Do hormones and sex affect COVID-19 differently?

We already know that men have more severe COVID-19 symptoms when infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus than women. In UK, research has found that men are more serious affected, they are more likely to be in the hospital and to require respiratory support than women. According to recent findings, they are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than women. But why?

Why men are more affected by COVID-19 than women?

Women and men respond differently to viral infections due to different immunity system. We know that women have a better immunity response, which makes them better equipped to fight infections.

Could oestrogen play a role?

The difference in responses between men and women might come down to a combination of factors, such as genetics and sex hormones. Research showed that oestrogen is a protective factor against many infections and COVID-19 is included. Oestrogen is been thought to regulate immune responses, ensuring that immune cells respond proportionately. It influences the number of immune cells that are produced, and thus it affects the body’s response to infection.

Although oestrogen is a female hormone, it is also produced by men but in a much lower quantity. This might explain why men are more vulnerable to the virus. Compared to women, they are biologically less equipped to face the infection. As oestrogen increases body’s immunity response, males’ bodies may just not have enough oestrogen to overcome the infection.

A laboratory experiment on female mice showed that removing oestrogen increased the number of inflammatory cells in the animal’s lungs, making them to suffer more serious effects of the disease. Moreover, a research in China, conducted on women hospitalised with COVID-19 found that women with lower oestrogen levels had more severe COVID-19 than women with higher levels of the hormone. 

Are post-menopausal women more at risk? 

The answer is YES. We know that oestrogen decreases as women pass through the menopause. As a consequence, older women will have a lower oestrogen level, which makes them more vulnerable to the infection.

We know already that the risk of infection is higher in older people. We see more women in their 55 -60s reporting COVID-19 symptoms and this corresponds to the menopause and the oestrogen deficiency.

Conclusion

  • Men are more vulnerable to get more severe symptoms of COVID-19 virus than women
  • Oestrogen regulates body’s response to infection. Women’s bodies produce more oestrogen which might act as a protective factor against COVID-19
  • Post-menopausal women that have lower oestrogen level might be more likely to get COVID-19
  • Researchers look into oestrogen therapy to see if this might help to treat COVID-19

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