The Next Frontier Of Feminism Needs To Be Women’s Medical Care

Why do we have to pick between being gaslit or totally in the dark?

By Andrea Mew6 min read
Pexels/Paige Thompson

How are women supposed to “trust the science” when so little of it actually appears to cater to our unique physiological makeup? Our bodies have notable, sexed differences – from our bones to our reproductive organs, to our brains, and more – and yet a shocking amount of biomedical and clinical research has only been done on men. So is it any wonder why women get told our problems are just “in our heads”? They’re really just being downplayed by the cult of scientism. 

Researchers and doctors are failing half of the population by pretending we’re no different from men. To hell with #MeToo witchhunts, the next frontier of feminism needs to be women’s medical care and stat.

Women Aren’t Smaller Versions of Men

Seventeen years. In 17 years, an unfertilized egg can go from a blob-like embryo to a legal motorist, one year out from being able to die for his or her country. Seventeen years is also the length of time it takes for researchers to move medical evidence into practical application in medicine. Moving new drugs or medical devices takes, on average, an estimated 14 years and costs $2 billion, and historically, these medical studies exclude the female sex.

Why might that be? It’s not necessarily outright misogyny. Some researchers may just blindly believe that the male sex is representative of the entire human species, but other researchers veer away from using females in trials because of concerns about decreasing their fertility or harming them during pregnancy. Those concerns are noble, of course, but that standard has led to a historic underrepresentation of the female sex in clinical trials. The effects aren’t to be taken lightly.

When we hit the early aughts, 8 out of 10 prescription drugs were being withdrawn from U.S. markets after they caused unanticipated health risks for women. Radical gender ideologues might hate to hear this, but sex isn’t up for debate; it’s understood to be a basic biological variable that must be included in research study design so that women aren’t negatively impacted by medications and medical devices that suit the needs of your average male individual.

As Sara Gottfried, M.D., a scientist, researcher, and Harvard-educated medical doctor, wrote in her article about filling the gaps in women’s health, “We are not simply smaller versions of men.” Our massive hormonal shifts, “including menstruation, pregnancy, post-partum, perimenopause, and menopause” and our double X chromosomes mean that clinicians cannot “approach care with a uniform approach.” 

She goes on to explain how women have a completely different risk profile than men do for several conditions. Did you know that women have double the rate of Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and insomnia as men? We experience autoimmune diseases at a rate four times higher than men. We experience fibromyalgia and thyroid disease at higher rates than men do too. 

Dr. Gottfried believes that one of the greatest opportunities for the healthcare industry to reach higher levels of equality between the sexes is with cardiometabolic disease. Women understandably fear breast cancer – after all, less than one percent of all breast cancer cases in America occur in men. But, women are at a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than breast cancer. Seven to ten times more likely, according to data from the CDC

“Women get less early medical care, to the tune of 10-25%, when they have a heart attack – and this translates into a higher death rate,” wrote Dr. Gottfried. “We need a different approach to the healthcare team that takes care of women. We need more women-focused care, and we certainly need more women cardiologists.”

Get this – according to Dr. Gottfried, women’s risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes can be reduced by balancing your hormones. Hormonal health can’t be written off as woo-woo pseudoscience when it plays such a significant role in our metabolic health. One way that Dr. Gottfried believes women can take matters into their own hands, while the medical industry is taking their sweet time catching up to close the sex gap, is by using consumer wearable devices.

You may get the ick from wearable technology and its tracking capabilities, but when your personal data is in your own hands, it could empower you to take control of your own health. One she loves is a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM), which tracks blood sugar levels during the day and can show you when you’re spiking your blood sugar (which can negatively affect other downstream hormones). Dr. Gottfried also explained that an Oura ring could give a woman the unique opportunity to measure her temperature, stress levels, or sleep dysregulation.

“A large, and unfair, proportion of women experience stress that affects our physical health – and we are weary from it because stress raises cortisol,” Dr. Gottfried wrote. “Too much cortisol makes you gain belly fat, increases sugar cravings, and brings other hormones out of balance, including testosterone, DHEA, progesterone, and thyroid.”

The foundation of our hormonal health, according to Dr. Gottfrried, is our gut health. Women experience bladder infections more often than men do, and yet we’re treated with twice as many antibiotics, which, in turn, have a huge impact on our gut microbiome. Sadly, most Americans aren’t quite sure if gut health is just a fad or not. Spoiler alert: it’s not.

According to women’s nutrition expert Audrey Fleck, MS, RDN, our gut microbiome impacts way more than just digestive functioning, it “impacts estrogen and therefore plays a major influence on reproductive, cellular, heart, and bone health.”

In an interview with Susan Weiner, MS, RDN, CDN, CDDES, FADCES, for a Healio column, Fleck went on to explain that imbalances in the composition of a woman’s gut microbiome can “influence several diseases and conditions, such as pregnancy complications, adverse pregnancy outcomes, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, bacterial vaginosis, and cancer.”

But, unfortunately, research is (yep, you guessed it!) limited at this time for how these mechanisms work and identification of cause and effect relationships. Despite us literally needing to eat and digest food in order to live, digestive health is still a pretty taboo topic. 

