Turns Out The ‘Man Flu’ Is a Real Thing

It’s possible men actually experience harsher flu symptoms than women
It’s possible men actually experience harsher flu symptoms than women

Have you ever felt like when you get sick, you really get sick whereas your wife or girlfriend only seems to get mild sniffles and a sore throat she can barely justify taking a day off work for? The concept of the man flu has been around for awhile. It’s basically implying that when men get sick, it’s really the same thing women get, but they’re just whinier and more dramatic about it. Turns out, man flu might be real, but not in the sense we all (okay, maybe just women) thought.

An article in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal looks into the science behind the claim that men suffer worse flu symptoms than women do. Canadian, Dr. Kyle Sue, a clinical assistant professor in family medicine at Memorial University in St. John’s studied the available research to try to determine if the man flu is fact or fiction. His conclusion is that there is concrete evidence, although not a ton of it, that suggests the symptoms men experience really are worse.

That means the Oxford Dictionary definition of the man flu—“A cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms” might be giving men a bad name. Dr. Sue does clarify that no scientific study has been done that focuses specifically on how the flu affects men and women differently. Instead, he looked through the results of numerous other studies and formed a hypothesis about the man flu based on relevant findings.

Most of the studies he references involved mice and several of them found that female mice do have stronger immune systems than males. Another study than infected healthy cells with a common virus found that cells from females tended to have a stronger immune response than the ones from men. Other studies reported that from 1997-2007, there were more flu-related deaths in men than women, women are more responsive to vaccinations than men, and men with the flu reported taking more time off from work than women.

Overall, the studies Dr. Sue found pointed to men actually having weaker immune systems than women. “Testosterone is a hormone that actually acts as an immunosuppressant. Whereas estrogen works in the opposite direction. They stimulate the immune system,” he told CBC News. “So men with higher testosterone actually end up being more susceptible to viral respiratory problems and tend to get them worse.”

Although the available evidence does suggest men suffer through more severe flu symptoms than women, more research is needed to determine if it’s a significant difference. But that wasn’t really Dr. Sue’s main motivation in writing the article. ”The whole point of doing this article is to prove that men are not wimps,” he said in an interview. “Actually, we are suffering from something we have no control over … [We] should be given the benefit of the doubt rather than being criticized for not functioning well during the flu or the common cold.”

Besides, everyone has a different pain and discomfort tolerance so questioning whether someone is really that sick or not isn’t really necessary. Unless they’re one of those people who calls in sick every time there’s a big project due. Those people are definitely lying.

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on AmongMen.com, 29secrets.com, therichest.com, and ELLECanada.com.  When she isn’t writing about relationships, and the best TV shows and books you should really already know about, she is working on her novel. She hopes to have it published by 2025. You can follow her on Twitter @Courtooo.

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