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Manly Men Heal Faster

Theory says testosterone boosts immune system

MONDAY, Sept. 24, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Can the same hormone that can spur men to get into a fight, help them heal faster after that fight?

Probably, says one animal behavior expert.

Testosterone, like other steroid hormones in the body, has long been thought to suppress the immune system. But, Stan Braude, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri and a senior lecturer at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., thinks otherwise.

He says scientists have discovered that rather than inhibiting the immune response, corticosteroids send immune cells to the skin in response to stressful situations. This, says Braude, is the body's way of protecting itself against an external injury, like one you would receive in a fight.

And, he says he believes testosterone works the same way: "It's called immuno-redistribution. Sending immune cells to the skin poises them to fight infection from a wound that is likely to occur."

Braude says his research on mice seems to support his theory. He injected mice with either testosterone or corticosterone and found that both hormones increased the animal's ability to fight a bacterial infection and reduced healing time. Results of the study have yet to be published, and, Braude has done no human studies to prove his theory.

But he says his theory makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. He says testosterone figures into a lot of mating rituals. Male birds that show off bright plumage can thank testosterone for their attractive display. Braude says flaunting a weakened immune system in an attempt to attract a mate doesn't make any sense.

However, he says even if his theory turns out to be true, treating wounds with testosterone probably wouldn't have much effect on healing. He says the benefit from the hormone occurs as the immune system cells scurry to the skin before the injury happens.

"This is a very reasonable theory with a lot of potential," says Dr. Jaime Corvalan, a urologic surgeon from Pasadena, Calif. "It's a possibility that makes a lot of sense when you observe the behavior of animals and men," he says. But Corvalan says it's only a preliminary supposition, and much work needs to be done to prove it.

What To Do

To read more about Braude's testosterone theory, go to Washington University.

This article from Fitness Link says that while aggressive men do tend to have stronger immune systems, it's not from testosterone.

SOURCES: Interviews with Stan Braude, Ph.D., assistant professor, University of Missouri, senior lecturer, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo., and Jaime G. Corvalan, M.D., urologic surgeon, Pasadena, Calif.; unpublished study; Sept. 22, 2001 New Scientist
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