As the COVID-19 virus spreads around the globe, it’s clear the virus is way more dangerous for older people and folks with underlying health conditions. However, there’s another group whose lives are in danger from this virus that we’re not hearing about.
When men contract COVID-19 they are much more likely to become gravely ill and die than women are. Here’s the alarming story…
I’ve been keeping an eye on this story for some time, but until recently there wasn’t anything definite I could tell you about it.
Initially the increased risk to men from COVID-19 befuddled researchers. And while the full explanation about why men suffer serious consequences from COVID-19 more frequently is still not fully clear, researchers have closed in on some possible explanations.
Double the Risk of Dying
Researchers in China who have analyzed how people are affected by COVID-19 have found that while men and women are equally likely to contract this virus, men have a much higher chance of suffering severe effects from the illness and be killed by it. And among all groups, elderly men are at the greatest risk.
In this study of COVID-19 sufferers in China, more than 70 percent of the patients who died were men, making their death rate almost 2.5 times higher than the death rate for women. Plus, being a man significantly boosted the chances of suffering a severe form of COVID-19 —and that was true in all age groups.1
A study in Europe tried to explain why men suffer more serious effects of COVID-19. It reveals that the answer may be found in the ways the male immune system responds to the virus. Men seem to be more likely to overreact with an inflammatory response that damages the body – and that can be fatal.
In this research, scientists examined the inflammatory proteins and immune cells – particularly white blood cells – in both healthy Western European men and women and in those who had been infected with the disease. They found that in men and women who had not been infected, the factors that can set off inflammation were already higher (as measured in blood tests) in men than women.
So even before infection, men were already more susceptible to harmful – and often dangerous – levels of inflammation. In addition, the tests showed that after infection, men consistently had higher levels of inflammatory factors circulating in the blood.
The Testosterone Factor
Another issue men seem to have with COVID-19 derives from the way the virus affects their testosterone levels.
Research in Turkey shows that COVID-19 depletes testosterone, and this decrease can lead the infection to become more serious and life-threatening.2
“Testosterone is associated with the immune system of respiratory organs, and low levels of testosterone might increase the risk of respiratory infections,” warns researcher Selahittin Çayan. “Low testosterone is also associated with infection-related hospitalization and all-cause mortality in male ICU (intensive care unit) patients, so testosterone treatment may also have benefits beyond improving outcomes for COVID-19.”
Dr. Çayan also observes that as levels of testosterone go down, the severity of infection from COVID-19 goes up. He says that the male patients in his study who died were found to have significantly lower levels of testosterone than the ones who survived.
He adds — “It could be recommended that at the time of COVID-19 diagnosis, testosterone levels should be tested. In men with low levels of sex hormones who test positive for COVID-19, testosterone treatment could improve their prognosis. More research is needed on this.”
Some years ago, our group did extensive research into testosterone and learned that high testosterone is in general associated with longer life and fewer illnesses in men. These COVID findings seem to provide additional confirmation.
Hormones Protect Women
When it comes to women, researchers say it looks like female reproductive steroids such as progesterone and estrogen – which help to regulate the immune system and keep inflammation under control – may help women fight off COVID more effectively.
Graziano Pinna, a researcher at the University of Illinois in Chicago, says that these hormones, which become 100 times more concentrated in a woman’s body during the third trimester of pregnancy to help sustain the pregnancy, may explain why pregnant women exposed to COVID-19 are usually asymptomatic.3
And while he notes that “Pregnant women are 15 times less likely to die from COVID than other women,” as soon as they deliver their baby, and those hormone levels drop, they become much more likely to catch the disease. “Some have even been admitted to the ICU, after delivering their babies because of the rapid drop in these hormones. The correlation was really striking.”
Hormones Could Factor into the Elderly’s Risk, Too
The fact that everybody’s hormones drop with age may also contribute to the increased danger COVID-19 presents to older people.
“This observation in pregnant women provides significant scientific background, not only as to why women are more protected than men, but also why older people are less protected than younger people because we know the older you are, the more decreased your hormones are,” says Dr. Pinna.
He also advocates more research into how nutrition can be used to fight COVID. He says it’s possible that eating foods rich in phytoestrogens like lentils, oat and soy might help the body fight off COVID. Probiotic bacteria in the intestines can convert phytoestrogens to estradiol, a female hormone.
“Nutrition is very important and there hasn’t been much talk about it,” Dr. Pinna says. “It is important because it is something we can take care of each day to boost the immune system and make our bodies stronger against COVID.”