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'Man Flu': Doctor Says Science Explains Why Sick Men Complain So Much

The research is thought to be first-of-its-kind. xavierarnau—Getty Images

Canadian scientist Kyle Sue of the Memorial University of Newfoundland says his research of ‘man flu’ was personal.

“Tired of being accused of over-reacting, I searched the available evidence to determine whether men really experience worse symptoms and whether this could have any evolutionary basis,” he said in the BMJ Journal.

After his analysis of man flu—defined as “a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms”—Sue had good news for male sufferers everywhere. His paper published in BMJ on Monday suggests that men are not overreacting to an illness, but actually have weaker immune responses to viral respiratory viruses.

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In drawing his conclusion, Sue points to men’s higher risk of hospitalization due to the flu and their higher rates of influenza-related deaths compared with women of the same age. “This was true regardless of underlying heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory system disease, and renal disease,” his paper says.

Another factor? “Studies of influenza vaccination suggest that women are more responsive to vaccination than men,” the paper says, adding that additional research suggests “an immunosuppressive role for testosterone.”

Medical professional also deserve some of the blame, Sue says, since “clinical observers are more ready to…under-rate men’s symptoms.”

Sue points to still more research that suggests men’s increased sickness may be a survival instinct since “it promotes energy conservation and reduces the risk of encountering predators.”

Sue adds, tongue-in-cheek: “Classic modes of energy conservation may include lying on the couch, not getting out of bed, or receiving assistance with basic activities of daily living, which could all be effective for avoiding predators.”

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Sue recommends additional research on the matter of ‘man flu’ but reaches this conclusion: “The concept of man flu, as commonly defined, is potentially unjust” due to their potentially-weaker immune responses.

“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.”

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