Ladies, it’s time we talk about an important and tragic illness that often strikes at this time of year: man flu. We may roll our eyes as we hand them a hot water bottle to soothe their many (oh, so many!) aches and pains. But as it turns out, man flu could very well be a real condition. A Canadian doctor, who was “tired of being accused of overreacting,” researched the phenomenon and has found that men’s immune systems are weaker than women’s when it comes to respiratory diseases. They really do have it bad.
The meta-analysis, which was published in the British Medical Journal, explains that the term “man flu” is defined as “a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms.” But the study’s author, Kyle Sue, an assistant professor of family medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland, was suspicious that research has never proven that men are, in fact, exaggerating.
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So Sue looked at existing studies in mice, people and in vitro models that suggest female hormones are associated with a stronger immune response to colds and flus. He noted that, between 1997 and 2007, men had higher rates of influenza-associated death than women, and he pointed to research that suggests flu shots are more effective in women. The research review concludes that there’s clearly an immune gap—men simply can’t “woman up” and get on with life when they’re sick.
While the studies that he analyzed are real, Sue had quite a bit of fun dreaming up reasons why men may regress to babies when they’re sick. “Lying on the couch, not getting out of bed, or receiving assistance with activities of daily living could also be evolutionarily behaviours that protect against predators,” he writes. Sue also admits that “conclusions may be limited by author bias,” and he didn’t consider the fact that men are more likely to smoke and less likely to take preventive action or seek care when they’re ill. Still, he calls for “male-friendly spaces, equipped with enormous televisions and reclining chairs, to be set up where men can recover from the debilitating effects of man flu in safety and comfort.”
But even if man flu is real, it’s yet to be proven that remaining horizontal on the couch and requiring constant control of the TV remote while avoiding any household chores is truly the cure. We’re also still waiting on the research that proves women innately have the superhuman ability to overcome their own illness just enough to take care of the kids who are also sick, plan meals and organize the household. But, then again, there are some things you just don’t need a study to prove.