Across all ages, the incidence and rate of progression of most nondiabetic renal diseases are markedly higher in men compared with age-matched women. These observations suggest that female sex may be renoprotective. In the setting of diabetes, however, this female protection against the development and progression of renal disease is diminished.
This review aimed to summarize our current understanding of sex differences in the development and progression of diabetic renal disease, and of the contribution of sex hormones, particularly estrogens, to the pathophysiology of this disease. We also attempted to answer why female sex does not protect the diabetic kidney.
The review employed PubMed as a search database using terms such as gender, sex, diabetes, diabetic nephropathy, estrogens, sex hormones, as well as targeted searches such as gender/sex differences in diabetic renal disease. Manuscripts identified from cited references were also used. Searches were restricted to English-language articles, while no restrictions were imposed on the publication dates.
Although the existing data regarding the sex differences in the incidence and progression of diabetic renal disease are inconclusive, the undisputed fact is that women with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes mellitus exhibit a much higher incidence of renal disease compared with nondiabetic women. It is conceivable that the loss of female sex as a renoprotective factor in diabetes may be related to the abnormal regulation of sex hormone concentrations. Both clinical and experimental data suggest that diabetes may be associated with an imbalance in estradiol concentrations. Supplementation with 17β-estradiol or administration of selective estrogen receptor modulators reduces the incidence of diabetes and attenuates the progression of diabetic renal disease.
Serum concentrations of ovarian hormones may provide a new means for predicting future risk of renal complications in diabetes. Exogenous steroid hormones may be an effective treatment for attenuating the progression of diabetic nephropathy.
Keywords: estrogen, diabetes, diabetic nephropathy, sex hormones