Is the ‘man flu’ really a thing?

Is the ‘man flu’ really a thing?

This new article in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal couldn’t come at a better time.

Just in time for flu season, the article details the exploration and science behind the ongoing debate between sniffling, coughing men, and irritated women.

We’re of course talking about the fabled ‘man flu’. Is it really a medical condition? And do men have it harder than women when it comes to flu symptoms? Or are men just more whiney and just act sicker when they have the same flu as women?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the man flu is indeed a thing – much to the dismay of proud, flu-hardened men: “A cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms.”

With the constant back and forth that had no end in sight, Dr. Kyle Sue, a clinical assistant professor in family medicine at Memorial University in St. John’s, took matters into his own hands. Accruing all available research, he dived in to see if he could settle the debate with good ol’ fashioned, irrefutable science.

His theory? There’s some evidence that suggests the man flu is nothing to wipe away.


“I think the symptoms are real,” Sue said. “And they’re worse.”

As unbiased as a scientist could be, Sue admits there’s a personal angle to his commitment to the project, too.

“I’ve been criticized for exaggerating my symptoms when I had the flu,” he told CBC News from Arviat, Nunavut, where he’s the community’s only doctor. “I thought. You know what? This would be an interesting topic to look into.”

In the text, he notes the lack of scientific review towards whether the term man flu “is appropriately defined or just an ingrained pejorative term with no scientific basis.”

“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,” he wrote.

Throughout the dense research and past studies, with most involving mice or other clinical test animals, he found they pointed to men having weaker immune systems than women.

“Testosterone is a hormone that actually acts as an immunosuppressant. Whereas estrogen works in the opposite direction. They stimulate the immune system,” he told CBC News. “So men with higher testosterone actually end up being more susceptible to viral respiratory and tend to get them worse.”


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And while he admits the evidence is limited, due to the majority of mice subjects, the evidence that is there suggests men suffer more from flus, and the man flu argument has some weight.

“The whole point of doing this article is to prove that men are not wimps,” he said in an interview. “Actually, we are suffering from something we have no control over … [We] should be given the benefit of the doubt rather than being criticized for not functioning well during the flu or the common cold.”

Sorry, men. You’ll have to live with the stigma of being whiny babies during flu season.

But it’s not all bad – as Sue wrote, there are benefits to having a “less robust immune system.” In times of peril, men can conserve their energy by lying on the couch, or staying in bed.

“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.”

Photo Credit: Pretty Vectors/; Elnur/; sirtravelalot/

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