There are so many things that we still don’t know about the SARS-COV-2 virus and the COVID-19 disease that it causes.
One aspect that has piqued my curiosity is the gender disparity and looking at why men seem to have a higher severity of symptoms and higher rates of fatality (approximately double) compared to women.
Although most data is questionable at this point, and this analysis completely disregards the spectrum of non-binary gender identities, there does seem to be a repeating trend that may shed some light as we try to learn more. Numbers out of China, Italy, Spain and the US all show that while women and men both contract the virus fairly equally, men have more severe symptoms and are more likely to die. Interestingly, this trend was also seen with other severe coronaviruses like SARS and MERS.
I’ve even heard of two studies that are just getting started, one in NY and one in LA, that will be looking at treating men with estrogen or progesterone to see if the female hormones are providing some kind of protection.
What’s giving women the advantage???
It’s probably not only the hormones though. Since this virus is affecting people over 60 more severely, many of the women who are faring better than their male counterparts are post-menopausal and most of those are probably not taking hormone therapy (though I hope they’ll look at that detail in future analysis). There must be additional factors that contribute to the difference, but in any case, I’m interested to see the results of these studies and I wonder if hormone therapy will provide any protection.
As I’ve been reading about this disparity, it seems to me there is likely to be a combination of both biological and lifestyle factors at play.
Here’s what I’ve read that women have, in general, that are possibly helping…
- Hormones: Estrogen or progesterone
- Two X chromosomes (X have more immune genes than Y)
- More robust initial immune response to fight the virus before symptoms get worse
- More likely to seek testing more often and catch it early
- More likely to seek treatment sooner in the course of the disease
- Lower incidence of underlying conditions such as heart and lung disease
- Lower rates of smoking and drinking
- More likely to wash hands and practice caution
Some of these are population-based generalizations, but I do think it’s a worthy public message to encourage men to get tested and seek help early on if they have had an exposure or start feeling symptoms.
And one thing that I keep coming back to again and again is that everyone, male or female, should be proactively reducing or preventing heart disease, diabetes and hypertension, as well as lung, kidney, liver and other chronic disease in general. It’s very clear that people with these underlying conditions are at higher risk.
My recommendation?? … see a naturopathic doctor to help to optimize your hormones or boost your overall health!
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