Probably as long as women and men have existed, the former have accused the latter of being wimpy when it comes to suffering from colds or the flu. According to new research from Canada's Memorial University of Newfoundland, however, men may actually experience physically worse symptoms than women.
After analyzing past research that was relevant to the topic, Memorial's Dr. Kyle Sue found evidence that men have a higher risk of hospital admission for influenza than do women of the same age, they experience more complications from a variety of respiratory diseases, and have higher rates of flu-related deaths.
According to Sue, this may be due to men having a less robust immune system than women. Higher estrogen levels have previously been linked to stronger immune responses, lower viral levels and more immune markers in the blood. Higher testosterone levels, on the other hand, have been shown to result in the opposite.
That inferior immune system could have had an evolutionary benefit, he believes, as it allowed men to invest more of their energy in other biological processes such as growth and reproduction.
He adds that lying low while sick, instead of being out hunting and gathering, could also have helped keep our male prehistoric ancestors from being attacked by predators. "When looking at the hunter-gatherer role, a man wouldn't be hunting while not thinking straight," he says. "They could instead retreat home where it's presumably safer."
All of this being said, the university states that more research needs to be conducted before any firm conclusions can be drawn. The difference in smoking and drinking rates between men and women should be taken into account, for instance, along with their willingness to see a doctor in a timely manner.
It should also be noted that the study is published in the BMJ's (British Medical Journal's) Christmas issue, which for over 30 years has been devoted to the lighter side of science.
A paper on the study was recently published in the BMJ.
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