Is the “Man Flu” a Real Thing? What You Need to Know

For many couples it’s a running joke: the “man flu” is the harshest form of the virus that exists. For years, women like to claim that their male partners lament and whine about being sick far more than they do. But are men really exaggerating, or is there actual truth that being sick feels worse for them than it does for women?

Though evidence isn’t conclusive, there are been several studies published on the man flu. However, when Dr. Kyle Sue, a clinical assistant professor in family medicine at the Health Sciences Centre at Memorial University of Newfoundland, found himself experiencing a nasty case of the flu, he decided to seriously investigate if the phenomenon truly exists. And maybe all these years men have gotten a bad rap: he concluded that there’s a decent amount of evidence that man flu is indeed real.

The evidence

Dr. Sue began by examining several centuries’ worth of study on mice and men—some dated all the way back in 17th century England. In many of these studies, a number of them found higher immune responses in female mice compared to their male counterparts. “This led to the hypothesis that sex-dependent hormones have an important role in outcomes of influenza,” Sue said in his paper. Another study looked at mononuclear cells from 63 healthy people divided into groups by age and gender. The cells were then exposed to a rhinovirus. The cells cultured from premenopausal women had a stronger immune response to rhinovirus than those from men of the same age. Sue himself tends to believe that it’s unfair to fling the accusatory “man flu” around as if it were somehow dirty. He concludes in his study, “men may not be exaggerating symptoms but have weaker immune responses to viral respiratory viruses, leading to greater morbidity and mortality than seen in women.”

It’s incredibly important to note: there are major limitations to Sue’s study and others like it. Some of them are the biases of the authors and the scientific quality of some of the evidence. Sue, who acknowledges these issues, believes further research is needed to help determine if the phenomenon is truly psychological, or if there’s a physiological basis to man flu.

Regardless, if you’re beginning to display flu-like symptoms this season, visit your nearest CareWell for treatment. All locations are open extended hours and weekends.

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