JAN 27, 2016 02:43 PM PST

Estrogen Helps Women Beat the Flu Faster Than Men

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
APR 14, 2018
APR 14, 2018
A Vaccine for When Cancer Forms from Human Retroviruses
A vaccine to prevent leukemia and other diseases of the immune system caused by a specific viral infection is now a very real idea. A new study from Kyoto ...
APR 23, 2018
APR 23, 2018
UroSEEK: Early Bladder and Urothelial Cancer Urine Screening Test Developed to Complement Urine Cytology
New, non-invasive urine screening test called UroSEEK was developed by Johns Hopkins to detect low grade bladder and urothelial cancers using DNA detection methods and technology....
APR 29, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
APR 29, 2018
CRISPR Can Now Edit Genes Outside of the Cell
The CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing tool was made from an immune defense system used by bacteria. Scientists have found it has many applications....
JUN 23, 2018
JUN 23, 2018
In a First, Keystone Virus Sickens a Person
A teenage boy in North Central Florida presented with symptoms that defied diagnosis....
SEP 15, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
SEP 15, 2018
Cancer & Anoikis: A Match Not Made in Heaven
Anoikis have always been intimately entwined with cancer, henceforth the quest to seek how they came to be as such....
OCT 17, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
OCT 17, 2018
Saving Patients From Unnecessary Chemotherapy with a Blood Test
Often, cancer patients get chemotherapy after surgery to ensure that their cancer will not come back; for many it's not needed....
Loading Comments...