Here's Why the Flu May Hit Men Harder Than Women

One leading doctor says the "man flu" is a real thing.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines "man flu" as such: "A cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms." For years now, men have been irritating women by complaining that men feel the effects of the flu way worse than their female counterparts. Women have, in response, rolled their eyes and told men they were just being babies and needed to suck it up.

Now, a new article  published in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal alleges that "man flu" might not just be an excuse to whine about the common cold. Dr. Kyle Sue, a clinical assistant professor in family medicine at Memorial University in St. Johns, told CBC that he had previously been "criticized for exaggerating my symptoms when I had the flu," so he decided to look into whether or not the myth of the man flu had any scientific merit.

First, he looked at some studies of mice which indicated that the females have much stronger immune systems than males. Then he looked at another study, in which 63 healthy men and women were injected with a common virus and found that the cells from women had a stronger immune response than those from men. Combined with an observational study from 1997-2007 that showed that men died of flu-related complications more often than women, and a survey indicating that men take more time off work when sick than women, and he came to the conclusion that man flu may actually have some backing to it.

Sue also claimed that a woman's ability to get over the flu better might also come down to hormones.

"Testosterone is a hormone that actually acts as an immunosuppressant," he says. "Whereas estrogen works in the opposite direction. They stimulate the immune system. So men with higher testosterone actually end up being more susceptible to viral respiratory and tend to get them worse."

Of course, Sue admitted that none of this evidence was conclusive. A lot of the studies that he drew on were based on research on mice, and the survey saying that men took off work more often than women could disprove his theory more than support it, depending on how you look at it. Not to mention, Sue also admitted that his findings were not entirely unbiased:

"The whole point of doing this article is to prove that men are not wimps. [We] should be given the benefit of the doubt rather than being criticized for not functioning well during the flu or the common cold."

Shortly after his study went viral, Gizmodo published a rebuke in which it argued that the study was a joke–part of a series of pranks" that the BMJ plays every year around the holidays. In a statement to the outlet, however, Sue said that while some of his comments are meant to be tongue-in-cheek, the research itself is not #fakenews.

"The research is all real, despite the humorous lens it's being examined through," Sue said, adding that the BMJ "doesn't publish anything that's fake."

Whether it's a joke or not, more definitive research would need to be conducted (preferably on humans and not mice) to conclude that men suffer from worse symptoms than women when catching the flu. However, there are some other recent studies that indicate female immune systems are stronger than anyone had previously imagined. One recent study postulated that, because women process oxygen faster than men when they exercise, they are more naturally athletic, lending credence to the idea that there are ways in which women are biologically stronger than men. And for great ways of avoiding illness to begin with here, here's the Single Best Way to Prevent the Flu.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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