Gender-specific medicine is not women’s health. It is a relatively new science studying the differences in the normal function of men and women and in their experiences of the same diseases. The scientific studies of the last two decades have proven that each of the sexes has a significantly different physiology in every system of the body.
In the past, medical investigators viewed the male as representative of the human species and used men as the standard subject for research. There are deep-seated historical and cultural reasons for this, but there are practical ones as well. Society considered women – particularly those who were still in their reproductive years – too vulnerable to include in studies of new drugs and interventions. The tragedies revealed by the Nuremberg trials following World War II prompted an intense desire to protect the rights of clinical subjects in research protocols.
Scientists also considered women’s cyclical change in hormonal levels a complicating element in obtaining reliable data. To account for this variable, tests required much larger numbers of subjects. Thus, many investigators felt that including females would exhaust the research funding. Additionally, there was universal concern for the fate of an unborn child conceived during the course of a clinical trial.
The decades after World War II saw an increase in women’s power in society. Their presence grew in schools, jobs, and professions that had previously been the exclusive domain of men. This spurred the growth of a united feminist movement, which among other things, put pressure on the American medical community and policy-makers to begin the clinical investigation of women, as separate from men, and to include them in medical trials.
The paradigm shifted from protecting women’s health by excluding them, to protecting their health by investigating their unique physiology. While the scientific community initially met this with significant resistance, the result was an unexpectedly rich discovery of remarkable differences in the physiology of women and men and in their experience of the same diseases.
In the last two decades, women’s health has grown from focusing on “bikini medicine” – the breasts and reproductive organs – to considering the complete female anatomy. Beginning with studies done on the heart, scientists have discovered significant differences between men and women. Studies show that females not only have different bodies, but they react differently to treatments.