In mouse studies, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have found that progesterone – a female sex hormone contained in most forms of hormone-based birth control – appears to stave off the worst effects of influenza infection and, in an unexpected finding, help damaged lung cells to heal more quickly.
The findings, published Sept. 15 in PLOS Pathogens, suggest that sex hormones have an effect far beyond the reproductive system and that progesterone may one day be a viable flu treatment for women
The World Health Organization reports that more than 100 million young adult women around the world are on progesterone-based contraception. And women of reproductive age are twice as likely as men to suffer from complications related to the influenza virus.
“Despite the staggering number of women who take this kind of birth control, very few studies are out there that evaluate the impact of contraceptives on how the body responds to infections beyond sexually transmitted diseases,” says study leader Sabra L. Klein, PhD, an associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. “Understanding the role that progesterone appears to play in repairing lung cells could really be important for women’s health. When women go on birth control, they don’t generally think about the health implications beyond stopping ovulation, and it’s important to consider them.”