An emerging study has revealed that balding men are at higher risk of severe COVID infection. The link between the two conditions is so strong that researchers suggest the risk factor be labelled the ‘Gabrin sign’, named after Dr Frank Gabrin, who was the first US physician to die of coronavirus and happened to be bald.
The lead author of the study Professor Carlos Wambier of Brown University, told The Independent:
We really think that baldness is a perfect predictor of severity.
Bald men are more likely to die from a coronavirus infection
Data released from Public Health England suggests that working-class men were twice as likely to die from coronavirus infection than women.
Researchers have questioned why men are more likely to die from COVID, tying the outcome to lifestyle, smoking, immune system differences. However, increasing information suggests that male hormones, known as androgens, could be what’s at fault.
Androgens such as testosterone are linked not only to baldness, but research suggests that androgens also boost the ability of coronavirus to attack the body’s cells.
Two small studies in Spain have so far shown the link between androgens and severe COVID infections. The first study involved 122 patients from three Madrid hospitals and showed that 79% of males suffering from COVID were also bald.
Another earlier study showed that out of 49 COVID patients in a Spanish hospital, 71% were bald. A similar correlation was also found among a small number of women who suffered hair loss due to androgens.
How do androgens affect COVID-19?
Researchers specialising in prostate cancer are also familiar with the risk of androgens as they can also stimulate the enzyme TMPRSS2 that boosts cancerous cells. A paper published Cell back in April showed that the same enzyme could affectCOVID infections.
To infect a cell, COVID-19 uses a spike protein that binds to the cell’s membrane; this process is activated by an enzyme suspected to be TMPRSS2. Scientists don’t yet know if TMPRSS2 reacts the same way to androgens in the lungs as it does in the prostate. However, growing evidence is starting to support this link.
Another study in Italy consisting of 9,280 patients with prostate cancer found that men who were on androgen deprivation therapy were one quarter as likely to contract COVID as those on other medications. Head of Policy at Prostate Cancer UK, Karen Stalbow, revealed:
There have been several recent pieces of research which indicate there may be a link between male hormones and increased risk of Covid-19. This has led some researchers to investigate whether hormone therapies commonly used to treat prostate cancer, such as enzalutamide, could reduce this risk.
Stalbow continued to state that there is still ‘conflicting evidence over whether the hormone therapies have the same impact in the lungs as they would in prostate cells’. More evidence is also needed to discover if hormone therapies could be a treatment for COVID-19.