Are more men dying of coronavirus from testosterone? Prostate cancer experts believe that the sex hormone plays a crucial role in infecting cells with viruses
- Twice as many men die from coronavirus than women in a confusing pattern
- Some scientists have believed that testosterone could make all the difference
- Patient cells are less likely to be infected if they are given a testosterone-reducing drug
- Testosterone increases the levels of a protein called TMPRSS2, which is involved in prostate cancer. It is also used by coronavirus applications to unlock cells.
- Here's how you can help people affected by Covid-19
Testosterone could be the main reason why so many men die from coronavirus, doctors believe.
Twice as many men succumb to the disease as women in a pattern that has stunned scientists around the world.
Although theories put forward to explain the difference suggest that men smoke more often and there is a possibility of genetic differences that make their immune systems weaker than women, this could be easier.
Prostate cancer experts have now found interesting evidence that the sex hormone testosterone appears to play a vital role in accidentally helping the virus infect cells.
Italian physicians found that prostate cancer patients who were given powerful medications known as androgen deprivation therapy to radically lower testosterone levels died four times less likely to die of Covid-19 than those who did not.
Testosterone increases the level of a protein called TMPRSS2, which is involved in prostate cancer. Scientists have recently discovered that the coronavirus also uses this protein to “unlock” cells.
Stock Image: A man takes an enzalutamide pill that blocks the effect of testosterone on prostate cancer cells. Such treatments could be used to help coronavirus patients
Now doctors at the London Institute for Cancer Research are continuing to investigate the connection, while colleagues at the University of California at Los Angeles regard testosterone-blocking drugs as a potential Covid-19 therapy for hospital patients. Professor Nick James of the London ICR said it was "biologically plausible" that testosterone made men more susceptible to the corona virus.
He explained: “One of the proteins that the virus appears to bind to in the lungs is TMPRSS2. It is a kind of lock and key: after it is bound to this protein, it offers the virus a way into the cell.
"They would therefore predict that men treated for prostate cancer and lowering their testosterone levels should be protected [ie most men] compared to men who do not receive such treatments."
Prof. James is currently investigating data from around 8,000 NHS prostate cancer patients in a study he conducted to determine whether those who received hormone reduction therapy were less likely to be hospitalized with Covid-19.
The use of such drugs as a coronavirus treatment is one possibility, but not easy to take due to their serious side effects.
"Taking these drugs is the male equivalent of menopause," he said. As a result, their use as a large-scale preventive was a non-starter. "You would almost certainly do more harm than good," he added.