Every Christmas, the British Medical Journal turns away from dry-but-new scientific research and has some fun with tongue-in-cheek articles. This year, one of them looks at the existence of "man flu," that horrible disease that makes men take to bed and require constant care, while a woman in the same household with the same illness tends to him. You , no doubt, are familiar with the joke, but some media outlets reported on the article as a research breakthrough.
The man flu paper in particular has led to a chorus of media headlines and articles proclaiming with a straight face that “new research” shows that the man flu is real, and credulously quoting the paper’s author, Kyle Sue, a Canadian family doctor, as he advocated 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.”
Sue’s paper isn’t a new study though, the kind where we imagine lab coats shuffling around the lab testing mice and men. It’s just a review of some interesting research, in both animals and humans, that suggests men generally have weaker immune systems than women and offers some reasons why. The reasons range from plausible—testosterone and estrogen could weaken and strengthen the immune system, respectively—to seemingly tongue-in-cheek: Sue suggests that men could have evolved their man flu response because it kept our surviving paleolithic ancestors better protected against predators. He also cringingly turns it back around on women for choosing these high-T men to mate with in the first place.
So, the research is real, but we aren't meant to take it seriously? Yes, the research is real, but its inclusion in the December BMJ means it had a lighthearted presentation. A review at Gizmodo takes issue with the BMJ holiday issue, particularly in the age of "fake news" and media distrust.
(Image credit: Wellcome Images)