#SWAAYthenarrative

Why Women’s Health is a Black Box of Misinformation

4min read
Health

If you were diagnosed with a disease, or came down with an illness, your doctor would likely prescribe you medicine or suggest some medical intervention. And, it would be important to know if the doctor was recommending something that had been rigorously tested on people who looked like you. In fact, the more the subjects in that controlled study looked like you, the better.


Were the subjects human? Your age? Your skin color? Your heritage? And perhaps most importantly, your sex?

The sad truth is, that last variable is often the one missing from research if you're a female.

When women go to their doctors they are routinely given advice based on male bodies that may not be relevant to their own female bodies. Females contract illnesses in different proportions, they present different symptoms and even get different diseases, yet we are routinely treated as if they are biologically identical to our male counterparts.

I launched the Empowered Health podcast to start a discussion around how females are different than males and are deserving of the same level of care and respect when it comes to our health. Women needed a source of information that will help them lead their happiest, healthiest lives and I'm proud Empowered Health is first to fill that gap.

From 1977 to 1993, women of childbearing age were legally prohibited from participating in clinical trials. That means any medical advice based on research that was conducted during this 16 year period will not be helpful to women ages 18-45 years old.

And it's not that women at that stage of life use medicines or need medical treatments at lower rates than men. Approximately half of all U.S. women– and one in nine pregnant women– between ages 15 to 44 report taking a prescription drug within the last month, according to the CDC. Other findings show that over 90 percent of pregnant and lactating women in the U.S. are on at least one medication. That means most American women are taking meds that have not been tested on their bodies, they therefore do not know what the impact of those drugs are on their bodies or their babies bodies.

The reasons for this disparity in representation in clinical trials is not purely sexist. In the 1950s, Thalidomide was a drug prescribed to women who had morning sickness. By the 1960s, the medication was blamed for causing severe birth defects in thousands of babies. Its use was banned in treating pregnant women. The cultural experience of this tragedy has left an imprint on medical research that is still felt today.

And, while there has been a recent acknowledgement that this creates a dangerous medical environment for women, it is far from fixed.

The most recent effort by the US government to fix this problem makes it clear: "The statute requires NIH to ensure that clinical trials are carried out in a manner sufficient to provide for a valid analysis of whether the variables being studied affect women or members of minority groups differently than other trial participants."

Yet, we know that drug companies have work arounds to these guidelines. They can claim they tried to enroll women in the study, but they all dropped out, or they tried to recruit females but non wanted to participate. Whatever the excuse, females are still vastly underrepresented in clinical trials.

And all too often the media assumes medical advice is applicable to both sexes, because for most of history our bodies had been assumed to be the same, despite clear indications to the contrary.

More women are graduating from medical school than men and things are starting to change. When female med students realize no one is differentiating between the sexes hearts, brain, bones, and yet they know there are clear differences, they want answers too. These pioneers are doing fantastic research on how all our organs are different, which means we may require different testing and different treatments.

Their work is why I launched the Empowered Health Podcast. There are loads of brilliant researchers working on these issues around sex difference and I wanted to talk to them. Women's bodies are miraculous! And the more we dig, the more we learn just how different our parts are. Yet, the mainstream media has yet to catch on to this relatively new area of research--women's whole bodies

I've been an investigative journalist for almost two decades, covering everything from Congression cover-ups to high-profile murders to the shortcomings of artificial intelligence. And women's health is the biggest mess of bad information I've ever come upon. It is a disaster that women are dying of diseases because the treatments they receive are effective only in male bodies. As a women I'm constantly learning from others about my body, health and experience talking to the world's experts on topics ranging from heart disease and menopause to how THC causes a heightened high when we're ovulating! And the same is likely true for wine, have a glass of wine on your period and you'll feel very different than midway through your cycle when your hormones are surging.

On Empowered Health we're getting into all of the wonderful, mysterious ways we're different. While most female health news focus on periods, pregnancy or a specific disease, our goal is to literally cover everything. Our listeners have come to count on Empowered Health as the go-to source for evidence-based information that allows them to make the best choices for their individual bodies. We are talking to the world's experts on topics of specific importance to women everywhere. We are sharing valuable information that is not readily available so that you can decide how to live your healthiest happiest life.

Women are constantly dismissed, misdiagnosed, and altogether left out of the healthcare system, which is why I recognized there was a need for my podcast Empowered Health with Emily Kumler. We are demanding a seat at the table. Each week I tackle a different topic related to women's wellbeing. Unlike the way our medical environment is structured, I don't believe you can take a woman apart and conclusively diagnose her. We need to consider the whole women, her experiences, her symptoms, her lifestyle in order to understand how she is healthy or sick.

I've interviewed more than 100 sources on Empowered Health about these issues including Laurie Glimcher, the CEO of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Dr. Robert Gabbay, the medical director of Joslin Diabetes, and Dr. Sharonne Hayes, the medical director of the Mayo Clinic's Office for Diversity and Inclusion. I've talked to investigative reporters Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz about nutrition, as well as pregnancy experts like Emily Oster and Dr. Neel Shah, menopause experts Dr. Jan Shifren and Dr. Nancy Woods, state representatives Jaime Herrera-Buetler (R) and Leslie Herrod (D), and even famed anthropologists like Kristen Hawkes.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, yet many doctors don't even know that the female heart is different and suffers in different ways than the male heart, which is what most research is on.

So, it's not surprising that the way we diagnose heart attacks is flawed. As we learned in our episode with cardiologists Dr. Janet Wei and Dr. Giulia Sheftel, women are more likely to have blockages in the small vessels of their heart whereas men have plaque build-up in their large arteries.While chest pain is still the number one symptom for both sexes, women sometimes present atypical symptoms, contributing to a lower diagnosis rate thus leaving women more vulnerable to being left untreated.

Another trend we've seen is women experiencing dismissal of their discomfort–whether by clinicians, friends, family, or even to themselves. Women are constantly told their menstrual pain is normal. What is normal about symptoms that cause women to miss work, school, and important commitments for multiple days each month?

While covering endometriosis–a disorder where endometrial tissue appears outside the uterus, causing pain during menstruation–we learned that approximately one in ten American women suffer from endometriosis, yet many remain undiagnosed. This is due to the stigma that period pain is expected and tolerable, when actually it is debilitating for many endometriosis patients.

I'm sick of women being disregarded and dismissed. We found this especially true when looking at maternal mortality in the U.S.

All these themes tie back to a general thread: women are being massively disregarded by the medical system. Many outlets covering women's health are not adequately addressing the claims researchers make, causing misinformation to spread rapidly. As a reporter I know how to ask the tough questions, sift through the data and research and my goal is to share that info in a meaningful way with women everywhere.

3 min read
Lifestyle

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.

-Sadsies

Dear Sadsies,

I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.



I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!



- The Armchair Psychologist

Need more armchair psychologist in your life? Check out the last installment or emailarmchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get some advice of your own!