We’ve heard it, we’ve seen it, and it’s even got a name. The pervasive “man flu” is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms”. Though commonly mentioned, we wonder: is there substantive backing behind the phenomenon? Are men craven or genetically at a loss?
Straight to the facts
Studies observing mice and illness found the female genome more resistant to many strains of influenza. It was determined that an estrogen hormone, namely oestriodol, lead the charge. This hormone has been found to reduce responses associated with the immune system while enhancing the presence and formation of immune cells. This has been shown to significantly decrease as levels of testosterone become more prevalent. In this vein, it was discovered that the more manly the subject, the worse the response to immune attacks.
You mean there really is a “man flu”?
Well, yes and no. In the instance of viral respiratory infections, men have been shown to have a weaker immune response, resulting in more intense and longer-lasting symptoms. Conversely, women’s immune systems have been shown to have a higher aptitude in neutralizing common infections prior to their development. In the instance of pandemic infections, however, women have been shown to have a weaker response.
Additionally, it has been shown that women are more likely to present themselves to their health care practitioners at the early onset of a cold or flu, intervening on symptoms before they progress, and leaving them more receptive to treatment overall. Men, on the other hand, are less likely to succumb to their illness until later in its development, well beyond the time when symptoms are still manageable. This could mean they are less attentive, or less sick, but as the label becomes more widespread, it is possible that a confirmation bias is developing. This could assume men as more likely to complain while experiencing pain or sickness, increasing their fixation of it in turn.
Is there anything we can do about it?
We all know that there is no cure for the flu, so when it comes down to it, adequate hydration, proper sleep and plenty of immune-boosting foods are your best defense against contagion. Opt for things like antioxidant-rich broccoli, beta carotene-charged spinach or probiotic-filled yogurt for a boost in immune functions. If you still feel that tingle in your throat coming on, fight the first signs through supplementation. Items like ginger, zinc, or the all-encompassing Cold Fighter can help you better position yourself to fight the cold and stay healthy this winter. Want some more cold and flu-fighting tips? These are super easy to follow.
So what does this mean?
It’s safe to say that both biology and sociology play a role in our perception of ‘the “man flu”. Though some scientific evidence supports its existence, sociology plays a large role in how we perceive men when sick. More support is needed before we can begin diagnosing others with the “man flu” but in the meantime, the next time the man in your life seems to be coming down with something, give him a break. He’s sick.
- Sue, K. (2017, December). The Science Behind “Man Flu”. Retrieved from http://www.bmj.com/content/359/bmj.j5560
- Scutti, S. (2017, December). Laid up with ‘man flu’? It’s real, researcher says. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/12/health/man-flu-study/index.html.
- Shmerling, R, MD. (2018, January). Is “man flu” really a thing? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/man-flu-really-thing-2018010413033