Grab a box of tissues: Researchers may have cracked the code behind why men must take to bed as if hit by the Ebola virus when they only have a minor case of the sniffles: Their immune cells are weaker, Time reports.
The study, published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity found that male mice who were exposed to bacteria causing a flu-like illness not only seemed sicker, but also took longer to get over it, plus, they had more fluctuation in body temperature, inflammation and fever.
Studies on mice may not accurately predict human responses, but even so, the world didn’t need a study to know what it has observed with its own eyes — that men are rendered helpless and in need of round-the-clock intensive care when beset with the common cold, while women soldier on diligently. But even the researchers didn’t expect these results.
“We were really surprised, and at first, we were like, ‘Is this real?’” Nafissa Ismail, the director of the University of Ottawa lab that conducted the study, told Canada’s Metro News. So they did the experiment again, and got the same results. Based on previous research that found that testosterone suppresses the immune system (and estrogen boosts it), Ismail said they figured the results were related to sex hormones. But even after removing the gonads on the male mice, they still had worse symptoms.
This doesn’t mean testosterone isn’t still a factor here — Ismail said the effects of testosterone could already be locked in before a mouse, or man, hits puberty. Sabra Klein, associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, offered another theory to Time — a “live fast, die young” theory that suggests, confusingly, that men’s greater risk-taking and greater penchant for adventure exposes them to more disease, but somehow makes them less able to fight it off. The idea here is that immunity-wise, men only need to be worried about being well enough to reproduce, whereas women, eternal caretakers of children, would be more invested in a quick recovery that allowed them to get right back on those dishes ASAP.
All this runs counter to the beloved notion as men as robust in the face of all challenges — not a good look. If there is one evolutionary mandate to prove wrong for no other reason than sheer vanity, we suggest this one.