Researchers in the city of Wuhan, located in central China, are gearing up to conduct a long-term study examining how the coronavirus may impact the male reproductive system, which will supplement the current findings from small-scale research which indicates that the pathogen could adversely impact the levels of sex hormones in men.
Although the study is currently in the preliminary stages and has not yet been peer-reviewed, it would be the first clinical research into the possible negative effects of the coronavirus (Covid-19) on male reproductive health, with a special focus on younger age groups.
Doctors overseeing the research (from Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University and the Hubei Clinical Research Centre for Prenatal Diagnosis and Birth Health) have analyzed blood samples taken from more than 80 men who tested positive for Covid-19 between the ages of 20-54, and who were hospitalized in January.
The median age of the subjects who participated in the study was 38, and about 90% of whom presented only minor symptoms. The participants’ blood samples were taken during the last few days before leaving the hospital.
With these samples in hand, researchers examined the percentage of testosterone relative to luteinizing hormone. A low testosterone to luteinizing hormone ratio can be an indicator of hypogonadism, which is a condition of the testicles causing low testosterone production.
As it turns out, the average ratio of the participants in the study had a ratio of just 0.74, which is only half of what’s considered to be normal levels.
Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in men and is responsible for most male characteristics, such as formation of the testes, body hair, and building bone and muscle mass. Both men and women produce luteinizing hormone, and in women it’s responsible for stimulating ovulation.
For men who suffer from hypogonadism, symptoms can include sexual dysfunction, weight gain, decreased muscle mass, fatigue, and gynecomastia, or large breasts.
Hypogonadism is treatable, however. According to a 1997 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour, low T leading to erectile dysfunction can be treated by testosterone replacement therapy or supplements that boost testosterone levels.
According to the researchers in Wuhan, more attention should be given to the effects of the coronavirus on the reproductive system, since over half of the people who contracted the virus were of reproductive age.
They added, however, that the results of the study weren’t conclusive and that the blood sample alone did not constitute direct evidence of reproductive issues with coronavirus patients. They acknowledge that other factors could come into play, such as medications or immune system response.
Also, a more in-depth long-term study is being planned by the research team, which could include sperm sample analysis and patient interviews.
Earlier research indicated that the novel coronavirus with a receptor protein cell known as ACE2, which are found in large quantities in the testicles.
At Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, a professor of reproductive medicine named Li Yufeng actually predicted in one study that the testicles might be a primary target for the coronavirus.
Other research has likewise suggested that SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which is related to the new COVID-19 virus, might also lead to inflammation of the testes.
One researcher at the State Key Laboratory of Reproductive Medicine at Nanjing Medical University, under the condition of anonymity, remarked that the new data was very valuable, but a larger sample would be necessary to fully understand the results.
He stated that there are many viruses that can impact fertility, but not all of those can potentially cause a pandemic. If the effects are long-term, he added, it could be a big deal.