Why women are less affected than men in diseases such as COVID-19: UNAM

Why women are less affected than men in diseases such as COVID-19: UNAM

Compared to women, men have more cardiovascular problems and are more affected by viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, because both bodies work differently, revealed a study by the UNAM.

Ana Leonor Rivera López, from the Center for Complexity Sciences (C3), and Antonio Barajas Martínez, from the PhD in Biomedical Sciences, headlines of the work published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, stated that the objective of the research was to review the physiological differences between both sexes, using a multidisciplinary approach with the participation of doctors, physicists, mathematicians, chemists and biologists.

One would expect that in addition to the physiological and gynecological differences it would be clear that we have different heart rates, or that the physiological response in general is different, but it is not as well studied. It has attracted attention that with COVID it hits more in men since 60 percent go to the hospital and 65 percent of the deceased are men; then there is an important difference, explained Rivera López.

To fully explore the differences between the two, the researcher from the Institute of Nuclear Sciences (ICN) and her team proposed a network study in which they used 30 variables to measure: sex, age, educational level, systolic, diastolic and pulse pressure; axillary, ear, and wrist temperatures; weight, height, body mass index, waist, hip and arm circumference, skinfolds in triceps, biceps, suprailiac, subscapularis, waist-hip ratio, waist-height ratio, body fat, hydration, fat percentage, triglycerides, cholesterol, glucose.

What’s more, basal insulin, urea, blood nitrogen, uric acid, creatinine, glycated hemoglobin, calcium, phosphorus, direct and indirect total bilirubin, insulin resistance, glomerular fibrillation, estimated average glucose, urea-creatinine ratio, leukocytes, neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, percentage of eosinophils, basophils, erythrocytes, hematocytes, red cell distribution, platelets, platelet volume, and hemoglobin concentration.

“What we do is measure all the variables that we can, we look for correlations and we build a network in the same sense as a communications or internet network is built, but in which heart rate is correlated with respiration, the value of triglycerides, cholesterol, blood sugar and try to see the differences between men and women”, specified the scientist.

For the work, the expert from the Department of Structure of Matter, 800 healthy students and workers from the Faculty of Medicine between 18 and 27 years of age participated, since the main organic differences are manifested in the reproductive age.

One of the highlights of the analysis, Barajas Martínez added, is that the networks made it possible to visualize whether the physiology (functioning of the organs in living beings) it behaves the same or differently and it was possible to show what they called robust or adaptable systems.

Ana Leonor Rivera from the Center for Complexity Sciences (C3) of the UNAM explained why men have greater cardiovascular affectations with COVID-19.
Ana Leonor Rivera from the Center for Complexity Sciences (C3) of the UNAM explained why men have greater cardiovascular affectations with COVID-19.

A robust system is capable of maintaining or resisting disturbances of the environment to prevail and adaptable systems are those that in the face of external shocks are arranged or coupled to offer an answer.

Barajas Martínez explained that among the main findings of the study is that the The balance between robustness and adaptability is different in men and women, which means that “in the event of a disease attack, it is worse for them, than to them”.

“This fits very well with the fact that women have a better life expectancy than men, something that was attributed to cardiovascular problems, but we see that it is not only because of this, but it is a property that extends to the entire physiology of the organism”, detailed the researcher.

Another example of the differences found is heart rate and blood pressure, which are “separate” in men and do not have such a strong relationship; however, in women, many biological processes are directly related to heart rate and pressure.

Namely, if a man has a heart problem it may be the only one, but in the case of women it is most likely related to a liver problem; that is, there are more comorbidities to review in them with respect to what can be found in men.

A disease like COVID-19 that attacks different systems causes more harm in men, with respect to women, because to cause the same damage in them would have to break more bonds or damage more systems. Namely, we are a better organism to react to systemic diseases, but a bad system to deal with a single disease, and the men vice versa”, highlighted Rivera López.

In this sense, the experts agreed that physiologically they have different bodies in the hormonal aspect, because each one is prepared to respond to different systems and stimuli.

Men and women are very different, but as they age, they are similar, so “when a clinical treatment is going to be given to attend a heart problem or diabetes, for example, the dose and medications must consider whether they are a man, a woman, in addition to their age.. We want to draw attention to the fact that they should not medicate us the same”, expressed Rivera López.

Antonio Barajas Martínez, from the doctorate in Biomedical Sciences, explained his work together with Dr. Ana Leonor Rivera, which was published in the journal "Frontiers in Physiology".
Antonio Barajas Martínez, from the doctorate in Biomedical Sciences, explained his work together with Dr. Ana Leonor Rivera, which was published in the journal “Frontiers in Physiology”.

This means that the physiological system of women varies less over time, which is why they are more resilient (they can recover more easily from diseases) than men.

One of the problems you have the pharmacological industry, the experts added, is that the studies focus on men, since it is easier because they do not have menstrual cycles; however, it is necessary to test young women as well.

Long-term follow-up

As part of the study, in which the specialists have been working for five years, it is expected to evaluate the participants again in five more years to give follow-up – in the long term to their state of health.

A patient infected with COVID-19 enters a Covid capsule into the Emergency area of ​​the General Hospital of Zone 1-A "Deer" located south of Mexico City (Mexico). EFE / José Pazos / Archive

“We are now trying to observe how these networks are in people who are already sick, the treatments, comparing the responses in men and women, this is how it can be better evaluated in each case,” said Rivera López.

Additionally, experts from the FM of UNAM, ICN and C3 review with hospitals and institutes how men and women process different health problems, and for this they work in collaboration with their counterparts from the National Institute of Respiratory Diseases with those who have been analyzing asthma cases for two years, in a project that is expected to continue for another ten years.

With the General Hospital of Mexico, a follow-up of patients with COVID-19 is carried out -during 2021 or while the pandemic lasts, as well as the medical personnel who serve on the front line.

In addition, with the Salvador Zubirán National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition patients with metabolic syndrome and diabetes mellitus are reviewed and will be followed for a decade.

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