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Man Flu: Myth or Reality?

by Dr. Jason Barker January 28, 2014

Man Flu: Myth or Reality?

Have you ever had Man Flu? Man Flu is a pejorative term describing how colds affect men...  much, much worse than women. We’ve all seen it – the big tough guy who becomes a whiny crybaby once he has a cold.

To borrow from what’s known as the observer effect in physics, a man only suffers from Man Flu if he has a partner from whom he wishes to garner additional attention for his seemingly severe symptoms.

The debate about whether men are more adversely affected by colds rages on in the scientific literature.

A study from 2009 claimed that women fare better during infections because estrogen limits certain ways the immune system contributes to our discomfort during infection. However, this study was refuted because it was done on mice, not men.

Other studies suggest that women have developed stronger immune systems based on reproductive strategies – meaning women aren’t supposed to get sick because they are responsible for propagating the species (carrying and birthing offspring).

Sadly, there isn’t any known difference in the rates of infection between men and women. Can you tell I’m trying to find evidence that Man Flu is real? Well who needs evidence, I have many “N of 1” studies that tell me I am way sicker than my wife when I catch a cold.

Men - don’t loose hope though!  A study from last year claims that men do in fact suffer worse than women because we have more temperature receptors in our brains, which cause us to experience symptoms more acutely than women.

So what can you do to avoid the Man Flu, short of becoming a woman? The key is avoidance – follow these steps to keep your immune system up, and the Man Flu away:

-Keep exercise bouts short and intense, rather than long and drawn out during cold season.  Yep, winter is a good time to work on strength training instead of long bouts of cardio, which can actually weaken your immunity.

-Keep cortisol down. Cortisol is that nasty stress hormone that is notorious for dampening our immunity. Cortisol rises with poor sleep and other stressors. Meditate, chill out, do whatever you need to do to keep calm. Cortisol manager works for stress cadets in lowering elevated cortisol.

-Eat the colorful stuff. The chemicals that give plants their bright colors also boost immunity. These plant chemicals (phytonutrients) also come with vitamin c – another great immune booster and anti-viral. In the winter I take extra vitamin c with bioflavonoids (just one group of plant phytonutrients) for protection against the bugs.

Following this advice, and some good luck, you too can avoid the ego-bursting symptoms of Man Flu!

Good luck men!

Dr. Jason Barker
Dr. Jason Barker


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