Hormones, doctors say.
Men make up nearly 75 percent of the coronavirus patients in intensive care or on ventilators at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Dr. Sara Ghandehari, a pulmonologist, told the New York Times. Meanwhile, infected men in NYC were dying at close to twice the rate of COVID-infected women as of early April, NPR reports.
Estrogen and progesterone are critical to the reproductive system, but scientists have recently learned that these two hormones, which are found in much higher quantities in women, also play an important role in immune support and damaged tissue repair. Thus, biological women may have the upper hand when it comes to beating the coronavirus.
This finding has led medical researchers in China and, more recently, at Cedars-Sinai and the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University to launch a clinical trial for studying hormones as a treatment for COVID-19 patients.
“We may not understand exactly how estrogen works [in this context], but maybe we can see how the patient does,” Dr. Sharon Nachman, from Stony Brook University, told the Times.
The study group at Stony Brook will include 110 either confirmed COVID-19 patients or patients who are presumed to be positive, showing at least one critical symptom, such as high fever, shortness of breath or pneumonia, but who do not require critical care or ventilator support, according to ClinicalTrials.gov.
Men aged 18 and up and women over the age of 55 — once their hormone levels have waned due to menopause — are invited to apply. Half of the participants will wear a patch on their skin containing estradiol, a type of estrogen, for one week; the other half will not.
Alternatively, the Cedars-Sinai trial will involve 40 men with moderate cases of COVID-19, half of whom will be injected with progesterone, rather than estrogen, twice a day for five days. Progesterone is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties which could suppress the so-called “cytokine storm,” causing your immune system to overreact and attack healthy tissue.
Critics warn not to have high hopes for the treatment, as the current study does not take into account the fact that older men are “disproportionately affected” by the coronavirus compared with older women, even though they have more similar hormonal profiles at that age, according to Sabra Klein, who studies how infections impact men versus women at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“That suggests to me it’s got to be something genetic, or something else, that’s not just hormonal,” Klein told the Times, though she later admitted that hormone infusions in men may still provide marginal immune benefits.
“You could get a beneficial effect in both men and women,” she said. “But if women are better at recovery at 93 years old, I doubt it’s hormones.”