He’s not being dramatic: So-called ‘man flu’ may be real after all

ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland — Men have long complained of a mysterious flu-like ailment that  doesn’t seem to affect women, hence earning the title “man flu.” It’s so widely know that it’s even earned a place in the Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries. In the past, people have dismissed this phenomenon as a myth, claiming that men are simply complaining more about a common disease that affects everyone equally.

But not so fast on that train of thought, say scientists. Recent research found that the man flu, believe it or not, may very well be real after all.

Man blowing his nose
Men have long complained of a mysterious flu-like ailment that  doesn’t seem to affect women, hence earning the title “man flu.” Turns out it may actually be a real thing. (Photo by William Brawley on Flickr – flickr.com/photos/williambrawley/)

Skeptics have brushed off the man flu as no more than an industry-standard cold or common upper respiratory ailment that men tend to exaggerate. Intrigued by this phenomenon and by the lack of research specifically on whether man flu is an appropriate or accurate term, Dr. Kyle Sue, a clinical associate professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, decided to see if the condition was real, once and for all.

“Surprisingly, there are actually many studies already on this topic, from mouse studies to test tube studies to human studies,” Dr. Sue said in an interview with the Memorial University Gazette. “No scientific review has examined whether the term “man flu” is appropriately defined or just an ingrained pejorative term with no scientific basis.”

Examining medical records and other related research, Dr. Sue concluded that men are more likely to be admitted to a hospital and are more susceptible to serious complications and death from respiratory diseases like influenza than women across all age groups. Sue says that a male’s weaker immune system could lead to worsened symptoms when contracting the common cold or the flu, which may last longer for them too.

“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,” Dr. Sue writes in his report, according to a news release. “However, there may be an evolutionary benefit to a less robust immune system, as it has allowed men to invest their energy in other biological processes, such as growth, secondary sex characteristics, and reproduction.”

While he can’t conclude for certain if men have weaker immune systems than women, Dr. Sue found some evidence for that claim. He says more research is needed “because it remains uncertain whether viral quantities, immune response, symptoms, and recovery time can be affected by environmental conditions.”

Of course, getting plenty of rest can help potentially shorten the amount of time a man battles “man flu” symptoms. “Perhaps now is the time 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,” he quips.

The full study was published Dec. 11, 2017 in the journal BMJ.