Science & Tech

Study explains why men 'get sicker' than women with the flu

Study explains why men 'get sicker' than women with the flu
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New scientific research has been conducted which could suggest that men actually do get sicker from viruses than women – and it could make us think about “man flu” in a whole new light.

Women in general tend to have stronger immune systems, and it could all be down to the fact that women have two X chromosomes whereas men have one.

Now, new research from a research team at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have spotted differences in immune systems of men and women, which could explain how both sexes react differently to viruses.

The findings, published in Nature Immunology, focuses on the importance of the gene and protein UTX.

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Women have an extra copy of the UTX genes because the gene is on the X chromosome. Women have two X chromosomes, while men have one.

While some of the genes in one X chromosome are switched off, around 20 per cent remain active.

Is 'man flu' a real thing?iStock

The researchers at UCLA have now found that the UTX gene is very important when it comes to the function of natural killer cells. These cells are key to defending the body from infection, and can kill cells with viral infections – as well as cancer cells.

While scientists have previously discovered that men tend to have more natural killer cells than women, the new research into UTX genes could be key to changing our understanding of how both sexes deal with infection.

Having more natural killer cells might suggest that men could fight infection more easily, but the new study claims that the fact women have more UTX proteins means they could actually be better at fighting them.

“It turns out that women have more UTX in their NK cells than men, which allows them to fight viral infections more efficiently,” one of the study authors Dr. Maureen Su said in a press release.

“The term ‘man flu’ is a slightly sarcastic term suggesting that men are more whiny when they get sick,” says Erik Dissen of the University of Oslo.

“However, it is actually possible to measure systematic differences if you look at enough women and men and how they respond to viral infection. Signalling substances in the blood are one way to do this.

“Then you can see differences. It looks like men produce a little more of the substances that cause fever and make you feel ill.”

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