Scientists now believe that androgens, the group of male hormones that also cause baldness, actually help the coronavirus to attack cells and could be a major factor in the higher number of male Covid-19 deaths worldwide.
Researchers in Madrid are investigating the interaction between these male sex hormones – such as testosterone – and the coronavirus in Covid-19 patients, with multiple studies already finding that bald men suffer worse cases of the disease than others.
“We think androgens or male hormones are definitely the gateway for the virus to enter our cells,” said Professor Carlos Wambier from Brown University, the lead author of the latest study. “We really think that baldness is a perfect predictor of severity.”
Wambier led two previous studies in Spain, both of which found that men with male pattern baldness were disproportionately hospitalized due to severe coronavirus infection.
In a study of 122 participants, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 79 percent of men who tested positive for Covid-19 across three Madrid hospitals were bald. Another previous study of 41 patients in Spain, cited in the above research, found 71 percent were bald.
It must be noted that these were small-scale studies, and in each case the scientists called for more work to be done before anyone could draw any definitive conclusions.
Elsewhere, Matthew Rettig, a US-based oncologist, has launched a separate trial in three cities testing the effects of prostate drugs – which reduce the levels of androgens – on coronavirus patients.
“Everybody is chasing a link between androgens … and the outcome of Covid-19,” Howard Soule, executive vice president at the Prostate Cancer Foundation, told Science Magazine.
Data since the initial outbreak in Wuhan has shown that men are more likely than women to die if they contract the coronavirus, while Public Health England recently found that working-age males were twice as likely as women to die after being diagnosed with coronavirus.
“However, most of the research so far has been in the lab, and there is conflicting evidence over whether the hormone therapies have the same impact in the lungs as they would in prostate cells,” said Karen Stalbow, head of policy at Prostate Cancer UK.
If a causal link is definitively proven, the finding could one day be named the ‘Gabrin Sign,’ after the first US physician to die of the illness in the US, Dr Frank Gabrin – a bald man.