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What is Man Flu? – Is it real, symptoms and possible cures

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, it's the season where the dreaded ‘man flu’ rears its ugly head. We see the stereotypical view that 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 (and those assigned male at birth) justified in taking time out to help their bodies recover from winter bugs – is ‘man flu’ actually real?

Is man flu real?

The answer is, surprisingly, yes!

Scientists have discovered that men have weaker immune systems than women. This leaves them more susceptible to harsher bouts of flu and viruses. We'll be discussing whether man flu is a real thing, what the symptoms of man flu are and any remedies that exist to combat it.

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, 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!

Man flu scientific study

A study, conducted by scientists at America’s Harvard University, revealed a surprising revelation about the role of oestrogen in immune protection, this 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. An article published in BMJ states that through various sample studies, scientists found evidence that men who had symptoms of a viral respiratory infection had a weaker immune response that lasted longer and was more severe.
It is thought those with higher levels of testosterone had a suboptimal immune response, whereas women, who naturally have higher oestrogen levels, responded better.

Over the last few years, many scientists have noticed correlations between female hormones and flu-related recovery rates, which begs the questions: how can men protect themselves against man flu?

What are the symptoms of man flu?

There are a range of man flu symptoms, which can vary from one person to another. The most common symptoms are:

  • 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.

Dealing with man flu

The only real way to try and avoid getting man flu 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 have breathing or heart problems), but will help to keep flu at bay over the coming months. You don’t even have to visit your GP – high street pharmacies who now offer the jab for around £10-15.

Other man flu-fighting tactics involve getting a good night’s sleep to keep your immune system healthy. Sleep helps to regulate your hormones and maintains a healthy immune function. Exercising to increase your blood flow (which in turn strengthens your immune system), as well as using hand sanitiser after touching things like door handles in public spaces.


About our healthcare

Benenden Health provides affordable private healthcare for everyone, giving you access to services such as our 24/7 GP Helpline and Mental Health Helpline straight away. Once you’ve been a member for six months you can request access to diagnostic consultations and tests.

You'll also have access to a wealth of health and wellbeing articles, videos and advice on a range of health issues.


Medically reviewed by Llinos Connolly in April 2024.