‘Man Flu’ Is Real? Study Shows Women Are Better At Fighting Flu Virus

Men have earned themselves a reputation for exaggerating flu symptoms, temporarily giving up on being macho so they can milk attention from their loved ones. This has inspired the term “man flu,” which is meant to tease men for acting pitiful when they fall under the weather. But a recent study suggests that men are actually more susceptible to stronger strains of the flu than women. This could mean man flu is a real thing.

According to IFLScience, it all comes down to how much estrogen you have. Men naturally produce much less than women, which could explain why they aren’t naturally as good at fighting off the influenza virus. The study was conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and published in the American Journal of Physiology – Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology. It sought to determine if men actually get the flu (the “man flu,” as it were) more than women do.

Man flu

The researchers purposely infected a number of nasal cells donated by both men and women, a type of cell typically targeted by the flu virus. Suspecting that “man flu” may be a result of lower estrogen, the researchers exposed uninfected male and female nasal cells to both estrogen and a drug called “selective estrogen receptor modulators” (SERMs). They then introduced the influenza virus to the cells loaded with authentic and artificial estrogen.

The result? The female nasal cells were much more resistant to the influenza virus than the male cells, even after the male nasal cells were pumped with estrogen. Female cells loaded with estrogen or SERMs between 24 and 72 hours before flu infection were substantially less likely to be infected with the flu. In short, “man flu” is a real thing. Male cells are more vulnerable to the flu than female cells, even if those cells have extra help from estrogen.

Man flu victim

Researchers were interested to know if estrogen had any role in protecting from the replication of the flu virus. While estrogen is primarily a sex hormone designated to regulating the female reproductive system, it apparently plays a small role in disease prevention. And, indeed, lead author of the “man flu” study, Sabra Klein, said in a statement that estrogen has already been proven to protect against other diseases.

“Other studies have shown that estrogens have antiviral properties against HIV, Ebola and hepatitis viruses.”

But how? Why don’t male hormones protect against the “man flu” and other illnesses?

The study claims estrogen is naturally able to reduce the metabolic rate of cells, which might be helping to slow the replication of the flu virus. Inversely, men have far fewer of these hormones, leaving their bodies a free and open breeding ground for the “man flu.”

So maybe men aren’t exactly exaggerating their symptoms and begging for sympathy, maybe they’re just suffering from a stronger sickness — or, at the very least, they’re getting the “man flu” more often. According to the Daily Mail, since the flu virus’s replication is restricted in a female host, women tend to experience a “less virulent strain of the disease,” or are less likely to spread the flu germs. This leaves the more vicious strain of “man flu” to infect the moaning men.

Man flu

“We see clinical potential in the finding that therapeutic estrogens that are used for treating infertility and menopause may also protect against the flu,” Klein added.

Interestingly, estrogen seems to do nothing to help men steer clear of the “man flu.” It’s as if the estrogen is loyal to female cells alone. A previous post from the Inquisitr also supports the idea that “man flu” is real by suggesting testosterone results in men having weaker immune systems.

[Photos by George Marks, Joe Raedle/Retrofile/Getty Images]