June 17, 2020 3 min read

We all get sick from time to time, that’s a given. But whether or not your biological sex has an impact on the severity and duration of your symptoms is still up for debate. With Father’s Day around the corner, we thought it would be an appropriate time to delve into this topic a little further. What is ‘man flu’? And is there any science behind it at all?

 

    What is ‘man flu’?

      Complaints from men that their cold is so much worse than their female counterparts usually leads to eye rolls and jokes about having ‘man flu’. In fact, 'man flu' is a term so widely used that it has been included in the Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries, defined as “an illness such as a cold that is not serious, but that the person who has it treats as more serious, usually when this person is a man”. But how true is it? Are men exaggerating their symptoms? Do women have better immune systems biologically? Or do men actually experience respiratory viral illnesses differently than women?

        Man flu theory

          Back in 2010, there were a number of inflammatory headlines in the press after a new scientific theory had been released to support the idea that men weren't exaggerating after all. The research from the scientists suggested it is the male penchant for a 'live fast, die young' lifestyle that has resulted in their immune systems being evolutionarily weaker than females. So, not only can they catch more diseases, but the suffering is more serious and lasts longer. The theory was devised by a team at the University of Cambridge by applying a mathematical model to the various factors that characterise males and females.

            A new man flu study

              Since then, a study carried out in 2017 assessed a number of factors that could back up the theory evidentially.

              Here are the highlights from the study:
              • The influenza vaccination seems to cause more reactions and better antibody responses in females than males. This could be due to testosterone, as males with the highest levels tended to have a lower antibody response, so it is arguable that vaccinated males get more severe symptoms due to their response to being vaccinated.
              • Several studies show that female mice have higher immune responses than males, which could also be true in humans.
              • In preclinical studies of nasal cells infected with influenza, exposure to a female hormone reduced the immune response when the cells came from women, but not in cells from men.
              • In at least one study reviewing six years of data, men were hospitalized with the flu more often than women. Another reported more deaths among men than women due to flu.
              • A survey by a popular magazine found that men reported taking longer to recover from flu-like illnesses than women (three days vs 1.5 days).
              • While the evidence is not definitive, they suggest that the flu may, in fact, be more severe in men.

               

                Tonic delivered to your Dad's door

                  After all this, perhaps you're thinking that now would be a good time to get your Dad/Stepdad/Grandad/Uncle stocked up on some Tonic Health? We’ve got you covered: just use code FATHERSDAY15 for 15% off and enter his address at the checkout so it gets delivered straight to his door. Sorted.