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Do sex hormones help women in fighting COVID-19?

Date: 30 April 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

From trends so far, men have appeared likelier than women to die of COVID-19. Reports from the US over the last two days have described trials that will seek to find out whether the answer lies in two sex hormones in women, estrogen and progesterone.

 

Background

Estrogen and progesterone are the two main sex hormones that characterise a woman. Estrogen helps her develop female physical features and also maintains her reproductive system.

Progesterone is secreted by a temporary endocrine gland that the body produces during the second half of the menstrual cycle, and helps prepare the body for possible pregnancy after ovulation.

 

Details

  • Various studies have captured a trend that appears to prevail in many countries and regions. In mid-February, a paper by Chinese researchers analysed data from Wuhan, Hubei, and China as a whole and calculated a fatality rate of 2.8% for men, as compared to 1.7% for women.

  • As for the cause, there have been various since the trend became obvious, including the possibility that women’s sex hormones help them fight the infection better than men.

  • Among other theories related to biology, one draws from the fact that a woman’s genetic makeup consists of two X chromosomes (a man has only one of those).

  • Because X chromosomes contain most of the genes related to the immune system, the inference is that women are better equipped to mount an immune response.

  • Other theories are based on lifestyle and perceptions, men are likelier to smoke and take risks, which could include not taking enough precautions against infection.

  • Now, two teams in the US are testing the theory that these hormones help women fight COVID-19 better. More candidates are being recruited for the estrogen trials.

  • The purpose of this study is to find out if estrogen, given as a patch placed on skin of COVID19 positive or presumptive positive patients for 7 days can reduce the severity of COVID19 symptoms compared to regular care.

  • The counter argument is that, women produce the most estrogen and progesterone during reproductive age, and the levels of both fall drastically after menopause.

  • So, if these hormones were responsible for the lower fatality rate among women, the trend should not have shown itself among older women. However, even elderly women have shown a better survival rate than elderly men.