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After Studies Show Women Are Less Likely to Die From Coronavirus, Doctors Give Men Female Sex Hormones in New Trials

However, many scientists are skeptical about whether these hormones are why women have fared better in fighting COVID-19 than men.
Shamani Joshi
Mumbai, IN
Doctors Are Giving Some Men Female Sex Hormones After Data Shows Women Are Less Likely to Die From Coronavirus
Photo by Gustavo Fring / Pexels

As scientists scramble to make sense of the novel virus that has taken over our lives and news feeds, we’re seeing that even the smallest signs of hope seem to be translating into trials that want to test the waters to fish out a potential treatment. We saw this happen last week when doctors began giving coronavirus patients nicotine patches after studies showed that smokers seemed more resistant to dying from coronavirus. Now, doctors are doing trials in which men are being given female sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone, after significant data reveals that more men than women have fallen severely ill or died from COVID-19.


While estrogen and progesterone are essential elements for reproduction, scientists have recently learned that these two hormones also play an important role in immune support and damaged tissue repair. Since women naturally produce higher quantities of these hormones in their bodies, scientists now believe this may give biological women an advantage in terms of overcoming coronavirus.

As of early April, reports show that men were dying at twice the rate of women, while case studies across hospitals in China and the US prove that men require more intensive care equipment than women. So, this prompted doctors at the Cedar-Sinai Hospital in California and also those at Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University in New York to initiate trials in small groups to test whether administering the estrogen hormone to men and women above the age of 50 would help improve their severe symptoms of coronavirus.

"We may not understand exactly how estrogen works [to improve coronavirus symptoms], but maybe we can see how the patient does," Dr Sharon Nachman, who's leading the trial at the Stony Brook University trial, told The New York Times.

The Stony Brook trial includes 110 patients with both confirmed and presumed cases of COVID-19. To be eligible for these ongoing tests, the participants must display at least one serious symptom, such as high fever, shortness of breath or pneumonia, but must not need ventilators or breathing support just yet, according to Half the participants are being given an estrogen patch on their skin for one week, while the other half will receive standard medical care, and the results will be compared.


Meanwhile, participants at the Cedar-Sinai trial will be given progesterone instead of estrogen as these hormones are believed to have better anti-inflammatory properties. This study will be undertaken on 40 hospitalised men, who will be given a shot of progesterone for five days and then be monitored to see if their condition improves.

While both these trials plan to study the progress made by people given these female sex hormones, critics remain skeptical about whether this will even work because even elderly women with the virus are outliving their male peers, even though there is a drastic reduction in the levels of these hormones for women after menopause.

“Older men are still disproportionately affected, and that suggests to me it’s got to be something genetic, or something else, that’s not just hormonal,” Sara Klein, a scientist who researches sex differences in viral infections and vaccination responses at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told NYT. While Klein says that these female sex hormones may still improve the immunity of the men they are given to, she is part of the school of thought that believes women show better immunity to coronavirus because of other genetic and behavioural factors—like the research that says men are likelier to smoke and take risks, which could include not taking enough precautions against infection.

“You could get a beneficial effect in both men and women,” she says. “But if women are better at recovery at 93 years old, I doubt it’s hormones.”

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