Are men more at risk of infections?



Men's Health Advisor
@AVogelUK
Ask Dr. Jen Tan


09 September 2020

Are men more at risk of infections?

Some serious infections have been found to affect men in higher numbers; plus, they are more likely to develop complications from certain illnesses.1

The reasons for this are complicated, but some common contributing factors are:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Reduced immune response
  • Hygiene standards
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Lung disease
  • CVD

Let's take a closer look at how these factors can increase infection risk in men.

Why are men more at risk of infection?

Men may be more at risk of infections but there are several factors that could be involved here.

Men are more likely to smoke

A 2019 survey by the Office for National Statistics (UK) found that 16.5% of males smoked compared with 13% of women.2

Smoking is known to increase the risk of developing an infection3, including respiratory viral infections; plus, it may take longer to shift symptoms when they take hold.

This is likely to be linked to the fact that smoking damages the lungs and airways. On top of this, it is harmful to the immune system, weakening its capacity to tackle infections. This is because smoking suppresses the action of white blood cells which work as part of the immune system to protect the body from invading viruses.

Another factor to consider is that smokers generally move their hands to their faces more often which increases the chance of viruses being able to enter the body. This may make it more likely that smokers will experience an infection; plus, they may experience these on a more regular basis than non-smokers.

Remember – way back 2006/2007 (depending on where you live) the UK began implementing a smoking ban in all enclosed workspaces. However, passive smoking can still be a huge risk factor for developing infections if you live with someone who smokes. 

If you know someone who smokes, direct them towards NHS services, such as this page on tips to cut down, or their GP, for expert advice on managing the habit.

Men are generally more obese

A 2020 report published by the NHS found that 67% of men and 60% of women in England were overweight.4 The figures are replicated across the UK, where men are consistently more overweight or obese than women.5

A poor diet high in processed, sweet, or overly salty foods will contribute to weight gain and a weakened immune system. This is because the immune system needs plenty of nutrients from fresh foods, such as vitamin C and zinc, in order to function efficiently.

On top of this, excess weight can lead to increased inflammation, which in itself makes us more vulnerable to infection.

Although it varies from person to person, being overweight or obese may also suggest an individual is less active. Exercise is very important for keeping our mental and physical health well. It is also supportive of our immune system, helping to defend against viruses by boosting the production of immune cells known as T cells that bind to viruses and bacteria in order to kill them off.

What's more, sufferers of type 2 diabetes are more likely to be overweight and, for the reasons just discussed, may be more at risk of infections as well.

"Men are less hygienic"

According to some experts, another factor that may explain why men are more vulnerable to infection is that they are simply less hygienic than women. Men may be less likely to comply with basic sanitation measures such as hand washing, which means they are more likely to pick up illnesses, according to some studies.6

When to wash your hands:

  • After handling raw meat
  • When you return from a trip outdoors
  • Before cooking
  • After changing a nappy or using the toilet (obviously!)
  • After cleaning
  • Before eating meals or snacks
  • After handling an object someone else has had, such as a package in the post
  • After petting an animal
  • After sneezing, coughing or wiping your nose.

Reduced immune response

One key difference between the genders is that women have two X chromosomes per cell whereas men only have one.

A number of critical immune genes are located on the X chromosome - in particular, the gene for a protein called TLR7, which detects certain viruses. As a result, this protein is expressed at twice the amount on many immune cells in females compared to males, and the immune response to viruses is therefore amplified in females.

This basically means that women are more likely to have an appropriate response to a virus and are less likely to suffer badly.

Additional health concerns

As well as the issues outlined above, there are few other health concerns that are known to affect men in higher numbers, such as high blood pressure, lung disease and cardiovascular disease (CVD).

These factors are just a few additional reasons why men may be more at risk of infection. High blood pressure, for example, may weaken the immune system. This is effect is more pronounced when the problem occurs in an older individual whose immune system will already be weakened due to age.

While long-term health conditions such as CVD and lung disease don't raise the risk of becoming infected with a virus, they could make symptoms more severe if an infection takes hold.
Unfortunately, often these problems co-exist together and are part of each other's processes meaning your risk of developing more serious infections is elevated further.

How to manage your infection risk

To help keep illnesses at bay, one of the best things you can do is support your immune system. To help with this, below I have outlined a few key tips.

Try out Immune Support

To support your immune system during the virus-prone winter months (and, indeed, beyond!) it is worth considering how natural remedies could be beneficial.

Vitamin C helps to reduce tiredness and fatigue during spells of sickness, whilst zinc and vitamin D support the normal functioning of the immune system. You can find all of these in plenty of fresh foods, as well as one handy supplement – Immune Support.

Take one tablet a day to give your immune system a little helping hand.


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Think good food!

A.Vogel Nutritionist Emma Thornton recently published a blog post detailing the best dietary tips to support your immune system. You can read this piece here.

In the meantime, here's a quick run-down of some helpful foody tips to help keep infections away:

  • Choose a Mediterranean diet – maximise your veggie intake and include lots of (natural) colour in your meals!
  • Avoid unhealthy habits – including reliance on caffeine and alcohol, as well as high sugar intake.
  • Try more fermented foods – this includes sauerkraut and kefir. These may have antioxidant activity.

Are you getting enough sleep?

Good sleep helps to support effective T cell production and activation. This basically means that your body uses the downtime to replenish the cells it needs to fight infection. Therefore, if you are continuously getting poor sleep, you could become more vulnerable to infection.

If you struggle to get a good night's sleep, try a gentle sleep remedy like Dormeasan Sleep or work on tactics to combat poor sleep, such as exercising more, avoiding technology in the evening and removing disruptions from the bedroom – such as pets, televisions, phones, tablets, etc.

For more information on how to look after your immune system and keep infections away, check out our blog: How to boost your immune system.

References

1 https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/159/3/229/79939 
https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandlifeexpectancies/bulletins/adultsmokinghabitsingreatbritain/2018 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1694990/ 

https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/statistics-on-obesity-physical-activity-and-diet/england-2020 
https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/risk/overweight-and-obesity#heading-One 
6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7195268/ 

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