There are a number of diseases that tend to steal the spotlight for differences in health. It has been said that heart disease is the number one killer of men and women, but it mostly affect an especially large number of women and people of color. A new study reveals that the female hormone, estrogen may be able to protect the kidneys.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Judith Lechner of the Medical University of Innsbruck in Austria, told Medical Daily that female mice and rats were found to less likey have renal or kidney damage compared to males. She also said that when researchers surgically removed the animals’ ovaries, the female rats lost that advantage. This led researchers to conclude that the key to the advantage is the estrogen. And although the hormone can also be found in men, the amount is not as pronounced as it is in women.
“Since such literature reports argued for a role of female sex hormones in kidney disease, we thought that actions of the hormones on normal renal tissue might provide protective effects, making kidneys less susceptible to damage,” Lechner said.
According to the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, to put this theory to test, Lechner and her colleagues analyzed if hormonal changes due to a woman’s menstrual cycle will affect the health of kidney cells. For the study, they signed up 11 healthy, unmedicated, and naturally ovulating women between the ages 25 and 44. They also signed up six menopausal women age 57 to 64 and eight men aged 24 to 73 to act as their controls.
The participants of the study submitted daily urine samples so the authors could measure for enzymes that are excreted when kidney cells are damaged. Findings showed an increase in enzymes during ovulation and menstruation, while these are lowered in women after menopause and in men.
“This result suggests that cyclical changes of female hormones might affect renal cell homeostasis, potentially providing women with an increased resistance against kidney damages,” Lechner said. She also said that homeostasis helps regulate temperature and balance the levels of alkalinity and acidity. The continuing changes of sex hormone levels brought by the natural menstrual cycle may also be involved in the periodic tissue remodeling, not only in the reproductive organs but to a certain extent in the kidneys as well.
Lechner hypothesizes that estrogen might help to replace damaged cells. During cycle phases of high estrogen exposure, kidney cells might be induced to grow, she explained, “while at time points of decreasing estrogen levels damaged or simply older cells might be discarded into the urine.”
However, the study is not saying that estrogen is the sole reason fewer women develop kidney disease and failure. Their enzyme levels match men’s once they go through menopause, which definitely argues for the importance of the female hormones – but this could also be a matter of age.