- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The term “man flu” has gained popularity as a put-down to describe men who exaggerate symptoms of a cold or the flu to gain sympathy. But a study dispels this myth and provides scientific arguments for male inferiority when it comes to upper-respiratory diseases.

In a review of research into the differences between how men and women experience a cold and the flu, clinician Kyle Sue found that testosterone plays an important role in weakening the immune system.

“When the men are told to ‘man up’ when we have the flu, they should instead be told to ‘woman up,’” Dr. Sue, an assistant professor of family medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, told The Washington Times. “Because ‘manning up’ means more testosterone, but apparently that’s counterproductive.”

While never personally accused of suffering “man flu,” Dr. Sue said that a week under the weather inspired him to look into the research as part of a project for his master’s degree program.

“It was very pertinent at the time and potentially entertaining, so I started looking at the literature” and was surprised there were so many studies on the topic, he said.

For his paper, titled “The science behind ‘man flu’” and published this week in the British Medical Journal, Dr. Sue reviewed about 30 studies that ranged from clinical data to mouse trials to behavioral psychology to immune response.

A number of study authors were women — “I would have thought that men would be more invested in this topic,” he said — but research on testosterone levels provided the greatest insight into the male-female divide.

In particular, higher testosterone in the blood corresponded to a lower immune response, whereas higher estrogen levels led to a higher response, and then lessened after menopause, he said.

Other data collected showed that seasonal influenza rates of infection were higher in men than women and that men were more likely to have worse and longer-lasting symptoms, are hospitalized more, and are more likely to die from complications.

“Quite frankly, I had actually thought it was all a myth,” Dr. Sue said of the findings.

While encouraging, more rigorous research needs to be done to establish that “man flu” is a real phenomenon and not a chance occurrence.

“Certainly the studies that I found aren’t definitive,” he said, “there still needs to be higher quality studies that need to be done.”

Regardless, Dr. Sue said he hopes his paper can inspire men to not discount the severity of their symptoms and call for adequate treatment.

“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 said in the paper’s conclusion.

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