“Man flu’ victims lying on the sofa, clutching TV remotes and demanding tissues and hot drinks may have its origins in evolution, suggests an article in the Christmas issue of The BMJ.
In the article Canadian academic Dr Kyle Sue, a sometimes victim of ‘man flu’ himself, investigated whether there was any scientific evidence for members of his fellow sex being accused of over-reacting to the common cold.
The term ‘man flu’ is defined in the Oxford dictionary as when men is “a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms”.
Dr Sue’s findings, published in the spirit of British Medical Journal’s annual festive issues that traditionally end the year with quirky research and a dose of humour, found some evidence that maybe the source of ‘man flu’ was that men had weaker immune systems which may have provided them with some evolutionary advantage.
Dr Sue analysed relevant research and found some evidence that adult men have a higher risk of hospital admission and have higher rates of influenza associated deaths compared with women in the same age groups, regardless of underlying disease.
For many acute respiratory diseases, males are also more susceptible to complications and exhibit a higher mortality. And some evidence supports men suffering more from viral respiratory illness than women because they have a less robust immune system.
Despite this evidence, Dr Sue says further higher quality research is needed to clarify other aspects of man flu “because it remains uncertain whether viral quantities, immune response, symptoms, and recovery time can be affected by environmental conditions.”
He concluded that the concept of man flu, as commonly defined, is potentially unjust.
“Men may not be exaggerating symptoms but have weaker immune responses to viral respiratory viruses, leading to greater morbidity and mortality than seen in women,” he writes.
However, there may be an evolutionary benefit to a less robust immune system, he explains, as it has allowed men to invest their energy in other biological processes, such as growth, secondary sex characteristics, and reproduction.”
There are benefits to energy conservation when ill, adds Sue.
“Lying on the couch, not getting out of bed, or receiving assistance with activities of daily living could also be evolutionarily behaviours that protect against predators.”
“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.”