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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.

Our newsletter that womansplains the week
3min read
Self

It’s Time for Women to Stop Worrying About Being “Too Much”

We are living in a time when women are rising to new heights which means they are regularly being confronted with the fear of being "too much". For women in business this is pervasive and costly.

A few ways women can be perceived as "too much" are:

Speaking up about their successes and achievements.

Sharing one too many photos of their cute kids.

Telling one too many people about that date night.

Looking a little too good in that swimsuit.

These can lead to being publicly attacked on social media or privately slandered which in turn leads to women dimming their light and walking on egg shells in hopes of avoiding conflict and judgement.

The minute a woman feels it's unsafe to shine she will begin to overthink, worry, and fear how she shows up in the world.

Forgetting to announce the book is done and the interview is live.

Choosing to focus on what's still on the to-do list rather than what's been checked off.

Many female entrepreneurs are subconsciously altering their behavior in an attempt to not attract too much attention to themselves, rather than focusing on allowing authenticity and magnetism to attract their ideal clients and community.

Women are afraid of being criticized, ostracized, and abandoned by other women for simply being who they are. This leads to quite the quantum when being who you are is simplest way to accelerate the growth of your business.

New research shows men are far more comfortable with self promotion than women are. Researchers found that men rate their own performance 33 percent higher than equally performing women. What we know is that self promotion pays off and this is where women are missing the boat.

The world needs more women to step into leadership roles and no longer be intimidated about creating six and seven figure careers.

Here are five ways to release the fear of being "too much":

1. Approve of yourself.

While it feels good to receive outside validation it will never be enough if you don't first appreciate yourself. The key to having a healthy support system is to make sure you are part of it. Being your biggest critic is what your mother's generation did. It's now time to be your biggest cheerleader. Becoming aware of self talk will reveal what belief is ready to be re-wired. Create a simply mantra that affirms how incredible capable you are.

2. Connect deeply to those you serve.

One powerful way to shift out of people pleasing behavior is to get clear on who actually matters to the wellbeing and success of your life and business. Leadership is not about being the most popular, instead it's a decision to be brave for those who can't be. Take a few minutes each day to visualize and meditate on those your business serves and supports. See your future clients moving toward you every time you choose to stand in your power and use your authentic voice.

3. Remember the legacy you wish to leave.

Having your life purpose and legacy in writing is one of the most transformational exercises you can do. Reading this often will keep you focused on what matters. Knowing what you wish to leave in the hearts of those you love most is incredibly grounding. You didn't come here to keep your mouth shut, dilute your truth, or dim your light-you came here to make a difference.

4. Forgive those who have been unsupportive in the past.

The past has a way of informing the future in a negative way when there is unresolved pain. Take a few minutes to get quiet and ask yourself who you have unforgiveness towards or maybe their name came to mind as you read this article. Listening to a forgiveness meditation or writing a letter to the person you are ready to forgive are both simple and effective ways to process and heal.

5. Be part a community of bright, successful women.

Meaningful relationships with others who have similar aspirations is what will keep you out of isolation and playing small. These connections can happen in a networking group, online community or a local Meetup. Thriving in every area of life is depend on you knowing where you belong and being celebrated there. Don't wait to be invited, go actively seek out people and places that support your dreams and desires.

6. Accept you can have it all.


Women have been fed a lie for generations that says, you can have love or money. Decide you can have it all and allow it to flow to you. You can have a successful career and an amazing mother. You can balance motherhood and loving marriage. Don't let anyone write the rules for you. This is the time to create the life you desire on your terms.

7. Celebrate everything!

The fastest way to leave the haters in the dust is to celebrate everything! At the end of each day lay in bed and recall the best moments. At the end of each week, publicly acknowledge and celebrate what's good in your life. Once a month, have a celebration dinner and share it with those who have helped you in the journey. If there's something good happening, talk about it with everyone who will listen!

May you be a woman who chooses to shine so that others may be reminded of all they can be and do.