The Immunity Effects of Estrogen Against Covid-19
One surprising aspect of the Covid-19 pandemic is the differences in how the virus is affecting genders. As we discussed in our last blog, women are more likely to see detrimental effects on their mental health due to the forced isolation many of us are having to undergo. Rates of depression, anxiety, and insomnia are all on the rise for women- while the same cannot be said for men.
But while men are feeling less negative effects on their mental health, the same cannot be said for their physical health. Men are much more likely to be infected with Covid19. One study showed that out of a sample of 162,000 Covid-19 patients, 74% of those were men. Another study found that men had a higher rate of “laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 infection, hospitalization, ICU admission, and death.” Men actually have a Covid-19 death rate three times higher than that of women, cited here.
But why is that? The answer might surprise you.
A study published by Elsevier worked to explore the potential immunity provided by estrogen against certain viral infections and Covid-19. Estrogen has powerful effects on our immune system and how it reacts to pathogens that enter our body. Researchers have already known estrogen to have immune-like effects on diseases like influenza, SARS, and MERS. Estrogen affects how our body reacts to pathogens by regulating levels of stress in the infected cells.
Estrogen’s Role in our Immune Systems
Estrogen influences the number of white blood cells our body creates and if our immune system reacts proportionately to the pathogen. Our immune system has to produce just enough immune cells to successfully fight off the pathogen- too little causes the virus to “win”, too many causes the body to fight against itself. Cytokine storm is a key indicator of the immune system producing too many white blood cells and hurting itself in the process of fighting against a virus.
Cytokines are chemicals used by immune cells to communicate with each other. The chemical triggers localized inflammation that then alerts white blood cells to destroy pathogens. But in some instances, our immune system can overreact to a virus and produce too many cytokines. This occurrence is known as a “cytokine storm.” One study pointed to cytokine storms causing “severe deterioration” in Covid-19 patients due to rapid development of acute respiratory distress syndrome- in which the lungs cannot provide enough oxygen to the body’s vital organs. Estrogen regulates the amount of cytokine the immune system produces, helping the body to react efficiently and successfully against a pathogen like Covid-19.
But What About Menopausal Women?
Unfortunately for menopausal women, the lack of estrogen has detrimental effects on their reaction to Covid-19 and other pathogens. Studies have demonstrated the risk of dying from Covid-19 increases with age. We also know that as women age, estrogen levels decline. A study that tracked Covid-19 symptoms found that menopause may affect women’s immunity to the disease and that they are more susceptible to severe symptoms.. This suggest that estrogen acts as a protective agent. It can also be surmised that if post-menopausal women take an estrogen supplement to keep their levels regulated, it will help reduce their reaction to a Covid-19 infection.
But What About Men?
Though the studies for the protective effects of estrogen against Covid-19 seem like strong evidence for everyone to increase their estrogen levels, we aren’t suggesting an estrogen supplement to men just yet. Although back in May, a hospital in New York introduced an estrogen trial to men and women with severe Covid-19 infections. The patients were given an estrogen patch for a week to see if the introduction of estrogen could dampen their immune response. Unfortunately, results from this novel solution to Covid-19 have not been published yet.