Dr. Joseph Sirven: Sex, Lies And A Medical Journal

Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2018 - 7:28am
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Dr. Joseph Sirven
Dr. Joseph Sirven

Don’t always believe every article in a medical journal, our medical commentator Dr. Joseph Sirven explains.


Everyone seated near me and my wife on a recent five hour flight was coughing and sneezing. I knew then and there, we would not be spared. 

Two days later and the bug hit us both. However, if you were to take a split screen of the both of us, you would notice startling differences on how each of us handled the “bug."

For my spouse, she soldiered through with nary a complaint. As for me, the scene was closer to a telenovela with curses and prayers that this evil would soon pass.

Bottom line: my wife was the heroine. And me? A wimp.

This leads to a universal question that we often ponder: do men and women differ in their responses to the same infectious diseases?

In a recent issue of the British Medical Journal a researcher proffered a theory. In an article entitled “The Science Behind the Man Flu,” the author performed a medical literature search — no study was conducted — cherry picking any study in agreement with his opinion, which led to the conclusion that men are immunologically inferior because testosterone is an immunosuppressant thus making guys more prone to infection. And that women are superior because estrogen is an immuno-protective hormone.

He concluded that men aren’t exaggerating symptoms they are just immunologically more debilitated. He argued that creating special comfort zones for men, such as man caves, may be best given how debilitated men are from minor infections. I’m not kidding!

The problem with this article was that it was a literal joke. But remember it was an article and not a research study.

Apparently, around Christmas time each year, the British Medical Journal releases a tongue-in-cheek article as a gift for its readers. However, the journal is so prestigious that some major news organizations picked up the story as a matter of scientific fact.

Should we be laughing or crying?

With any effective joke, there is a veneer of truth.

Studying gender differences in how infectious diseases occur in men and women is worthy research and the verdict is far from clear.

Critically reading articles and asking important questions should be the way we handle any new scientific study until it is proven as fact, especially if the conclusions are “out there.” 

In the interim, this paper perpetuated the urban myth that every woman suspects and every man would rather not admit publically: that perhaps woman are tougher than men when it comes to handling the common cold. Oops, I think I just said it out loud.

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