JAN 27, 2016 2:43 PM PST

Estrogen Helps Women Beat the Flu Faster Than Men

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
Females are not the weaker sex when it comes to battling the flu virus, says a new study. Published in the American Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, the study reports that estrogen protects against the flu virus in women, but not in men.
 
Estrogen protects against flu virus, men not so lucky

 Estrogen is considered the ultimate female hormone, as it is the natural chemical responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system. In addition to these uniquely “female” roles, the hormone has been found to decrease the replication of some viruses, including HIV, Ebola, and hepatitis. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health wondered whether this hormone could also dampen the effects the common flu virus.
 
In a simple and elegant experiment, a team of scientists, led by Sabra L. Klein, Ph.D., tested viral replication of the influenza A virus from nasal passage cells collected from male and female volunteers. The cells were exposed to different types of estrogens, and then infected with the seasonal influenza A virus.
 
They found that all types of estrogens, including selective estrogen receptor modulators and bisphenol A, decreased the virus' replication by nearly a 1,000-fold compared to cells not exposed to the hormones. Additionally, the replication decrease was more significant in women more than in men.

What makes our study unique is two-fold. First, we conducted our study using primary cells directly isolated from patients, allowing us to directly identify the sex-specific effect of estrogens. Second, this is the first study to identify the estrogen receptor responsible for the antiviral effects of estrogens, bringing us closer to understanding the mechanisms mediating this conserved antiviral effect of estrogens. Sabra L. Klein, study lead.

Estrogen, though known as a female hormone, is also produced by males. However, the levels of this hormone in men are low and consequently, their cells don’t have as many estrogen receptors. And if the antiviral effects happen through the estrogen receptors, then it may explain why men aren’t as protected as women.
 
Can estrogen have a population-wide effect in protecting women from the flu? Researchers think this scenario is unlikely because normal estrogen levels fluctuate in women every month.
 
But these results could be very good news for people who are currently taking the estrogen, either for contraceptive purposes, hormone replacement therapies, or as part of infertility treatments. "If women are taking estrogen-like hormones for other reasons, an added benefit might be less susceptibility to influenza during the flu season," Klein says.
 
So, in one fell swoop, this study vindicates women for being the stronger sex, and confirms men’s enduring claims that the flu is worse for them. Perhaps these conclusions are already too obvious to some of us, but hey – it’s always nice when science backs up what we suspected all along!
 
Additional source: The American Physiological Society press release
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
NOV 09, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Potential Problems with Liquid Biopsies
NOV 09, 2020
Potential Problems with Liquid Biopsies
Liquid biopsies are tests that look for biomarkers in the blood, which can help inform the treatment of cancer. The tool ...
NOV 24, 2020
Cancer
Using Restfulness as a Metric for Measuring Sleep Quality and Cardiovascular Risk
NOV 24, 2020
Using Restfulness as a Metric for Measuring Sleep Quality and Cardiovascular Risk
Did you know sleeping is great? Apparently, getting a full eight hours every night can make you look fabulous and solve ...
NOV 26, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Routine Diagnostic Tests Linked to a 59 Percent Increase in Testicular Cancer Risk
NOV 26, 2020
Routine Diagnostic Tests Linked to a 59 Percent Increase in Testicular Cancer Risk
New research has revealed that exposure to radiation from diagnostic procedures such as X-rays could contribute to an el ...
DEC 15, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Who Should Get the COVID Vaccine First?
DEC 15, 2020
Who Should Get the COVID Vaccine First?
Drug developers’ frantic hunt for vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 has finally begun to bear fruit, with several vaccin ...
JAN 12, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Portable Sequencer Ensures All the Cancer Cells Are Gone
JAN 12, 2021
Portable Sequencer Ensures All the Cancer Cells Are Gone
Surgeons remove a tumor from the abdominal cavity of a patient. But how can they be certain that all the cancer cells we ...
JAN 19, 2021
Cardiology
Looking to the Immune System for Help Diagnosing Carotid Stenosis
JAN 19, 2021
Looking to the Immune System for Help Diagnosing Carotid Stenosis
Everyone has seen a commercial about how bad fats can build up into a plaque into a blood vessel. This is called atheros ...
Loading Comments...