There really might be such a thing as the “man flu,” science shows.
Dr. Kyle Sue, an assistant professor of family medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, decided to look into whether or not men do indeed fare worse than women when they get sick, or if they merely exaggerate their symptoms to reflect the much-derided term, “man flu.”
It’s a frequently heard stereotype.
This concept has gained such widespread notoriety that there’s even an Oxford dictionary definition of it, stating man flu is “a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms,” US News and World Report reports.
“The concept of man flu, as commonly defined, is potentially unjust. Men may not be exaggerating symptoms but have weaker immune responses to viral respiratory viruses, leading to greater morbidity and mortality than seen in women,” Sue explained.
Sue examined relevant studies on respiratory diseases, the common cold, flu and viral infections, and intensive care. He compared symptoms between men and women, and concluded that there is a gender “immunity gap.”
According to his findings, a man’s immune system may naturally be weaker than a woman’s, making men more susceptible to complications when they develop certain illnesses, especially respiratory diseases. Testosterone, the masculine hormone, suppresses the immune system, while estradiol, the female hormone, is immunoprotective.
These conclusions are “certainly not definitive,” Sue emphasized, and critics argue that there is not enough evidence to support the idea of man flu.
For his part, Sue suggests plenty of rest to cope with the flu. “There are benefits to energy conservation when ill. Lying on the couch, not getting out of bed, or receiving assistance with activities of daily living could also be evolutionarily behaviors that protect against predators,” he joked.
A man cave could help, too. “Perhaps now is the time for male friendly spaces, equipped with enormous televisions and reclining chairs, to be set up where men can recover from the debilitating effects of man flu in safety and comfort,” Sue said.
The study was published in BMJ.