Oestrogen. Never do we miss this precious hormone as much as we do during menopause. Besides the enormous effect it has on our body concerning menopausal symptoms, it is even more important on a health level. Let’s find out below Why? and How? oestrogen and coronavirus are related.
Well, oestrogen is a super hormone. It protects women in so many ways, that in fact, many diseases are more prevalent in man than women simply because they do not have nor produce oestrogen the same way we do, have or used to have. The first “fun” fact (and I use the word fun lightly), is that there are less affected women by the 2020 pandemic, coronavirus (COVID-19) because of the oestrogen.
Women are less affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
Much research done before this specific coronavirus pandemic, had identified that oestrogen receptor signalling is critical for protection in females compared to males. Oestrogen functions by binding to specific receptors, the so called ‘oestrogen receptors’ (ERs), which in its turn activate processes and/or signalling events that will result in the control of many systems and functions in the body. Generally speaking men generate weaker immune responses and as a consequence are more susceptible to infectious bacteria. Women are the opposite to this. Females mount stronger innate and adaptive immune responses and are relatively resistant to virus infections.
What do innate and adaptive immune responses mean?
Innate Immune Response
The innate immune response consists of physical, chemical and cellular defences against pathogens. These can be virus, bacteria or allergens. The main purpose of the innate immune response is to immediately prevent the spread and movement of pathogens throughout the body.
Adaptive Immune Response
Adaptive immunity is an immunity that occurs after exposure to an antigen either from a pathogen or a vaccination. This part of the immune system is activated when the innate immune response is insufficient to control an infection.
Sex-specific disease outcomes following virus infections are attributed to sex-dependent production of steroid hormones. Men produce androgens while women produce oestrogen. Different copy numbers of immune response X-linked genes (those genes located only on X-chromosome), and the presence of disease susceptibility genes in males and females. While testosterone (the most well-known androgen) suppresses innate immune responses, hormones such as oestrogen have disparate functions, with an immune-suppressive effect at high concentrations (meaning when oestrogen levels are higher in our body) and immune-stimulatory activity at low concentrations.
For every 10 people affected, 8 are men and 2 are women
Oestrogen signalling also promotes adaptive T cell response in females by increasing neutrophil accumulation. In one class of response, B cells secrete antibodies that neutralise the virus. In cell-mediated immune responses, the second class of adaptive immune response, activated T cells react directly against a foreign antigen that is presented to them on the surface of a host cell. So, oestrogen can give a boost to your immune system.
Oestrogen and Coronavirus Outbreak
So what interests us now, in this coronavirus outbreak, data from China and Italy (so far, the most affected countries) demonstrated that men are much more affected by the virus than women. For every 10 people affected, 8 are men and 2 are women. What researchers think, is that oestrogen is protecting women from viruses’ attack. For this specific virus, they still have to understand why. But the evidence is pretty strong: even the women that catch the virus, very few undergo into intensive care compared to men.
What about menopausal women?
So if oestrogen protects us, women after menopause should be more affected, no? Luckily this is not the case: probably even the very low amount of oestrogen produced after menopause is enough for women to be protected against viral infection. Pretty interesting, isn’t it? Instead, there is strong evidence of the protective effects of oestrogen on cardiovascular diseases and bone health. While cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death among women, epidemiologic studies indicate that females before menopause are somewhat protected against the development of CVD when compared to men.
Those are just some of oestrogen’s functions. Oestrogen regulates a plethora of mechanisms in women body, that’s why menopause is such a big change for us. HRT, which helps to regulate oestrogen levels after menopause onset, compensate most of the negative effects due to the lack of this very precious hormone.
Even though our bodies naturally try to protect us from harm, this does not mean we are immune. Please follow all the advice given by legit medical websites such as the World Health Organization and the NHS.
Sex-based differences in susceptibility to SARS-CoV infection. Rudragouda Channappanavar, Craig Fett, Matthias Mack, Patrick P Ten Eyck, David K Meyerholz, and Stanley Perlman.
The protective role of oestrogen and oestrogen receptors in cardiovascular disease and the controversial use of estrogen therapy Andrea Iorga, Christine M. Cunningham, Shayan Moazeni, Gregoire Ruffenach, Soban Umar, and Mansoureh Eghbali.