Is 'Man Flu' real?

It’s that time of year where the male of the species starts to get a little bit of flak for their throat tickles and sniffles. Yes, ‘tis the season where the dreaded ‘man flu’ rears its ugly head, and poorly men all over the UK are teased for holing up in bed while poorly women carry on with their day-to-day lives. But, are men justified in taking time out to help their bodies recover from winter bugs – is ‘man flu’ actually real?

The answer is, surprisingly, yes! Scientists have discovered that men have weaker immune systems than women, which leaves them more susceptible to harsher bouts of flu and respiratory viruses.

Is ‘Man Flu’ real?

The winter season brings the usual coughs, colds and for some, the more serious flu. Many of us will battle through and sit, sniffling at our desks, while others will admit defeat and retire to bed to try and nurse themselves through the worst of their illness. Some of us are considered more infamous for taking to their beds than others, however, namely men, suffering from ‘man flu’.

Man flu is the illness that apparently turns tickly coughs into chronic chest infections and minor headaches into full-blown migraines. For all the teasing though, it looks like the men of Britain may have something to moan about after all – man flu is real!

The research

A study, conducted by scientists at America’s Harvard University, revealed a surprising revelation about the role of oestrogen in immune protection – the hormone actually helps to strengthen our immune systems.

Men, of course, don’t possess the level of oestrogen that women do, which is where they fall down when it comes to their ability to fight cold and flu viruses. Their lack of oestrogen actually makes men’s immune systems weaker, which in turn means they not only contract viruses more easily than the fairer sex but feel the effects more seriously.

The study involved giving both male and female mice a dose of oestrogen, which seemed to cure them of bacterial pneumonia by activating an enzyme called nitric oxide synthase. Where the gene responsible for producing this enzyme was removed, the creatures lost their resistance to infection.

It isn’t only this study that has uncovered some home truths about the dreaded man flu, either. Over the last few years, many scientists have noticed correlations between female hormones and flu-related recovery rates, which begs the question: how can men protect themselves against man flu?

What are the symptoms of 'man flu'?

Snotty Nose - A characteristic flu symptom is a snotty, inflamed nose that makes it difficult to breathe.
Headache -
Flu sufferers experience long-lasting headaches, as well as aches around their face.
Feeling Sick -
One of the more unpleasant symptoms - a tell-tale sign that you don't just have a cold.
Chesty Cough -
A dry, chesty cough that brings up mucus is one of the most common symptoms of flu.
Aches & Pains -
Flu is a full body virus and can be characterised by achy joints and muscles, and sluggishness.
Fever -
Look out for a sudden temperature of around 38°C (100.4°F) or above.

Prevention is better than cure

The only real way to try and avoid getting ill over winter is by giving your immune system a helping hand.

Firstly, make sure you are eating the right things during the winter months. Foods full of immune-boosting vitamins include blueberries, watercress, kale, beetroot, garlic and ginger, which all taste delicious and are really versatile.

Secondly, invest in a flu jab. These may cost a little if you aren’t classed as vulnerable (such as those that are pregnant or have asthma), but will help to keep flu at bay over the coming months. You don’t even have to visit your GP – high street shops like Boots now offer the jab for just £12.99.

Other flu-fighting tactics involve getting a good night’s sleep to keep your immune system healthy, exercising to increase your blood flow (which in turn strengthens your immune system) and using hand sanitiser after touching things like door handles in public spaces.

About Benenden Health

Looking after your health and wellbeing, Benenden Health is designed to be the affordable alternative to private health insurance as well as complementing NHS services for just £11.50 per person, per month.

As soon as you join, you have 24/7 access to GP and Mental Health Advice lines. Then, once you’ve been a member for six months, you can request our help if your NHS appointment is over three weeks for Medical Diagnostics or over five weeks for Medical Treatment and Surgery. Benenden Health isn’t insurance, our services are offered on a discretionary basis. Limits and exclusions apply.

Find out more about Benenden Health and information on how to join the affordable alternative to health insurance.