New research suggests men with low testosterone levels who contract COVID-19 are more likely to die from the virus.

Scientists in Germany have been looking at why global death figures indicate men are more likely to die as a result of COVID-19 than women, and the role testosterone – the male sex hormone which helps to monitor the body’s immune response – plays in this is coming under the microscope.

A study of the first 45 COVID-19 patients admitted to the intensive care unit of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf has started to shine a light on just why men may be more vulnerable than women to the virus.

From this group of 35 men and 10 women, nine men and three women died. Seven of the patients needed oxygen and a further 33 were placed onto ventilators.

More than two thirds of the men (68.6 per cent) recorded low levels of testosterone while 60 per cent of female patients had raised testosterone levels.

Scientists have been working on a theory that low levels of the signalling molecule in men can negatively impact on the body’s ability to successfully fight off a pathogen. This can generate what is known as a ‘cytokine storm’, a hyper-inflammatory condition caused by an overactive immune system.

This extreme homeostatic reaction has been reported in many patients diagnosed with COVID-19 and can lead to severe lung damage and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

In the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, scientists concluded: “With SARS-CoV-2 continuing to infect humans worldwide, it was repeatedly reported that men with Covid-19 are at higher risk to develop severe and even lethal outcome compared to women, independent of age. Thus, it has become of utmost importance to understand why men are more likely to die from Covid-19 than women.”

Professor Gülsah Gabriel, who was involved in the research, added: “Men with normal testosterone levels do not present a cytokine storm and thus are more likely to survive.”

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