'Man Flu' Could Be a Real Thing

By: Alia Hoyt
sick man in bed
Despite what some people think, a researcher has determined that men really do have lower immune systems than women. Alan Thornton/Getty Images

Many a wife, girlfriend or mother has rolled her eyes when confronted with the sick man in their life. Women lament their truth that when faced with the common cold, they still take care of kids, work and do everything else expected, whereas men felled with the "man flu" often wind up bedridden and helpless.

So, it's no surprise that men often end up the subject of good-natured ribbing, in the form of so many Internet memes. Well, it turns out some of us might have some apologizing to do, thanks to research published in the Christmas 2017 issue of The BMJ, which found that women might be biologically better equipped to handle illness than men.


Canadian researcher Dr. Kyle Sue took a deep dive into existing research to draw his conclusions on the matter of man flu. Wondering why he did this? "Since about half of the world's population is male, deeming male viral respiratory symptoms as 'exaggerated' without rigorous scientific evidence, could have important implications for men, including insufficient provision of care," he writes in the study.

Among the conclusions drawn from the existing body of research, Sue found that men are at greater risk of hospital admission when sick, and are more likely to die from influenza or related complications than their similarly aged female counterparts. General respiratory diseases also pack a bigger punch against men, with more complications and higher mortality than women.

Plus, some research indicates that men have a less healthy immune system than women, contributing to more and greater symptoms. This seeming pitfall could actually be a boon for men, however. According to Sue, expending less energy in the immune system has evolutionarily left men with more energy for other processes, like reproduction, growth and the like. He also says that the sicky-time laziness that drives so many women nuts could actually be engrained by nature. "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," he writes.

So, women: The next time your man rings that little bell for soup and crackers when you've just gotten over the same ailment, try to cut him some slack. After all, it's not his fault you're evolutionarily tougher than he is!