Over the past eight months, it has become clear than men are more likely to experience severe Covid-19 symptoms. This has led researchers to wonder – can oestrogen help protect people from the most severe effects of Covid-19?
It seems that the answer is yes, with some nuance.
The COVID Symptom Study app recently added new questions to their app, including queries about birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and menopause, to learn more about oestrogen’s impact on the virus.
According to Dr Karla Lee from King’s College London and NHS England advisor Dr Louise Newson, the male and female immune systems are very different
Oestrogen impacts the immune system, and from preliminary research, seems to lessen the impact of the illness.
It seems that having high levels of oestrogen might protect young women from the worst effects of Covid-19, but this protection starts to dissipate in older women, as they go through the menopause.
As Dr Lee explains, “we have seen through the app data that when women reach their mid to late fifties – which can correspond to the menopause – they too have worse COVID-19 symptoms, like men.”
Do the birth control pill and HRT offer protection?
It’s natural to wonder – if the natural oestrogen in the body offers protection, does HRT and the birth control pill do the same?
Dr Lee has analysed the data. “We hypothesised that the oestrogen-containing combined oral contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy would offer a protective effect against COVID because they contain oestrogen.”
She added a few questions to the COVID Symptom Study app so that they could begin to assess potential links between Covid-19 and oestrogen
New questions asked survey participants if they were on any form of oestrogen therapy or medication.
“We looked at COVID symptoms in similar groups of women before and after the menopause and adjusted for other factors like age and BMI. The data from 150,000 women aged 40-60, who were not taking HRT, supported our hypothesis that postmenopausal women have a higher chance of having symptomatic COVID than their premenopausal counterparts.”
By analysing this data, the app’s team was able to confirm that higher natural oestrogen levels appear to provide protection from hospitalisation due to Covid-19
Similarly, they “saw a very strong protective effect from taking the contraceptive pill for this group of women.” However, at this point, the evidence about HRT and Covid-19 is not strong enough from which to draw robust conclusions.
In conclusion, it appears that the protective effects are limited to natural oestrogen and contraceptive pills
Of course, a much more robust study is needed for more substantial results.
If you would like to contribute your data to this study, download the COVID Symptom Study app. Your anonymous personal information is valuable, even if you don’t have any symptoms and don’t have the virus. You should also download the official NHS Covid-19 Track and Trace app.
What do you think about these results? Have you had Covid-19? We want to hear about your experiences – share your thoughts in the comments or to firstname.lastname@example.org