What’s wrong with the myth of men’s cold?
Bad headache, nasty cough: Many men suffer massively from colds. In fact, women’s immune systems work differently. But is that enough as a reason?
He lies heavily on the cushions, he rattles, he moans: If a man has a cold, he suffers. A lot. Rather than women would do it, at least the women say. The stereotype of the man, who suffers severe agony with a tingling nose and slight neck scratching, persists stubbornly.
But while the male fear of the smallest colds every fall as a pleasurable small talk topic, the causes for the so-called “men’s cold” remain unclear. Could there be any scientific connection to the cliché? Are men actually being attacked more easily or more by cold and flu viruses than women?
Anyone who deals with such questions will end up with Beatrix Grubeck-Loebenstein sooner or later. The immunologist from the University of Innsbruck has long been studying how women’s and men’s immune systems differ. “Roughly simplified, it can be stated that men can become ill more often than women due to differences in the immune response,” says Grubeck-Loebenstein.
How the hormones affect the immune system
But the variety of specific immune cells has a catch: to produce these experts, the body takes a while. In order for invading pathogens to actually be defeated, the cells must multiply millions of times. This is where the difference between women and men comes into play.
While the female hormone estrogen supports the propagation of specific immune cells, the male hormone testosterone has exactly the opposite effect: “estrogen stimulates the immune system, whereas testosterone suppresses it,” explains Marcus Altfeld from the Heinrich Pette Institute in Hamburg. “Women’s immune systems react faster and more aggressively to pathogens than men’s.” In addition, the higher the testosterone level, the more the male immune system is weakened.
Female defense must protect unborn child
The researchers can only make vague statements about the causes of this difference between the sexes. Altfeld points out that the human immune system has evolved over millions of years. A possible explanation must therefore look far back: “Our ancestors in the Stone Age lived in common caves and exposed themselves to dangers.The task of the female immune system was even then, especially to protect the unborn or newborn child.”
This relationship could also explain the influence of hormone activity. “The effect of the estrogen-boosted immune system is particularly pronounced in young women from adolescence and weakens in postmenopausal women,” says Grubeck-Loebenstein.
But to explain the vulnerability alone with the testosterone-weakened immune system, would fall short. “Other factors also play a role that are more relevant to behavior and the environment, men are still riskier, they are eating less and they are less disciplined,” says Grubeck-Loebenstein. In short, men can not completely invoke nature – they have their fate, at least partially, in their own hands.
Does that also apply to cold viruses?
In addition: The differences are so far only for certain infectious diseases. Men get pneumonia more often from pneumonia caused by pneumococci, for example. Likewise to malaria, which is caused by parasites. Alone: In cold viruses, there are other factors that seem to play a major role . And they argue that women also suffer pretty badly – which may just say differently.
While men are more likely to be infected by viruses, and therefore have a good reason for whining, the agony in women is not necessarily smaller: the more responsive female immune system could even make women feel particularly miserable. After flu shots, for example, women complain more often than men about depression or headaches. Similar to fever or inflammation, these symptoms do not arise alone because pathogens (or vaccines) enter the body but through the immune system’s response to them. The complaints are, so to speak, the side effects of healthy immune defense.
Assuming that the immune system of women not only react very strongly to cold viruses in the laboratory, it would even be conceivable that they suffer more from a cold than men. However, that is not proven. A study in which the common cold symptoms of 76 couples were found showed that men and women get the same frequency, the same length and the same degree of cold.
Caring is the best medicine
Marcus Altfeld therefore still considers the state of knowledge about differences between male and female disease prevention to be inadequate: “There is a lot of talk about personalized medicine these days, and the individual should be given more and more consideration in research, although we do not even know enough about them Differences between the sexes. ”
But regardless of whether the number of viruses is greater or smaller than the other sex: Who so moans, moans and spits, he suffers. And suffering can be eased well – though not shortened – by caring: with a hot tea, a hot water bottle, freshly squeezed orange juice, with listening. Incidentally, this applies to both sexes.
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