Estrogen is the term used to describe any of several steroid hormones which are responsible for maintaining the female secondary sex characteristics and a lack of them can result in female infertility. Although both males and females have estrogen hormones in their bodies, estrogen hormones are produced primarily in the ovaries and are therefore much more prominent in females.
Numerous studies have found that women have a tendency to heal slower than men, and statistical data has found that more women than men suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Up until recently, the exact reason why women’s bodies heal damage slower and why they are more susceptible to inflammatory disorders has remained a mystery. However, a recent ground breaking study conducted by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, has found that higher levels of estrogen hormones are at least partially to blame.
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Karsten Gronert, Ph.D., and her colleagues at Berkeley, caused mild damage to the front of the eyes of genetically similar female and male mice and used image analysis to analyze the wound healing response. In order to assess the role of estrogen in wound healing, the scientists gave some of the male mice drugs that turn-on specific estrogen hormones and/or estrogen containing eye drops. Using a mass-spectrometry based lipidomic method, the scientists then examined the formation of protective lipid signals—a signifier for wound healing. The scientists found that the presence of estrogen hormones interrupted “15-lipoxygenase-Lipoxin A4,” which is a highly evolved protective lipid circuit. Previous studies have found that 15-lipoxygenase-Lipoxin A4, is an important mechanism that helps to keep inflammation in check and it not only promotes wound healing, it also helps to protect against the development of many diseases. The male mice that were not given the estrogen drops did not experience a 15-lipoxygenase-Lipoxin A4 interruption, and consequently, they had a dramatically improved injury response.
The Estrogen, Inflammation and Wound Healing Connection
Excess inflammation results in chronic wounds and an inability of one’s body to repair physical damage. This is not the first study linking the presence of estrogen hormones to increased inflammation, another study which was published in Endocrine Reviews Journal (August 2007) also found that certain estrogen hormones are pro-inflammatory, in other words, they encourage inflammation.
The Berkeley study has given an important clue as to how estrogen affects molecular pathways which promote inflammation. In addition, it “goes a long way to explaining gender differences in inflammation and its resolution,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the FASEB Journal. “We hope that our finding will spur research efforts into delineating sex-specific differences and estrogen regulation of intrinsic circuits that determine the outcome of healthy and routine injury responses,” added Gronert.
This study is fascinating, however there is no real solution to this issue because reducing estrogen hormones in females is like playing with fire and it can cause damage to the female sex organs and even infertility. Nevertheless, Gronert and her associates are optimistic that this new understanding of estrogens’ role in injury response, will help scientists to develop a future methodology that will help to treat and/or prevent the development of diseases which are female-specific.