Gender Medicine: It's Time To Stop Focusing On The Male Model of Disease
For all the myriad differences between men and women, the gravest seems to be the divergence in how the genders experience disease. Although researchers have also long debated that men and women use separate mechanisms in the brain to achieve pain relief, we still know very little about gender-specific differences in illness, particularly when it comes to disease symptoms, influencing social and psychological factors, and the ramifications of these differences for prevention.
Medical research conducted over the past 40 years has focused almost exclusively on male patients.
Giovannella Baggio of Padua University Hospital and her team presented research on gender-related differences "Gender medicine: a task for the third millennium."
Research shows that men and women also respond differently to pain medications and an increasing number of studies suggest that the fundamental biology of pain and pain relief differs between the sexes.
In fact, accumulating evidence implies that the days of sex-specific pain killers developed by pharmaceutical profiteers--perhaps pink and blue pills--may not be too far off.
New research by Jeffrey S. Mogil, professor of psychology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, suggests that men and women use separate mechanisms in the brain to achieve symptomatic pain relief and developing universal treatment modalities for both sexes may be quite useless in many instances.
Although physiologically similar, the progression of both pain and disease can follow
different pathways from men to women.
Baggio's article, which appears in the Journal “Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine” (CCLM), highlights evidence for considerable differences between the sexes in five domains -- cardiovascular disease, cancer, liver diseases, osteoporosis, and pharmacology.
Typically perceived as a male illness, cardiovascular disease often displays markedly different symptoms among women. While a constricted chest and pain that radiates through the left arm are standard signs of heart attack in men, in women the usual symptoms are nausea and lower abdominal pain. Although heart attacks in women are more severe and complicated, when complaining of these non-specific symptoms women often do not receive the same examination procedures.
In women, heart attacks tend to occur later in life and are more severe. "Women typically are around 10 years older when they have a heart attack, but they have more outside-of-the-hospital sudden cardiac death," says Jean C. McSweeney, a professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
"They are also more likely to die from the first heart attack and more likely to be disabled," she says.
Adds Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and spokeswoman for the American Heart Association:"There has been a misconception that women were immune to heart disease. Not only do women have heart attacks but they can be deadlier in women than in men."
Colon cancer is the second most common form of cancer among men and women. However, women suffer this illness at a later stage in life. Furthermore, colon tumors typically have a different location in women, and they respond better to specific types of treatments. Finding are suggesting that chemotherapy is not only more toxic to the human body than the cancer itself, but it also has an impact on the patient’s responsiveness to heal from their cancer depending on their gender. In this way, gender impacts the course of the disease and the patient’s chances for survival.
Primary biliary cirrhosis is a liver disease that primarily affects women. The authors of the study provide clear evidence that for this disease and chronic hepatitis C, the genetic makeup and differing hormone levels of females are a primary risk factor. This finding also applies to osteoporosis. While typically viewed as a female disease because of the much higher rate of female patients, osteoporosis also strikes men. The study contends that osteoporosis is too often overlooked in male patients, and it documents a higher mortality rate among men suffering bone fractures.
Baggio and her team also show variation between men and women in the pharmacology of aspirin and other substances. Differences in action and side effects are attributable to different body types, varying reaction times in the absorption and elimination of substances, and a fundamentally different hormonal status. Thus, medication may be even more dangerous and toxic depending if we take the patient’s gender into account.
Dr. Marianna Pochelli is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine specializing in the treatment of disease through superfoods and herbal strategies. She actively promotes detoxification, colon cleansing, and a vegetarian lifestyle using living foods as a platform to health.