The second half of the 20th Century saw the dramatic change of women’s roles in society as well as medicine. The American medical community and policy-makers realized that “protecting” women from the potential dangers of medical research was doing them a disservice. By the early 1990s, women began participating in direct clinical trials. While the scientific community initially resisted the change, the result was an unexpectedly rich discovery of remarkable differences in the physiology of women and men in normal health as well as in their response to the same diseases.These discoveries opened the gateway to a new science: gender-specific medicine.
The past 20 years of research in gender-specific medicine have revealed crucial information:
- There are profoundly significant sex differences in the therapeutic power of drugs and their side effects.
- Men have less vigorous immune systems and are less able to fight some types of infection.
- The part of the brain that moderates impulsive behavior is not yet fully developed in adolescent males, but it is in females. As a result, teenage boys often exhibit risky behavior that makes them prone to accidents. Accidental death and suicide are the chief causes of death for boys of this age.
- Women are more likely to develop disorders of the heart rhythm. The electrical properties of the heart are different between the sexes, and the mechanisms of heart failure are gender-specific.
- It is untrue that women are the “weaker sex.” Evidence shows that men are more vulnerable in the womb and throughout their lives. Two hundred forty males are conceived for every 100 females. Yet, the ratio of actual birth is 1.05 boys to 1 girl. Men live a much more fragile existence throughout their lives and, on average, die six years earlier than women.
- Even identical genes are expressed differently in males and females. Gender plays a crucial role in genomic manipulation.
These findings are just the beginning.
Investigations on a genetic, cellular, and biological level have improved health and prolonged life for both sexes. However, not nearly enough doctors and scientists recognize the importance of examining the commonalities and differences between men and women. Of equal importance is the education of the public. Patients that do not understand gender-specific medicine cannot make informed decisions about their health and care.
The evolution of gender-specific medicine is similar to the emergence of pediatrics, which evolved because of an increasing awareness of the fact that children were not simply small adults. Their physiology, diseases, and treatment are age specific.
It is unfortunate, that in spite of all of our progress, the majority of medical practitioners both nationally and globally still do not consider gender when treating patients. There is still a great deal of work to be done.