was published in a recent publication of PNAS, concentrated primarily on mast cells, which play a role in inflammatory response. The name of the article is Male-specific IL-33 expression regulates sex-dimorphic EAE susceptibility. These cells exist in their highest quantity in human connective tissue. These cells cause the flare-ups associated with an allergic reaction, and their function is suppressed by anti-histamine medication. There are also mast cells in the lymphatic system, and it appears that Testosterone has a direct influence on the inflammatory cells of the lymph nodes, the CNS, and even the brain.

Mast Cells function differently depending upon the sex of the mouse because of the influence of Testosterone. In male mice, these cells aren't nearly as active, but in female mice, mast cells are prone to produce higher levels of inflammation-inducing cytokines. Cytokines are hormones associated with the immune system which send messages throughout the body regarding the body's physiological defense mechanisms. Some of these cytokines amp up an immune response, while others suppress the activity of the immune system.

Testosterone Encourages the Production of Cytokines Which Suppress Inflammation

What researchers discovered when working with mice is that Testosterone encourages the production of a cytokine associated with immune inhibition, meaning that it downwardly modulates the inflammatory response. This cytokine is known as Interleukin 33.

About Multiple Sclerosis, anti-inflammatory cytokines appear to be the body's primary line of defense. In rodents born without Mast Cells, Multiple Sclerosis is more common, in close range of its incidence among females of the species. This means that Multiple Sclerosis is not caused by Cytokines which promote inflammation, but by a lack of activity among Cytokines which suppress immune function.

Current and Future Treatments for Multiple Sclerosis

This research breakthrough is incredibly exciting because it opens the door for future effective treatments for Multiple Sclerosis. Two of the most commonly prescribed drugs for Multiple Sclerosis both work by creating a more masculine immune system—meaning that they encourage the female immune system to have T-Cell Concentrations closer to that of men. Men tend to have more T-Cells that inhibit inflammation than promote it.

Though it's still too early to say with 100% certainty, this new research will most likely lead to vast improvements in the way that we treat multiple sclerosis for both sexes, though mainly for women. Treatments which utilize Interleukin 33 or imitate the effects of this cytokine will have a significant impact on the future of Multiple-Sclerosis treatment, management, and perhaps eventually, even prevention.

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