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Destiny: Is it in the Genes?

ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Women are four-times as likely to develop arthritis, nine-times as likely to have lupus, and twice as likely to have multiple sclerosis. Men, on the other hand, are four-times as likely to develop autism and twice as likely to develop Parkinson's. Why do these diseases affect men and women differently?

"The clinical observation that some diseases are more frequent in men and women is not news to us. The real news is that we're beginning to understand the reasons why that's the case," says Marianne Legato, M.D., who is the founder and director of Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University in New York.

One reason for the years of misunderstanding is that research has mainly involved men. "Men were considered simpler to study because they don't have hormonal fluctuations," says Dr. Legato. "They were considered cheaper, therefore, because we needed smaller groups to study."

In fact, 83 percent of all humans in stress studies were men. When they started to look at women, UCLA psychologist Shelley Taylor, Ph.D., and colleagues found a difference they didn't expect.

Humans, but especially females, cope with stress in large part by caring for their offspring, getting them out of harm's way, ensuring that nothing bad happens to them and by affiliating with a social group," Taylor tells Ivanhoe. She calls this "tend and befriend" and says it may be one reason why women live longer. "When people give or get social support in response to stress, it down regulates stress hormones. What that means is that there's lesser wear and tear on the body."

Dr. Legato is spearheading a push to learn even more about how diseases affect men and women differently. She says the way disease affects us can be different in terms of symptoms, risk factors, the treatment options available, and the outcome from the disease. This includes everything from heart disease to depression, ADHD and autism. One explanation she gives is where a gene comes from. "There is something called imprinting in which certain genes are silenced by virtue of whether they come from the father or the mother," she says.

Another reason has to do with back-up genes. With two X chromosomes to a man's one, women are protected against mental disorders from autism to schizophrenia. UCLA's Art Arnold says men's Y chromosome can also cause trouble. It produces excess levels of the pleasure hormone dopamine, a characteristic of Parkinson's disease.

Dr. Legato says, "There is tremendous difference in the genetic equipment of men and women. The impact of how those genes modify our normal function and how immutable those characteristics are, are really a matter of great discussion now."

And with a better understanding, researchers expect gender will play a big part in the future of medicine, in a positive way.

Dr. Legato says the next step is to educate physicians to consider different ways to treat a condition, depending on whether they're treating a man or a woman. If you're interested in getting involved in a clinical trial, you can visit http://www.clinicaltrials.gov to find out about ongoing research.

Categories: Health & Wellness, Women's Health,

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New FeatureRelated Articles: Autism: What Every Mother Needs to Know, Olympic Cyclist Puts a New Spin on Arthritis Awareness,

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