It’s been 18 years since the landmark Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) initial hormone therapy (HT) results. They gained worldwide attention by throwing HT “under the bus,” alleging the risks outweighed the benefits. I didn’t, and still don’t, endorse that conclusion, because estrogen therapy reduces the risks for heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and osteoporotic fractures among other benefits. Regardless of one’s point of view, almost 80% of women abruptly went off their HT.1 Here, I want to talk about the latest “potential” benefit of estrogen therapy… prevention of COVID-19 infection, and reduction in disease severity. Yes, you heard me, I can’t make this “stuff” up!2,3
The basics are these:
- The severity of coronavirus infection appears to be greater in men than in women.
- Estrogen reduces both influenza virus growth (replication) and the inflammation it causes.
- These benefits of estrogen (replication and inflammation) are eliminated in animals when they lose ovarian function, like menopause, and are restored if those animals receive estrogen.
- Pregnant women have high levels of reproductive hormones, including estrogen. 92% of pregnant Chinese women from Wuhan with COVID-19 had mild symptoms, and the other 8% all recovered from their disease. There were no deaths in pregnant women.
Taken together, estrogen seems to be protective against COVID-19, both the prevention of infection, and reduction in disease severity. So much so that clinicians and scientists from Stony Brook University Hospital in New York have launched a clinical trial using menopausal estrogen patches for the reduction of COVID-19 severity in both women and MEN!4,5 Yes, we are now giving menopausal estrogens to MEN. So, before you throw away your menopausal hormone therapy, think twice, it may be helpful in this COVID-19 pandemic.
- Sprague BL, Trentham-Dietz A, Cronin KA. A sustained decline in postmenopausal hormone use: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2010. Obstet Gynecol. 2012;120(3):595‐603. doi:10.1097/AOG.0b013e318265df42
- Suba Z. Prevention and therapy of COVID-19 via exogenous estrogen treatment for both male and female patients. J Pharm Pharm Sci. 2020;23(1):75‐85. doi:10.18433/jpps31069