Ladies, how many of us can admit to diagnosing men with a case of ‘man flu’ and having a good old laugh to ourselves? Even if we have the very same strain of flu, it always feels like men seem to suffer much so more than us. If I catch a nasty cold, I’ll have a Lemsip or two and get on with my day. If my boyfriend has a cold, there are not enough Kleenex ‘man-size’ tissues or over-the-counter flu remedies in Sainsbury’s to make him feel well enough to get out of bed and stop watching the football. Not that I’m being passive aggressive at all.
But are we just exaggerating their extra suffering out of proportion, or is there any science behind the ‘man flu’?
A new study in the American Journal of Physiology– Lung and Cellular Molecular Physiology has indicated that women do in fact have a higher resistance to viruses than men and it’s all because of oestrogen. Oestrogen is a hormone primarily associated with the female reproductive system, including regulating the menstrual cycle (boo) and stimulating breast development (yay). Although a small amount of oestrogen is present in males, the study suggests that it’s the lack of oestrogen in males that means they can’t resist viral infection as well as women can.
In the study, males and females were given doses of oestrogen, followed by drugs known as SERMs (selective oestrogen receptor modulators) which activate oestrogen receptors, causing oestrogen-like effects. 1-3 days later, the participants’ nasal cells were infected with influenza a, a strain of flu. As you can probably guess, the females came out on top. The female nasal cells showed a much higher resistance to the influenza virus compared to the male cells.
So why is this important? These results suggest that oestrogen’s antiviral nature is sex-specific; only females benefit from its antiviral properties. At present, scientists don’t understand the mechanism behind this antiviral action, but suspect that the oestrogen reduces the metabolic rate of the infected cell, slowing down the replication of the virus and preventing the infection from spreading.
So maybe women everywhere should show a little more sympathy towards men when they’re ill, after all, it’s not their fault they don’t have as much oestrogen as us. Yet until a man has experienced the trauma of period pain or has pushed a baby out (not that I know what that feels like, but I imagine it’s horrendous), I personally don’t feel too guilty for teasing them a little bit.