By Serena Hart


The ‘Man Flu’: Fact or Fiction

For decades women have complained about the men in their lives being rendered immobile, moaning beings by a case of the ‘Man Flu’; however recent studies have shown this popular cultural archetype may actually be real.

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As defined in the Oxford dictionary the ‘Man Flu’ is: ‘a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms.’ According to a recent Canadian study carried out by Dr Kyle Sue it all comes down to our cavemen ancestors – men have weaker immune systems than women in order to stop them going out hunting when ill. Dr Sue analysed relevant research and found evidence that adult men have a higher risk of hospital admission and higher rates of influenza-associated deaths compared to women, regardless of underlying disease. Dr Sue also found that men are more susceptible to complications and higher mortality from many acute respiratory diseases, however some men suffered more from viral respiratory illness than women due to their less robust immune system. Furthermore, research has also found that pre-menopausal women are better at fighting off the common cold after analysing a study of male and female cells. Dr Sue’s study suggests that testosterone may be to blame for suppressing men’s immune systems while female sex hormones boost women’s. However, Dr Sue believes the term ‘Man Flu’ is problematic as, “Men may not be exaggerating symptoms but have weaker immune responses to viral respiratory viruses, leading to greater morbidity and mortality than in women,” as he stated in the BMJ. However, no scientific research has ever been undertaken into whether the term “Man Flu” is appropriate or accurate.

On the other hand, in news that will surely be disappointing for half the population, other doctors and scientists are not convinced by Dr Sue’s findings. Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GP’s stated, “The vast majority of robust scientific evidence suggests that flu is not sexist and there is no such thing as ‘Man Flu’, while there are people who believe that ‘Man Flu’ is an actual disease – and some men and women genuinely believe it is – there is little science to back this up.” However, she did admit “there has been some research to suggest respiratory tract infections, as they are known, can present themselves more severely in men than women and the best advice for anyone affected is to rest at home, drink plenty of fluids and take over-the-counter painkillers if necessary.”

While Dr Sue’s research does have some persuasive arguments, his research failed to differentiate men and women based on other differences such as smoking and drinking rates and willingness to seek medical help and these unknowns may have influenced the results. Sue also overlooked the impact the subjects’ age had on their immune system. For these reasons I am not convinced by Dr Sue’s case and I agree with Professor Stokes-Lampard that the flu does not discriminate by gender and even if women have slightly stronger immune systems it is not so strong that the same flu would leave men incapable to leave their beds; I believe that’s a psychological choice.