After being overlooked in medical research for many years, sex differences in immune responses are now being seen as a prominent variable in why infectious diseases impact males and females in distinct ways. While most research has been focused on male animals, human studies utilizing both sexes have proven extremely useful when learning why diseases impact males and females the way they do. Knowledge of these hormonal, environmental, and social differences is changing how medical professionals treat their patients.
Hormonal differences may seem obvious when it comes to male versus female immune responses, but knowing the basics of these discrepancies can make a huge impact on how treatment is given. Androgens, estrogen, and progesterone are just some hormones playing a part in why males and females react differently to certain diseases and viruses. The interpretation of these hormones is critical in understanding how the immune system regulates, matures, and modulates pathways of the body. Though many of these immune responses change throughout life, many remain constant and are an important variable in future research.
Since every human interacts with the environment in their own unique way, those interactions must be taken into account when sex differences in infectious diseases are considered. Nutrition plays a big role in how disease impacts the male and female fetus. The placental gene is enhanced by a high-fat diet specifically in female fetuses. Some studies have also shown that the immune responses in breastfed females are more positive than those in breastfed males. Micronutrients are proving to act differently in females and males. Nutrients such as vitamin E supplements, vitamin B, and vitamin C are connected with more female deaths than males. All of these environmental factors show how sex differences in immune responses are a key element in finding the best treatments possible for patients.
Whether the variables are socioeconomic or behaviors personal to the patient, immune responses differ depending on how a person interacts with their world on a daily basis. With male children being preferred over female children in some countries, the activities, immunizations, and basic health needs are met in contrasting ways. These dynamics impact how bodies react to diseases and how the immune system fights those diseases off. Cigarette smoking—and other social drug use—is an essential part of how the body reacts to viruses as well as obesity and exercise. All of these differences are important for medical professionals to take into account when treating patients and handing them the best possible care they can.