Battle of the Sexes: Flu Recovery Edition
Ever heard the phrase “anything men can do, women can do better”? As a woman-owned business, we like to believe that’s true. But new research suggests that in the case of flu recovery, it may not be.
According to a recent study from scientists at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, men may recover more quickly from influenza infections.
Why? Because they produce more of a key lung-healing protein called amphiregulin.
Why Men Recover More Quickly from the Flu
The scientists infected live mice and human cells derived from male humans with influenza virus. Their findings indicate that both the male mice and human cells produced more amphiregulin, a growth factor protein important in wound healing. Compared to female mice, the male mice recovered more quickly, whereas male mice lacking amphiregulin had recovery times close to those of females.
Scientists have long known that women, compared to men, tend to have more severe flu symptoms and slower recoveries (even when their virus levels are the same). Previously, this had been accredited to women’s greater levels of lung inflammation during flu infections.
This study shows however, that it’s not the level of lung inflammation in females that slows their recovery, but rather their relatively low production of amphiregulin that inhibits healing.
How the Study Worked
Mice were infected with a non-lethal dose of H1N1 — You may remember it as the Influenza A strain that caused a global pandemic in 2009 – 2010 with more than 18,000 deaths.
The researchers observed that although male and female mice had similar virus levels (and cleared it in about the same amount of time), the females suffered significantly more from their infections. They had greater loss of body mass and greater lung inflammation during the worst of the infection, and later recovered normal lung function at a slower rate.
Amphiregulin was identified as a key factor in this gender-based difference. The growth-factor protein is known to promote the production of epithelial (protective barrier) cells in the skin, lungs and other surfaces in the body when it heals. Analysis of the mice revealed that the males produced significantly more amphiregulin than females during the recovery phase of their infections.
What’s more, male mice that had been genetically engineered to lack amphiregulin showed the same pattern as females. They had more severe infections and slower recoveries. Females without amphiregulin were relatively unchanged in their infection severity, suggesting that the lung-healing protein primarily makes a difference for males.
Similarly, the team found that flu infections of mouse and human lung epithelial cells in culture dishes saw significant jumps in the production of amphiregulin only when the cells were from males.
How This Discovery Can Aid Flu Recovery
While scientists remain unsure as to why males produce more of this mystical flu recovery protein, the research could lead to new flu treatments that boost amphiregulin production, particularly in women.
A previous study completed in 2016 showed that the sex hormone progesterone stimulates amphiregulin production in female mice, suggesting that there may be ways to boost flu recovery in females.
Only time will tell exactly how all of this data winds together. Until then, the flu vaccine remains your best bet for flu prevention. Call us to schedule yours today!