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COVID-19 and Hormones- An Update

Coronavirus and women 

Some time ago we published an article related to COVID and hormones. You can find it here. Since then, we have had some updates from scientists who have been keeping an eye on this oestrogen/sex related phenomenon.

Researchers are trying to understand why men and women are responding differently to COVID-19. As we mentioned in our last article hormones seem to play a big role in the development of the virus. It appears that men and women have a different immune system, which allows women to respond better to the infection.

What’s the difference? 

The difference between men and women in the COVID-19 pandemic can be seen not only in the mortality rate but also in the contagion rate. Men are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than women. Men in fact, were more likely to test positive and they also had a higher hospitalisation rate. It seems that men are also more likely than women to need respiratory support, after being admitted to hospital.

Why are there these differences between men and women?

Differences between men and women in response to the virus lies in a combination of genetics, sex hormones and more. It seems that oestrogen plays a protective role in diseases similar to COVID-19. Research done for SARS showed a similar outcome. SARS is a disease closely related to COVID-19. Research related to SARS demonstrated that blocking or removing oestrogen, significantly increased the number of inflammatory cells in the lungs. This results in the increased probability of a worse outcome from contracting the disease.

What about post-menopausal women?

As we know, with menopause, levels of oestrogen decrease progressively, to then stabilise at a “new” level, which is much lower than before, so menopausal women have a lower oestrogen level (if they are not taking HRT). In fact, studies demonstrated an increase in COVID-19 contagion in women aged between 55-60. This would seem to correlate with the protective role of oestrogen in pre-menopausal women.

Why is oestrogen protective?

Oestrogen travels everywhere in our body – it’s present in every cell, and it can have important effects on the immune system. For example, oestrogen influences the number of immune cells that are produced, and this affects the response to infection. 

If the cells in our immune system don’t respond properly to a pathogen, then they produce small proteins called cytokines, which are good because they are able to kill viruses. However, their production can also get out of control and damage tissue. Scientists and medical doctors have associated these so called “cytokine storms” with the severe effects of COVID-19. For the reasons above, oestrogen seems to be able to regulate immune responses, ensuring that immune cells respond in proportion to the threat of infection, and preventing over-reactions to specific infections like COVID-19 that may result in cytokine storms.  

Could oestrogen be a treatment?

If oestrogen can diminish immune responses to COVID-19 by preventing cytokine storms and decreasing severe symptoms from the disease, it may be seen as a potential treatment for COVID-19. It might sound strange, but some researchers are already investigating whether short-term treatment with oestrogen might help.

In New York, oestrogen patches were given to men and women to understand whether increasing oestrogen levels would dampen the immune response. Currently, research is still ongoing in order to get statistically relevant data.

We will keep you posted. But apparently… Oestrogen is always the answer!