It’s not uncommon for women to make fun of the men in their lives while they battle the “man flu.” They often accuse men of amplifying their symptoms when battling minor colds or sicknesses, either to get attention or because they’re whiners.
Dr. Kyle Sue, an assistant professor of family medicine at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, set out to prove that men aren’t overreacting when they get sick. He found that when it comes to respiratory illnesses, men tend to have more complications than women and may have naturally weaker immune systems.
Sue began by asking if there is an evolutionary basis for the difference in severity of symptoms between males and females. He discovered evidence that suggests there’s an “immunity gap,” but he noted that his findings are not definitive, reports CNN.
Still, other experts aren’t convinced that the man flu is real.
Sue pointed out that men and women react differently to flu vaccines. In general, it appears that women may be more responsive to them. He also found that men in Hong Kong were more likely to be hospitalized for influenza. In addition, a U.S. study showed that men are more likely to die from the flu than a woman of the same age.
“However, neither study differentiated men and women based on other differences, like smoking and drinking rates (and) willingness to seek medical help,” he noted.
Overall, Sue believes men feel flu symptoms more severely because their immune systems are not as strong.
“It is not commonly known that testosterone is immunosuppressive,” Sue explained, however “one study found that men with higher testosterone levels had less of an antibody response to vaccination.”
It’s a mystery why this immunity gap between males and females exists. Theories vary as to whether it’s because testosterone overrides the immune system in favour of qualities such as aggressive and competitive behaviour to forcing a sick man to lay low while sick to increase his chances of survival.
Sue acquiesces that more research is needed on the subject to prove that men aren’t exaggerating their symptoms. His paper was published in the BMJ medical journal.
Not everyone is convinced by Sue’s argument. Peter Barlow, associate professor of immunology and infection at Edinburgh Napier University, told The Guardian: “There are a significant number of factors which can contribute to the severity of an influenza infection. As the author of the article alludes, it is currently impossible to say whether there are sex-specific differences in susceptibility to influenza virus, or in the progression of the infection.”