Women: When It Comes to Our Health,
We Aren’t Little Men

I recently read an enlightening-and at the same time disturbing-article in The New York Times about how women should be taking less (half as much!) than what has been the recommended dosage of sleeping pills, particularly Ambien. This according to the Food and Drug Administration. I don’t take the pills (but sometimes-after tossing and turning all night-I wish I did!), but I know plenty of women who depend on them to get enough shut-eye at night to make it through the next day.

Why this recent FDA report is so disturbing: we live in the year 2020 with targeted therapies for cancer, stem cell advances, remote robotic (and minimally invasive) surgery, and other major medical advances. And just now, we’re just discovering that women need different drug dosage recommendations than men??!

And sleeping medication is just one example of a drug that affects women’s bodies differently than men’s. (The FDA’s new recommendation came after lab studies and driving tests confirmed that an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of women have a level of zolpidem [the active ingredient in many sleeping pills] in their blood that could impair driving eight hours after taking the pill, while only about 3 percent of men do.)

Alcohol also affects women’s bodies differently than men’s (http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/women).

This should come as a surprise to no one: Women are not just little men when it comes to our health. Back in 2001 (that’s twelve years ago!), the non-profit Institute of Medicine issued a report stating “Sex – that is, being male or female – is an important basic human variable that should be considered when designing and analyzing the results of studies in all areas and at all levels of biomedical and health-related research. The cells of males and females have many basic biochemical differences, and many of these stem from genetic rather than hormonal differences.”

The Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) is trying to change the focus. Part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s research agency, ORWH works with NIH Institutes and Centers to fund women and sex and gender differences research-to help us women (and men)-all live better and longer lives. The more research that’s done (ahem…if research had been done on sleeping pills before prescribing them to women, we would have known that women react to them differently than men-underscoring the importance of research!). Be in the know; follow ORWH on Twitter (they just signed up: @NIH_ORWH) for regular updates on research that applies to women’s health.