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

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

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

6 Early Signs You're Going To Have A Short Labor, According To Experts

As far as I'm concerned, a short labor is right up there with winning the lottery in terms of lucky life events. (And when I was actually in labor, I would absolutely have traded a bucketful of lottery winnings for a speedier birth.) While some women…
By Kelly Mullen-McWilliams

Kids Will Love These TV Shows & Movies Coming To Netflix In March

You can always count on Netflix to keep it fresh: though there are already so many movies and shows to choose from, every month there's an influx of new content to keep your entire family entertained. As February enters its final weeks, it's time to …
By Megan Walsh

Here Are 10 Ways To Boost Your Baby's Immunity To The Flu

As I'm sure you've read in the thousands upon thousands of articles written about it this winter, the flu is spreading like wildfire and it's bad. Really bad. This strand of flu is the worst we've had in a very long time and it's the most widespread,…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

Khloé Kardashian Asked Twitter About Her Bump, & Moms Totally Delivered

Like her younger sister Kylie Jenner, Khloé Kardashian managed to keep most of her pregnancy a sort-of secret. But unlike Jenner, Kardashian chose to publicly announce her pregnancy several months before the baby's due date. While there's no wrong wa…
By Sophie Hirsh

21 Moms Share The Most Surprising Part About Having A C-Section

Honestly, I don't think we, as a culture, talk about C-sections nearly enough, especially considering so many mothers experience them. And because of a number of factors, the little we do talk about it always seems to be a familiar narrative: "It's n…
By Jamie Kenney

13 Yummy Instant Pot Recipes To Make Under 30 Minutes

An Instant Pot seems to be the must-have appliance in every kitchen these days. If you are anything like me and never knew the beauty of a Instant Pot, you are about to have your life changed. Basically, you put some ingredients into a pot, set the t…
By Kristin Manna

9 Things The First Six Months Of Motherhood Will Teach You About Your Baby

Personally, the first six months of motherhood was a mixed bag. I learned some harsh lessons about myself that made taking care of my baby seem overwhelming. For example, I was clueless, and no amount of research could help me feel like anything but …
By Steph Montgomery

11 Photos You *Must* Take During The Last Days Of Your Pregnancy

During my first pregnancy, I took a photo each week to document my growing belly. I stopped around 36 weeks, though. I hated how I looked in those pictures, and didn't think I'd want to relive those moments. I was wrong. My second pregnancy was a dum…
By Steph Montgomery

6 Red Flags To Definitely Look Out For After Your Baby Falls

The first time my infant son tried to take a few steps, he tumbled and bumped his head on the coffee table. My blood turned to ice in my veins and I froze. There truly isn't anything quite like the feeling a parent gets when their little one gets hur…
By Sarah Bunton

These 9 Instant Pot Recipes Will Make Even The Pickiest Eater Happy At The Table

Like any parent, I've had my share of parenting hits and misses, but one of my favorite "wins" is my daughter's diverse palate. I don't even know if I can take credit for it, but I would like to think I had something to do with her love for lentils, …
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

Turns Out, Kim Kardashian's Favorite Mom Products Look A Lot Like Your Own Faves

Being a mom is really hard work, especially for the first few months, and Kim Kardashian West is no different in that regard. Now the mother of three, Kardashian says that there are a few products she just can't live without when it comes to raising …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

10 Things No One Tells You About Having A Baby In Your 30s

If you're like me, you evaluate the pros and cons of any major life decision. When my husband and I were considering starting a family, I thought about my career, education, and financial stability. I wanted to know how a pregnancy and childbirth wou…
By Steph Montgomery

Soda Might Hurt Your Fertility, Study Says, & Here's What You Can Do

Who doesn't love sugary drinks? I stopped drinking soda years ago, but I still love gulping down those fancy Starbucks coffee beverages. I don't have a big sweet tooth, but I am a sucker for sugar-sweetened beverages every now-and-then. Turns out, th…
By Annamarya Scaccia

5 Red Flags Your Toddler Isn't Eating Enough

Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, at least in my experience. You offer mashed potatoes, they want french fries. You give them crackers, they scream for chips. It's frustrating, to be sure, but it's usually their way of vying for independence. It…
By Candace Ganger

35 Moms Share The Most Disgusting Things Their Husbands Do

I'm a human being who revels in challenges. I like when people present me with one, especially if they don't think I can meet or succeed it, and I like taking a challenge on, especially if it's unexpected. So when I aimed to uncover the most disgusti…
By Jamie Kenney

How Having Kids In Your 20s Affects You Later In Life

For parents, like myself, who had kids in their 20s, there are a number of questions that come to mind. When you're deciding what your future will look like, you'll likely consider what this means for your health, career, and more down the line. Thin…
By Tessa Shull

Study: Drinking Two Glasses Of Wine A Day Is Good For Your Mind — Here's Why

There’s more scientific proof that a daily drink or two isn't necessarily a bad thing and could have a place in an overall healthy lifestyle. A new study out of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) in New York found that — in mice, at le…
By Tiffany Thomas

Research Says Eating Carbs Can Lead To A Healthy Pregnancy, So Bring On The Pasta

In the world of me, no food is better than bread. I know it's supposed to be pretty terrible for you, high in calories, low in protein, and full of that modern-day demon, gluten... but guys, it's really yummy. Especially warm out of the oven, when th…
By Jen McGuire

These Photos Of Prince George Then & Now Will Give You Serious Baby Fever

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their third child in Spring 2018. With all of the excitement surrounding the new baby, it's easy to forget all of the good times that have already passed. The couple's eldest is already well into the sc…
By Azure Hall

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
By Lindsay E. Mack