Estrogen plays a big role in why women heal more slowly than men.

Many factors come into play when it comes to the wound healing process, such as the foods people eat to medication usage. However, this does not answer a burning question on the minds of many doctors and scientists: Why do men heal faster than women, even when both are of good health?

A study published in the journal Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in spring 2012 addressed this mystery. For this evaluation, scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, administered mild abrasions to the front of the eyes of male and female rats that were all genetically similar, giving the male mice estrogen eye drops and/or medications that activate estrogen receptors. The researchers then evaluated the healing process using image analysis, and they found that estrogen negatively affected a lipid circuit called “15-lipoxygenase-Lipoxin A4,” which protects against outside invaders that could lead to wound infection and helps to keep inflammation within a safe range.

“This study goes a long way to explaining gender differences in inflammation and its resolution,” said Dr. Gerald Weissmann, the journal’s editor in chief. “It’s long been known that women suffer more than men from chronic inflammatory diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis; this study suggests that estrogen itself is responsible for that difference and pinpoints the molecular pathways that estrogen affects. Molecules that promote the resolution of inflammation show promise as new treatments for autoimmune disease.”

What does this mean for the world of wound care?

According to Dr. Karsten Gronert, a UC Berkeley researcher involved in the study, the scientists believe their work will lead to more exhaustive studies into hormones and development of new approaches to wound care.

“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,” Gronert said. “Auto-immune diseases in general are not triggered by a single event; hence, understanding what leads to a recurrent dysregulation of fundamental injury responses may help us treat and/or prevent the development of female-specific diseases.”

Since its publication in spring 2012, the study has in fact piqued researchers’ interest. One study in the December 2014 issue of PLOS One looked into the role that estrogen administration played in wound healing among protein-deficient female mice. This assessment did not find that estrogen had a substantial benefit on healing capacity among these subjects, but it may – much like the UC Berkeley study – spur further discourse into how estrogen affects recovery among women.

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