Canadian researcher Kyle Sue investigated the phenomenon that earned him (and many other men) flack for being a wimp when coming down with the flu. While society has the tendency of thinking of this as a silly stereotype, Sue figured that men, who make up about half of the world’s population, couldn’t all be considered hypochondriacal, and that there might be some scientific basis to it. And, alas, there just might be, and the findings were published this week in the British Medical Journal.
Sue, an assistant professor of family medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, compared his hypothesis to studies done on mice, where female rodents have been found to have stronger immune systems than male rodents. A result of gender hormone differences, this “immunity gap” has a real connection to humans.
Citing a Stanford study from 2013, Sue highlighted previous findings that men are less responsive to flu vaccinations than women, which is likely a result of an immunosuppressive link to testosterone — quite similar to what was found in mice. A different study further illustrates hormonal causes for various immune responses by testing those to rhinovirus in a group of premenopausal women and post-menopausal women, both compared with men of the same age. The post-menopausal women with less immunoprotective hormones had similar results to the men of their age, who maintain their immunosuppressive testosterone.
The general consensus of all of the studies is that higher levels of testosterone lead to lower function of the immune system in respiratory infections, both as mild as influenza and as severe as others that have led to higher mortality rates in men.
Sue continued to look into these findings to determine why immunity has evolved this way. And although nothing has been proved, he places links between severe illness and survival. In an effort to encourage energy conservation — lying on the couch or not getting out of bed — sickness allows a man to avoid predators and increase chances of survival.
”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,” Sue concluded.
We’re not totally on board with that vision, but maybe, just maybe, the men in our lives aren’t just wimping out when they seemingly get hit with same flu women get — turns out, it’s actually different.
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