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Man Flu? It’s Actually Real, According to a (Male) Researcher

In light of a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, I feel I owe my husband an apology for all those times that I was less than sympathetic when he was sick. According to science, the man flu really does exist and it is as bad as men claim.

So here goes: “Sorry, babe. I’m particularly sorry about that one Christmas. You remember the one. The time I left you to die, alone, upstairs in bed while I singlehandedly prepared a turkey dinner for twelve. I haven’t forgotten. You were fevered and achy and sniffly. While it is true that you weren’t actually dying, I now realize that the extent of your symptoms were not exaggerated, as I may have previously believed.”

For years, women have joked about the “man flu.” The term has even made its way into the Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries. According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is defined as: “A cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms. ‘Greg was off sick with man flu, according to his wife’”

Numerous articles have been written and a number of memes have been created.


But is the entire male species owed an apology for our often less than sympathetic response to our sick male counterparts? According to Canadian doctor, Dr. Kyle Sue, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

In his findings, published in the British Medical Journal, he claims that the evidence supports his belief that the man flu really is no joke.

What prompted his interest in studying the man flu phenomenon? For one, he’s male. And he’s sick of being accused of over-reacting for his response to being sick.

According to an interview he conducted with CBC News from his home in Arviat, Nunavut, Canada, he stated, “I’ve been criticized for exaggerating my symptoms when I had the flu. I thought. You know what? This would be an interesting topic to look into.”

That is just what he did. Sue reviewed several studies to explore “whether men are wimps or just immunologically inferior.”

He discovered several studies of mice which show that female mice have stronger immune systems than males. He also cited evidence from a study conducted from 2004-10 in Hong Kong, which found that adult men were more likely to be admitted to the hospital for seasonal influenza than women. It would also appear that American men are not immune to the effects of the man flu, either.

According to a 10-year US observational study conducted from 1997-2007, men are more likely to die from influenza compared to women in the same age groups. Furthermore, he found that the flu vaccine is more effective in women than men and that men are more likely to take double the time women take off of work to recover from viral respiratory illnesses.

He believes these studies support his hypothesis that men have weaker immune systems than women, and he blames it on hormones. Sue told CBC News, “Testosterone is a hormone that actually acts as an immunosuppressant. Whereas estrogen works in the opposite direction. They stimulate the immune system. So men with higher testosterone actually end up being more susceptible to viral respiratory and tend to get them worse.”

He does admit that the evidence is limited and that further, higher quality research is needed to clarify that man flu is really a thing. Not to be taken too seriously, Sue goes on to throw a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor into his report and writes, “There are benefits to energy conservation when ill. Lying on the couch, not getting out of bed, or receiving assistance with activities of daily living could also be evolutionarily behaviours that protect against predators. 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.”

While I have always secretly believed that women have a higher pain tolerance than men (childbirth, anyone?), it would also seem that women are in possession of stronger immune systems as well. If you are to believe the science, evolutionarily speaking, women really are the stronger of the sexes.

So next time the man in your life is taken out by the man flu, you may want to pause before disregarding the depth of his agony. Man flu is real.

At least, according to a man.