Man Flu. You’ve heard the jokes and seen the memes, but is there really something to it? Marla Ahlgrimm says there might be and answers a few questions about why, exactly, men seen to over-exaggerate the common cold while women go on about their day in the face of the flu.
Q: Do men really feel the effects of sickness more than women?
Marla Ahlgrimm: While this might not be the case for every disease out there, research suggests that men do have a stronger and longer negative response to viral respiratory viruses, such as the flu and cold. A study in the British Medical Journal found that men’s immune systems simply can’t stand up as well as women’s to certain types of viruses.
Q: Why are men’s and women’s reactions different?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Researchers aren’t 100% sure the reasons. However, it theorized that it has something to do with the way that hormones, specifically estrogen and testosterone, affect the immune system.
Q: How does estrogen affect the immune system?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Estrogen enhances a woman’s immune system. While women’s symptoms actually appear to be stronger, the fairer sex tends to be sicker for a much shorter period than men. In the aforementioned study, male mice took twice as long to recover from flu like symptoms as their female counterparts.
Q: How do men’s flu symptoms differ than women’s?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Men tended to experience chills more often than women and have more indications of systemic inflammation. It’s been noted that men exhibit visible symptoms of illness more predominantly than women. This includes shivering, droopy eyes, and pallid skin.
While this study, which was performed in a laboratory using mice, doesn’t prove that man flu is a real thing, it does suggest that gender differences, and specifically hormones, can significantly affect recovery time in both men and women. In the battle of the sexes, this is one area where women clearly come out on top.