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
JUN 21, 2022
Clinical & Molecular DX
Childhood Bronchitis Linked to Pneumonia and Lung Issues in Adulthood
JUN 21, 2022
Childhood Bronchitis Linked to Pneumonia and Lung Issues in Adulthood
Over 50 years ago, researchers began gathering data for the Tasmanian Longitudinal Health Study (TAHS). The TAHS, which ...
JUL 01, 2022
Immunology
This Day in Science History - Edward Jenner & The Smallpox Vaccine
JUL 01, 2022
This Day in Science History - Edward Jenner & The Smallpox Vaccine
Smallpox is caused by the variola virus, which can be spread though infectious droplets that are exhaled as people talk, ...
JUL 20, 2022
Cardiology
Light Exposure During Sleep Linked to Obesity, Hypertension in Older Adults
JUL 20, 2022
Light Exposure During Sleep Linked to Obesity, Hypertension in Older Adults
Keeping your bedroom dark at night could have a major impact on your health.
AUG 04, 2022
Clinical & Molecular DX
Artificial Intelligence Shows Promise in Diagnosing Strokes
AUG 04, 2022
Artificial Intelligence Shows Promise in Diagnosing Strokes
Quick identification and intervention is critical in successfully treating a stroke. During a stroke, blood supply to th ...
AUG 07, 2022
Health & Medicine
Antibiotic Resistance Genes of Mothers and Neonates in Low and Middle Income Countries
AUG 07, 2022
Antibiotic Resistance Genes of Mothers and Neonates in Low and Middle Income Countries
A team of international researchers examined the presence of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) in the gut microbiota of ...
AUG 16, 2022
Neuroscience
A Common Denominator Among All Forms of ALS is Revealed
AUG 16, 2022
A Common Denominator Among All Forms of ALS is Revealed
ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a motor neuron disease, which gradually causes a loss of movement. Eventually, pa ...
Loading Comments...