Does influenza really affect men more than women? The phrase ‘man flu’ was coined to denote the commonly-held belief that men simply couldn’t cope with having a cold as well as women do. It even has its own (less than factual) website: manflu.info. But is this true, or is flu actually worse for men?

Myth or maybe?

Interestingly, there is not a strong history of research in this department, as previously female lab animals/women were not used as part of laboratory studies. Therefore, it is only recently (particularly following the increased popularity of the phrase ‘man flu’) that researchers have been able, or even actively encouraged, to focus on differentiation in results according to the gender of the subject.

Testosterone does, in fact, affect the immune response, but not in the way that ‘man flu’ would suggest. Females tend to actually have a more vigorous immune response; estrogen increases the number of antibodies which fight a virus. Whilst this may sound as if men are therefore more likely to feel the impact, it is actually the opposite. It is the body fighting a virus that causes the individual to feel the symptoms of a cold; fever, chills etc are the antibodies trying to kill off the virus.

Research has shown that, whilst females are more likely to suffer a vigorous immune reaction, this means that males are more likely to suffer longer as their body takes more time to fight off the infection (and males with high testosterone are actually worse off). So whilst women may suffer more severe symptoms, their ordeal may be over far faster. It’s thought that in the case of some pathogens, they ‘go easier’ on female bodies in the hope of remaining dormant to be passed on through pregnancy or breastfeeding, but there is not enough solid evidence for this to be confirmed (and does not apply to flu).

So, whilst physiology is not in your favour, if you were looking to claim ‘man flu’ then you could perhaps insinuate that you have extremely high testosterone and your body simply isn’t fighting hard enough. Sadly/happily, depending on which side of the fence you stand, there is very little evidence to suggest that ‘man-flu’ actually exists, despite many grunts to the contrary. There is still space for research to be conducted in the area; encouraging equality in studies means we have greater scope for studying gender differentiation in virus reactions.

If you wish to assist us in our research you can volunteer to be a participant in our cold and flu trials. Call us on 0207 756 1414 or contact us online.

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