It’s a tale as old as time…when the flu hits, the woman ‘toughs it out’ and carries on with her daily duties, while the man retreats to his bed at the slightest cough. Some women mock their men for their inability to carry on, while some men report that they are experiencing a much more severe version of the flu then their female counterparts — they are experiencing the ‘man flu.’ Don’t laugh, because as absurd as it may sound the Man Flu actually does exist, and its existence is backed by science!
Researchers at Queen Mary University of London conducted a study on male and female rats in order to reveal whether or not male and female immune systems operate differently. The researchers infected the rats with a variety of influenza viruses and then examined the white blood cells in the lungs and stomachs of the rats. White blood cells are vital for proper immune system function and they are responsible for both protecting the body from, and killing off, viruses, bacteria and other harmful microorganisms.
The scientists were shocked to find that males have about half as many white blood cells as females, which means that the male immune system is generally less effective at fighting off infections such as the cold and flu. Although this study was conducted on rats, the researchers believe the findings will also apply to humans because they were studying an ancient part of the mammal’s immune system response.
Not only do males have half as many white blood cells as females, the male white blood cells are also less responsive to invaders such as bacteria, and they work less effectively. In addition, the white blood cells found in the males, were found to release more of the chemicals that stimulate the immune system response, which is problematic because according to lead researcher Dr. Ramona Scotland “It’s the release of these mediators that makes you feel lousy when you’re fighting off an infection.” Due to the fact that males are releasing more of the chemicals that cause you to feel lousy when you are sick, it makes perfect sense that they would feel worse and experience the flu in a whole different way than women.
The science behind the ‘Man Flu’ does not stop there. Researchers at the University of Queensland recruited volunteers to test the immune system response to rhino-viruses—which are the viruses that are responsible for the cold and flu. They found that females had a much greater immune system response to the viruses, and consequently, were much better at resisting the viruses. According to one of the researchers of the study, Professor John Upham: “It makes sense from a biological point of view because women are more likely to ensure the survival of the species.”
Regardless of your gender, there are things that you can do to help boost your immune system and resist falling victim to the cold and flu this winter. Get plenty of rest, exercise regularly, reduce or eliminate sugar from your diet, and consume a diet that consists primarily of whole, unprocessed foods. Add in regular laughter, and you have the recipe for a turbo charged immune system.