Cold and flu season is a great leveller. You might have a physique fit for Mr Olympia, but huddled shivering under a blanket we all look the same. I mean, what good is being able bench 200lbs when you can’t lift your head of the pillow?
Difficult to keep to your regular workout routine when throw-ups outnumber sit-ups.
Ironically, there’s evidence to suggest that the very thing which powers guys on to better health, fitness and performance most of the year, may be taking the edge off their internal defences when the germs start flying. Testosterone.
Some scientists believe a slightly weaker immune system may be one chink in naturally high T’s otherwise reliable male body armour.
Dr Kyle Sue of Memorial University in Newfoundland in Canada, used the British Medical Journal’s (BMJ) 2017 Christmas edition to make the case for an immunity gap between sexes. Because, he said, he was fed up being accused of overacting when suffering the dreaded man flu. Preach, my friend. Preach.
Admittedly this festive edition is usually a little tongue-in-cheek. For all we know, Dr Sue’s piece was next to a section dedicated to the photocopied buttocks of every respected academics at the BMJ’s Christmas party. But the studies he pointed make a compelling case for women being better able to battle bugs.
Not only did he point to several studies in mice – which are good(ish) models for human physiology – showing a difference, he cited human trials as well. Specifically, a notable study out of Stanford School of Medicine in 2014.
The trial looked at blood samples taken from 53 women and 34 men who were given the annual flu shot. Researchers checked for certain proteins, called immune-signalling proteins, which act as a marker for the strength of our immune response. Sure enough there was a correlation between higher T and a lower response.
That same study also identified a gene known as Module 52, which is activated in men with high T. According to the team, once switched on this gene reduces our antibodies reaction to illness.
Add to all this a work from the American Journal of Epidemiology, looking at flu deaths between 1997 and 2007, which found that men were more likely to meet our maker. So clearly guys are at a disadvantage. Or are we?
It’s generally accepted now that while T lowers the immune system, the female hormone, estrogen, ramps it up. While this provides better protection against everyday infections, it’s not without problems.
Women’s immune system’s for example are more susceptible to to becoming overactive. This raises their chances of serious, potentially life threatening autoimmune conditions such as: arthritis, lupus, or multiple sclerosis. Much higher estrogen levels are thought to be the reason.
It just goes to show the grass isn’t always greener on the other chromosome.
But what possible reason could there be for T not having our back when the snot hits the fan? Well it could be evolutionary.
Way back when we lived in caves and men were the hunter gatherers, we were much more likely to suffer severe injury. Sabre tooth tiger bite, squished by a wooly mammoth, what have you. Massive shocks to the system like this can cause what are known as cytokine storms.
In this way, keeping your internal guard dog on a slightly shorter leash can be helpful. Certainly there is evidence to suggest men’s system’s do better in these more extreme circimstances.
Of course it might not be that men’s system’s weaker, just that women’s are a little stronger. Remember, there’s ever chance that one day women will be fighting off flu for two. So they may have extra in the locker to use, even when they don’t have a bun in the oven.
Woah there. For a start, men not coping so well with infections may not be male hormone’s fault, Dr Sue admits that the evidence he found was “suggestive of an immunity gap…certainly not definitive.”
We do seem to be marginally more prone to flu, but again Sue acknowledges his trials didn’t take account of important social variables. Plenty more men than women are too bloody stubborn to go to the docs for instance. So tip one is don’t be a hero: get your flu shot.
Also, on balance, men have more bad habits that negatively affect immunity. Smoking, drinking, poor eating habits etc. So tip two is cut out the vices: stick to a healthy lifestyle.
Even if T does increase your openess to lurgy, it’s only slightly. There’s really no need for us all to become bubble boys and start getting our workouts like pet hamsters. You only have to check around this site to see the benefits of strong, natural, healthy T far outweigh the drawbacks.
Let’s remember lads, occasionally green and muscley is a good look. Check out the Hulk. Besides get a load of Dr Sue’s prescription:
You heard the man. boys. Doctor’s orders!