The Future of Research is Female: Redressing Persistent Deficits in Women’s Health1 month ago
Posted on Feb 24, 2023, 6 p.m.
Women’s health in the United States and across the world continues to worsen, with a widespread lack of access to healthcare and low awareness levels contributing to disparities in outcomes between men and women. Driving prevailing health inequity is a stark gap in medical research, which has been historically performed primarily on male subjects. Women have been excluded from clinical trials throughout history, limiting our understanding of female-specific health conditions and their overall health.
From cardiovascular risk factors to breast cancer and fertility, women’s health encompasses a wide range of complex issues that require specialized attention and research. Despite making up half of the global population, women are largely under-studied and underrepresented in medicine, which extends to the clinical setting. The statistics are telling: Women die at higher rates than men from heart attacks and strokes; they comprise 80 percent of all new cases of autoimmune diseases; and they are three times more likely to experience mental health disorders. The list goes on.
Nonetheless, hope is on the horizon: A new wave of researchers is working hard to combat these disparities. Recent discoveries in the field of women’s health are starting to shed light on the unique needs and differences of women in healthcare, and with growing interest and investment, the future of women’s health holds promise for improvement and innovation.
But first, we must catch up with decades – if not centuries – of missed research opportunities and deficits in knowledge on women’s health.
Starting from the Baseline
Women have been largely excluded from clinical trials throughout history; only in 1993 were they allowed to participate in clinical trials, yet permission was never the problem. Converging historical, cultural, and systemic forces have reinforced the marginalization of women in the medical field, leading to a massive deficit in research on female-specific health conditions. As a result of a general lack of understanding of women’s health, current conventional medicine protocols do not consider sex-specific variances in treatment efficacy and safety.
Recent research discovered that medication side effects may present more strongly in women; therefore, different dosages must be tested and tailored to fit both sexes. Out of 86 medications studied by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, 90% led to women experiencing significantly stronger side effects than men when administering the same dosage.
Since women metabolize drugs differently than men, most dosage guidelines are inaccurate and potentially dangerous. The result? Overmedicated women. Even without overt adverse reactions, higher levels of exposure to drugs may place women at risk of long-term health complications and consequences not yet discovered.
Although a recent emphasis on greater inclusion has led to increased female participation, clinical trials often fail to analyze and report sex-specific results. And participant demographics continue to skew toward men, especially in the early stages of research.
Women’s Health in Crisis
Examinations of women’s health across the globe have revealed that female patient outcomes are worsening, as is the overall state of women’s health. Access to healthcare, under-educated providers, and a critical lack of preventive screenings significantly contribute to this. Studies have found that women experience an average diagnosis delay of four years compared to men across over 750 diseases.
There is little hope for improving the state of women’s health without addressing the underlying reasons for prevailing health disparities between men and women. The field of women’s health has long been under-studied, underfunded, and overlooked. Research findings are often generalized to both sexes, despite persisting underrepresentation in clinical research. Perhaps most telling of the current interest in women’s health is a statistic reported by McKinsey & Company: “Approximately 1% of healthcare research and innovation funding is invested in female-specific conditions beyond oncology.” Underfunded is an understatement.
Funding a New Female-Focused Frontier
Women’s health is not a niche market, and it includes much more than just maternal or reproductive care. While investing in women’s health is not just about addressing health disparities; it’s also about creating opportunities to improve the lives and livelihoods of women, with positive effects that extend to society as a whole.
Recent scientific discoveries – and the growing awareness of an incredibly lucrative yet untapped market – are prompting a rise in interest and investment in the women’s health industry.
The latest developments in longevity science, including genomics, tissue engineering, and cell and gene therapy, offer unprecedented opportunities for innovation in women’s health and can be applied to previously underserved female-specific conditions.
With half of the global population as the total addressable market, investment in women’s health and care offers enormous opportunities for value creation. Alongside prominent investors and established industry stakeholders, a growing number of female entrepreneurs are entering the space and promising profound change.
Leveraging the Longevity Movement
As the quest for longevity spurs further research funding in the field, there is growing potential to expand our understanding of sex-specific differences in health and the aging process, address female conditions, and extend women’s healthspan.
For instance, a 2022 study by the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing highlighted sex-specific differences in longevity. Investigating the popular and contested anti-aging drug rapamycin, the authors confirmed variations in the effects of medications on men and women.
According to their research, rapamycin only prolonged the lifespan of female fruit flies, not that of males, and only slowed the development of age-related pathological changes in the gut in females. They concluded that biological sex is a crucial factor in the efficacy of rapamycin and potentially other anti-aging drugs.
These findings, among other recent developments in anti-aging medicine, have prompted an increased awareness of sex-specific variations in drug efficacy and support for the burgeoning field of female reproductive longevity – which may have momentous implications for the future women’s health and quality of life.
The increased investment of both time and capital in women’s health promises to usher in a new era of healthcare advancements that can tackle the unique needs of women and sex-based disparities in care and outcomes.
By elevating the importance and visibility of women’s health, we can work towards a future in which women have access to the same quality of healthcare as men and in which female-specific conditions receive the attention and resources they deserve.
Lead the New Era in Women’s Health
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As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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