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Female hormone therapy for coronavirus patients is interesting, but likely not a “miracle cure,” experts say.
Some doctors in Long Island, N.Y., started administering estrogen to COVID-19 patients to strengthen their immune systems. Meanwhile, some doctors in Los Angeles said they’ll soon test progesterone in male COVID-19 patients, hoping its anti-inflammatory properties will reduce an overactive response from the immune system.
Since the coronavirus began its destructive path, women worldwide have shown higher statistics of survival compared to men. Women’s immune systems are also less likely to spark a crazed response, or a cytokine storm, to fight off the coronavirus, which would lead to over-inflammation of the lungs, requiring a ventilator.
The World Health Organization advises there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection; Jonathan Serrie reports.
It’s unclear why women generally have handled the coronavirus better; experts have said it may involve sex and biological differences, gender differences and various hormones’ interactions with the immune system.
One thing two doctors agreed on, however: Women’s immune systems have evolved, in part, due to pregnancy. Bringing a foreign body to life without rejecting it requires a “flexible immune system,” Dr. Jesse Mills told Fox News. Mills is a UCLA associate clinical professor division chief of andrology and urologist specializing in testosterone therapy and research.
Likewise, Dr. Heather Hirsch, an internist at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital specializing in menopausal hormone therapy, agreed that the risks a fetus imposes on a woman have resulted in an evolved immune system.
“Women have more robust immune systems, and also have higher rates of autoantibodies as well,” Hirsch told Fox News.
This hormone therapy “is a shot in the dark, just like every other proposed therapy that has been out there for COVID-19, but researchers do the right thing,” Mills said. “In the age when we’re desperate to find anything that just provides even a small amount of relief, then it makes perfect sense to proceed with these studies using something that has a relatively strong and known safety profile.”
Nursing home facilities face growing concerns during COVID-19 pandemic.
Mills said hormone therapy would pose a limited risk even for mildly infected patients, but if anything, it will provide a “very modest improvement.”
“It is a good idea to study in these controlled environments but is probably not yet the answer,” Hirsch told Fox News. “… I think conducting these studies at large academic institutions to answer these questions in a step-wise manner is definitely worthwhile.”
The New York Times reported on the potential therapies Monday — but did not mention the testosterone variable. As a urologist workings in testosterone therapy and research, Mills questioned how the studies accounted for testosterone, considering how androgen receptors are on the lungs. High or low testosterone levels in men could cause issues in itself, he said.
“… There are so many confounding variables even directly related with [the study participants’] hormone status that [the researchers’ haven’t quite addressed yet,” Mills told Fox News. “I think these are very small studies and it’s going to take quite some time to figure out if you’re going to see any improvement.”
In terms of side effects in males receiving estrogen doses, possibilities include tenderness in the breast and hot flashes, as previously reported, but also a degree of mood instability.
“As a women’s health expert who thinks about sex and gender and hormones all the time, this is a really interesting trend that we’re seeing,” Hirsch said. “This is a good place to investigate and see what happens.”