Doctors and scientists are working with urgency to understand the coronavirus, and making new observations as more data becomes available. Perhaps you’ve seen some of these observations in the news, including that COVID-19 has been hitting men harder than women, and that pregnant women who contract the virus seem to have milder cases.
This has led to a hypothesis that the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone may play a role in fending off the virus or minimizing the damage it does. We do know that, generally speaking, women have a stronger immune system than men and that sex hormones can affect different steps in the immune system.
To learn more, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University are both conducting trials. Stony Brook will be giving half of the 110 COVID-19 positive (or presumed positive) participants in its study an estrogen patch for a week; the other half will receive standard care.
Meanwhile, Cedars-Sinai will give the 40 participants in their trial progesterone, which affects inflammation. The hope is that progesterone will minimize or prevent an overreaction of the immune system (a cytokine storm).
Hormones are just one possible explanation that COVID-19 is worse for men than women. As we all know, correlation is not causation. But it will be interesting to see what the researchers learn.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.