The health threat that all women hate

Social Scientist Dr. Ali Walker answers the age-old question: is man flu real?

According to recent studies, man flu might be real.

A study from John Hopkins University published in the American Journal of Physiology – Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology (January 2016) showed that the female hormone estrogen may naturally guard women against the influenza A virus.

Another study by the Stanford University School of Medicine published in December 2013 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science showed that men with higher testosterone levels have a poor immune response to the influenza vaccine (compared to women and men with lower testosterone levels). This is consistent with older studies suggesting that testosterone suppresses the male immune system.

This means that men are more vulnerable to the flu and may experience more powerful symptoms than women. The female immune system kicks in earlier and is more potent than the male immune system when it faces viruses and infections. In essence the flu virus has a reduced impact and lasts for a shorter time in females.

But why is this the case?

It all has to do with evolution.

Women have the potential to pass viruses and infections on to their potential offspring, so the duration and severity of these illnesses needs to be limited (University of London 2016).

On the other hand, male bodies with high testosterone levels were designed to fight and hunt for prey. In ancient times, it was beneficial for their immune response to be suppressed so that they could continue to battle without succumbing to injury or illness (Professor Mark Davis, Catalyst ABC, 18 September 2014).

In modern times, this just means that the flu hits men harder.

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more expert health advice from Zoe, Ed, and the team.

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