MEN are dying of coronavirus at twice the rate of women because of testosterone, medics believe.
The disease appears to be particularly dangerous for men, who are losing their lives at almost double the rate of women.
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Baffled scientists have suggested the reason for the difference could be men being more likely to smoke, or the possibility of genetic differences that make their immune systems weaker than women’s.
However, it’s now believed the true reason could be a sex hormone, the Daily Mail reports.
Prostate cancer experts have unveiled evidence which suggests testosterone could play a crucial role by inadvertently helping the virus infect cells.
Researchers in Italy say prostate cancer patients given powerful drugs to cut testosterone levels were four times less likely to die of Covid-19 than those not taking the treatment.
They think that’s because testosterone drives up levels of a protein called TMPRSS2, which is significant in prostate cancers.
Now, it’s believed that coronavirus also uses this protein to ‘unlock’ cells.
Medics at London’s Institute for Cancer Research (ICR) are examining the link further.
Scientists at the University of California in LA are also looking at testosterone-blocking drugs as a potential Covid-19 therapy for patients in hospital.
Professor Nick James, of London’s ICR, said: “One of the proteins the virus appears to bind to in lungs is TMPRSS2.
“It’s a sort of lock and key thing: having bound to this protein, it provides the virus with a route into the cell.
“You would therefore predict that men on treatments for prostate cancer that reduce their testosterone levels should be protected [from coronavirus] relative to men who are not on such treatments – meaning most men.”
Academics will scour data from 8,000 NHS prostate cancer patients to see if those on hormone reduction therapy have been less likely to be hospitalised with Covid-19.
Using such drugs as a coronavirus treatment is a possibility, he said, but not one to be taken lightly due to their serious side effects.
“Being on these drugs is the male equivalent of going through the menopause,” he said.
Wide-scale use of the drugs as a coronavirus treatment “would almost certainly cause more harm than good”, he said.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has recently released data which shows men had a ‘significantly’ higher rate of death from the virus than women in all of the older age groups.
Scientists also believe men may be more likely to die because their blood contains higher levels of an enzyme used by the virus to infect healthy cells.
Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, or ACE2, is found in organs like the heart and kidneys – and is thought to play a role in how Covid-19 progresses into the lungs.
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Men have a higher concentration of ACE2 in their blood than women.
In addition to possibilities that men smoke more and have less robust immune systems than women,
health officials have suggested that men might not be as conscious of washing their hands as women.
The virus is known to spread easily through contact.
In the UK, the coronavirus death toll has reached 36,675.
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