"Man flu" is a term that women trot out when a guy has a simple case of the sniffles but complains that he's suffering from a much more serious illness like the flu. It turns out, however, that man flu might actually be a real phenomenon and not just an excuse to bail on brunch.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that men may suffer from the flu more than women because they have less estrogen. The female sex hormone appears to have some antiviral properties that protect women from the more severe symptoms of the flu, according to the research published in the American Journal of Physiology.
Researchers exposed cells from men's and women's nasal passages to the virus. They also put them in contact with estrogen, which reduced the virus's effect on women but not men. That suggests that it's not estrogen alone that fights the illness — men do have some of the hormone in their body — but some antiviral qualities specific to women.
Either way, researchers believe estrogen might help fight the flu. "We see clinical potential in the finding that therapeutic estrogens that are used for treating infertility and menopause may also protect against the flu," Sabra Klein, Phd, lead author of the study, said in a statement.
Although the United States has experienced a relatively mild flu season this year, the virus hospitalizes 400,000 annually on average and kills upwards of 49,000 Americans every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.