Gender Differences in Medicine – A New Look

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Dr. Kathy Maupin and Brett Newcomb discuss the basic differences between men and women and how the medical field should recognize and adapt its practice to account for these gender differences.

This week’s podcast is focused on the increasing awareness of gender differences in medicine; a topic that has been ignored for many many years. My friend Brett Newcomb and I talk about the new emphasis that is being placed on recognizing, within the field of medicine, that men and women are different.

There was a journal that was created a few years ago by the female doctors at Harvard University called the Journal of Gender Specific Medicine. It came into being by collecting donations from female doctors around the country who wanted to help establish a peer-reviewed journal that would look at women and medicine with new and open eyes. For years, medicine and the pharmaceutical industry had considered women to be “just men with pesky little hormones”. This quotation came from a recent 60 Minutes broadcast starring Leslie Stahl. In it she interviewed a physician who says this was the standard mode of thinking for physicians and medical researchers. An example of this is that the drug Ambien has been on the market for years and the dose has been based on an “adult dosage,” without differentiating between male and female patients. The presumption was that there was no important difference. Recently, however, it has been discovered that women do not metabolize Ambien at the same rate as men, and would awaken in the morning with more than half the dose still in their system. Men would have metabolized it and be would ready to function and, in particular, to drive. Women would still be groggy and it would not be as safe for them to drive, because the drug was still in their system at almost half its original level.
It has been the practice for many years to have all the research animals used in medicine be male. The thinking was the same for the lab rats that it was for women. They were thought to be biologically the same as male rats, but with those “pesky” hormones.

Thank goodness that the medical and research community are beginning to awaken from this erroneous thinking. Men and women are different. We are learning more about the ways in which they are biologically different every day. Women exhibit different symptoms when they have heart attacks, and it takes a different type of interview and a different type of test to determine that a woman is suffering from a heart attack than it does a man, for example. The dosage levels for female patients of most medicines are beginning to be established by a new focus on research that determines what is optimal for women. Women have different genetics and metabolism than men do, so of course they metabolize and use drugs differently than men. The side effects are even different, but how would we know, since the drugs are only tested on men?

One of our concerns is the hormone testosterone. Medicine still does not recognize the readily determined fact that women make and need testosterone for the same reasons that men do. When women lose their testosterone, it needs to be replaced in the same way and for the same reasons that men’s testosterone needs to be replaced. We argue this in our podcast and in our new book, The Secret Female Hormone. We want the medical community, the FDA, and the pharmaceutical industry to recognize that women are different in the amount of testosterone they need, but not different in that they need it. All of contemporary medicine and marketing is aimed at making testosterone available for men. We women want some too! In our podcast we talk about why this existing standard needs to be challenged and changed.

In order to make this change, we need to change the thinking of the doctors, the training they receive in medical school, the common wisdom in the female community, the minds of men with regard to “their” hormones, and the FDA which, to date, has been unwilling to license and approve a testosterone drug for women.

Listen to our podcast to hear this important new discussion. Become an advocate for something that will help women all over the world live healthier and longer lives.

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