The “Man Flu” Might Actually Be Real & Serve A Legitimate Function, According To New Study

By
Share
Ad failed to load

The idea of the “man flu” is a trope that gets plenty of action this time of year. Most of us have heard of it or have seen some real-examples: a man and a woman both get hit with an incredibly nasty cold or flu virus. The woman may take medication or other remedies to help her ward off the effects of the bug, but keeps going with life (and if she’s a mom, that means probably keeping up with the kids’ schedules, family needs, and the other never-ending tasks on her list). The mega cold plays out far worse for the man, though; his sniffles, aches, and fever seem almost exaggerated, making life downright unbearable. And the stereotype suggests that the guy is making his symptoms seem more pathetic to get sympathy (or some quality time with a fluffy pillow and Netflix). But could he genuinely be suffering from a more severe set of symptoms? A new study suggests that the “man flu” might actually be real because of a legitimate, evolutionary difference between male and female sex hormones.

There’s plenty to unpack in the above scenario, especially around how men and women prioritize and practice self-care. I’ll be the first to admit that my husband is better at identifying when his body needs him to slow down and rest up for a full recovery. But the idea of the man flu is about more than whether men are less likely to “power through” when they’re ill.

Ad failed to load

Some have argued that the old stereotype (complete with calls for more medicine and soup) is based in the reality that men actually feel the symptoms of illness more acutely. According to the findings from a new Canadian study published this month, there is evidence that men get sicker than women when it comes to the common cold, influenza, or other respiratory infections.

For the study, Dr. Kyle Sue of the Memorial University of Newfoundland examined existing medical data and research on biological differences in the severity of cold and flu symptoms.

Sue’s research was published in the special Christmas edition of The BMJ, formerly known as The British Medical Journal. That edition is known for putting out “slightly more fun than usual” research studies, according to Slate. That might account for its tongue-in-cheek examination of “whether men are wimps or just immunologically inferior.”

Ad failed to load

In his article, Sue points out earlier research showing that increased testosterone might suppress the human immune system, making men less responsive to the flu vaccine and more likely to experience complications from bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses. By contrast, higher estrogen levels were associated with a stronger immune response, Sue wrote.

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.

Ad failed to load

But hormone levels are just one of many differences that might account for the flu disparity between the sexes. Slate reported that certain lifestyle decisions may offer women an advantage (or give men a stronger disadvantage) in recovering from viral infections. For starters, men are less likely to see a doctor (which could also lessen the odds that they get vaccinated for flu in time for it to be effective). According to Harvard Men’s Health Watch, men are also more likely to engage in a number of social behaviors that lead to weaker health — including smoking, drinking, a poor diet, and aggressive behaviors.

According to Sue’s study, those same social behaviors offer a clue into whether the “man flu” serves an evolutionary purpose. I mean, what would be the benefit of nearly 50 percent of a species having a weaker immune system? Sue suggests that the benefit that increased testosterone offers men (in terms of sexual development and muscle strength) outweighs the cost of potential death from infection.

In other words, men might be naturally designed to “live hard and die young.”

Ad failed to load
Giphy

Still, the research doesn’t necessarily mean that we should assume that men are actually suffering more — or more deserving of being pampered — when they’re ill, CNN reported. Sue’s report is the first of its kind, but there are more aspects of the “flu disparity” that researchers have yet to unpack, including whether the so-called "sickness gap" is affected by bias in women's access to health care and how they're treated by medical professionals. Are doctors more likely to sympathize with men's symptoms than women's — and treat those symptoms as if they are more severe?

*screams in frustration*

Ad failed to load

For now, though, the best course is for men and women to just take care of themselves at the first signs of illness, health experts told CNN. Most symptoms of a cold or flu will pass after a few days of painkillers, fluid, and rest — no matter what sex you are.

Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Ad failed to load

Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

10 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Giving My Toddler A Pacifier

My first child had no interest in a pacifier. I tried a couple times to get him to take one, but he always spat them out and gave me an incredulous, judgmental look. But my second? It was love at first suckle. And after a while, the incredulous, judg…
By Jamie Kenney

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at Names.org recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

7 Things A Mom Really Means When She Says She Doesn't Want Anything On Mother's Day

Every year my family asks me what I want for Mother's Day, and every single year I tell them the same thing: Nothing. So, by now, they know that when I say "nothing" I absolutely do not mean "nothing." In fact, there are more than a few things a mom …
By Candace Ganger

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

8 Fascinating Facts About Babies Born In May, The Luckiest Month Of All

The height of all things fresh and springy, May is an excellent month to have a baby. It's a time of growth, graduations, and outdoor celebrations. And these fascinating facts about May babies will give you more reasons than ever to appreciate childr…
By Lindsay E. Mack

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

Here's How To Introduce Your Pet To Your Baby & Make Everything As Calm As Possible

Our home, which we lovingly refer to as “the funny farm,” is filled with four-legged family members. We have two crazy beagles and two cat jerks, and boy are they loved and spoiled. (As they should be.) But we are now finally having a baby of our own…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

Here's The Right Birth Method For You, According To Your Zodiac Sign

If you're pregnant, you've probably given childbirth some serious thought. Some moms-to-be prepare a meticulous birth plan, while others are comfortable just going with the flow. And me? Well, I made a plan... but that plan was useless when faced wit…
By Steph Montgomery

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills
)}