New study suggests reproductive hormones may play a protective role against COVID.
As of August 2020, worldwide deaths due to COVID-19 totaled over 770,000. However, the virus does not randomly pick its victims. Certain risk factors make a person more likely to suffer or even die from a severe case of COVID-19. Researchers continue to diligently search for specific risk factors so preventive measures can be taken. Thus far doctors have discovered the elderly, heart disease sufferers, and those with sleep apnea are more likely to die due to COVID.
In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, a researcher from the University of Chicago noted a difference in the mortality rates between men and women. Further research indicated men are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than women, leading him to study why is COVID worse for men. The results were published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Using existing research studies, Dr. Graziano Pinna, a research associate professor in psychiatry at the University of Chicago studied why is COVID worse for men. He discovered the reproductive hormones estrogen, progesterone, and allopregnanolone present in women may play a protective role against the COVID-19 virus.
Progesterone is a steroid that affects the immune system and acts as an anti-inflammatory. It also stimulates respiratory tissue repair. Estrogen also plays a role in regulating the immune system. Allopregnanolone is a steroid derived from progesterone that protects the brain from inflammation.
Dr. Pinna’s research suggests that the lack of these reproductive steroids may be why COVID is worse for men and older people. Because men and post-menopausal women do not have the protective anti-inflammatory benefits of the reproductive hormones, they are more likely to develop a severe response to the COVID-19 virus. The protective effects of the hormones have been observed in several cases of pregnant women. These women had mild cases of COVID-19 during their pregnancies, but experienced intensified symptoms soon after delivery, when their reproductive hormone levels fell.
Nutrition may also play a protective role against COVID-19. Diets rich in soybeans, lentils and oats, which contain phytoestrogens that can bind to estrogen receptors, are thought to provide some defense. In a press release Dr. Pinna explained, “Nutrition is very important and there hasn’t been much talk about it. It is important because it is something we can take care of each day to boost the immune system and make our bodies stronger against COVID.”
Written by: Rebecca K. Blankenship
Gadi N, Wu SC, Spihlman AP, Moulton VR. What’s Sex Got to Do With COVID-19? Gender-Based Differences in the Host Immune Response to Coronaviruses. Frontiers in Immunology. 2020;11. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2020.02147
Pinna G. Sex and COVID-19: A Protective Role for Reproductive Steroids. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2020. doi:10.1016/j.tem.2020.11.004
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