Man flu – fact or fiction?

We’ve all heard men at one time or another complain of being afflicted with the elusive “man flu” – a flu that, by all intents and purposes, seems to have the same symptoms as that experienced by women, however with allegedly more disabling symptoms. Oxford dictionary defined man flu as “a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms”. Despite the man flu being widely as assumed to be an exaggerated figment of male imagination, there has been little research into whether or not there could actually be any basis for suggesting that men experience worse flu symptoms.

A researcher analysed the available evidence in this area to investigate if there was any scientific basis for the man flu. In some studies with mice, female mice have been shown to have higher immune responses than male mice, leading researchers to hypothesise that sex dependent hormones might play a role in determining influenza outcomes. Another study has shown that the female hormone oestradiol and some oestrogen receptor modulators might decrease flu symptoms.

Human data has also indicated that men and women respond differently to the flu. Some studies suggest that women have improved responses to flu vaccination and have lower rates of flu-related hospitalisation and death.

Implications

While some evidence suggests men and women respond differently to the flu, evidence is low quality, mixed and questionable, so men need not start to rejoice that their man flu is founded in solid scientific evidence. Further scientific research into the man flu phenomenon may support the theory than men have weaker immune responses to viral respiratory conditions however for now we can maintain that men might be exaggerating common symptoms tolerated by women.

References

Sue, K et al. (2017). The science behind “man flu”. BMJ 359: j5560 doi: 10.1136/bmj.j5560.