In one survey, researchers found that almost two in three women aren’t willing to talk about their gut issues with their friends. Furthermore, the study revealed that nearly one-quarter of women don’t consider digestive health when thinking about their overall health and wellness. Nutrition experts often take a food-first approach to fixing gut health because you can’t out-supplement a bad diet. Still, there has been a surge in consumer interest for products in the digestive health market, which is poised to surpass $94.41 billion by 2030.

TikTok influencers post “hacks” for naturally improving gut health through quick fixes, trendy “prebiotic” sodas like Poppi are selling like hotcakes (and being sued for their gut health claims), and daily probiotic supplements like Seed’s Daily Synbiotic or Goop’s Gut Microbiome Superpowder promise better digestive health. But frankly, if you just have better dietary habits, you’ll be better off than if you stock your shelves with pills and potions.

How Can You Be Proactive About Your Feminine Health?

Time and time again, Evie has remained skeptical of the narrative du jour about hormonal birth control. Time and time again, this skepticism hasn’t been for naught. 

Women are told that pills, patches, injections, and devices are perfectly safe and totally reversible, but as we know, reproductive health is chronically understudied. 

People make memes and jokes about the length of the paperwork for hormonal birth control’s list of side effects, and yet if women get real about how hormonal contraceptives negatively impact their minds and bodies, they get written off as anti-science.

So, “the science” is lagging behind, but more and more girls and women are advised to get on hormonal contraceptives. Some are even opting to buy them over-the-counter instead of checking with a trusted medical professional first to see if there may be any very legitimate reasons why they shouldn’t mess with their hormones. How can a woman proactively take care of her fertility while gaps in research are still leaving us in the dark?

I recently spoke with Grace Emily Stark, Editor-in-Chief and Public Relations manager of Natural Womanhood who has a Master’s in Bioethics & Health Policy and a Bachelor’s in Healthcare Management & Policy, to get a better grasp on the natural, non-invasive methods for protecting fertility and preventing unwanted pregnancies.

When Stark and her husband first got engaged over 10 years ago, she said she learned how to chart her cycles. They struggled with infertility and a miscarriage, but eventually got to the root cause of their struggles to conceive.

“That experience filled me with the conviction that more women need this information and that it's a crime how few women know about and understand their cycles – and consequently, how few receive the treatment they deserve for so many issues related to their fertility and reproductive health,” Stark said.

In her own personal experience, a fertility awareness method was the way to go, and she said she truly believes that more broadly, “it's the single best thing a woman can do to be proactive about her mental and physical health and her fertility.” 

Modern methods of NFP are to the Rhythm Method what Jerry Seinfeld's car phone is to the iPhone in your pocket right now.

This doesn’t mean ignoring medical care. Medical practitioners who focus on real treatment, not proverbial bandages like the pill, are well worth seeking out and can help you avoid years upon years of misleading treatments. I would know, I’ve been led down the wrong path for my own fertility several times now. Stark recommends looking into doctors trained in NaProTechnology, FEMM, or other forms of restorative reproductive medicine (RRM) methods.

“Find a doctor who will actually take the time to investigate what's going on with you. If your doctor's first and only recommendation is simply to put you on birth control (especially before they do any kind of a diagnostic workup), or if they tell you some nonsense like they ‘can't do anything for you unless you'll go on birth control,’ run far, and run fast,” Stark said. 

Birth control as a one-size-fits-all medication for reproductive health just doesn’t work. Stark pointed out how many reproductive concerns are “orphans” in the research landscape because medical professionals are quick to direct patients to birth control…even when it ends up making matters worse.

According to Stark, most medical school curriculums don’t actually talk about fertility awareness. It’s got a bit of a bad rap and is written off as religious or spiritual misinformation. Stark said that, if medical schools do mention the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) or RRM, they bring it up to call it ineffective or confuse it with the Rhythm Method.

“I like to tell people that modern methods of NFP are to the Rhythm Method what Jerry Seinfeld's car phone is to the iPhone in your pocket right now. That is, we can see how one evolved from the other, but to say the two are the same is just ridiculous,” she said. “Still, doctors, journalists, and your great aunt who likes to remind you that ‘her mother used that 'Catholic birth control' and she had 10 kids’ mistakenly equate the two, because, frankly, they don't know any better.”

Evidence-based health choices that don’t line Big Pharma’s pockets – whether it’s maintaining proper gut health without unnecessary “bandaid” interventions or not disrupting your hormonal cycles with the birth control pill – don’t deserve the slander and misrepresentation they receive. When modern fertility awareness methods have surprisingly high effectiveness rates, why shouldn’t we promote symptom, side effect, and hormone free methods of health care?

“Even if you chart your cycles with a FAM and can see that everything is healthy and regular, there's still so much value in being in tune with your cycle; it provides a great deal of insight about the ebb and flow we women naturally experience in our energy, appetite, libido, and more over the course of each month,” Stark said. “There's really nothing to lose from learning a FAM – and so much to gain.”

Closing Thoughts

Women’s medical care is so much more than reproductive care. Since our bodies have fundamental physiological differences, simple medical interventions that work well for men don’t always match up for women. If feminists truly want equality between the sexes, there needs to be pressure on researchers to figure out safe, effective ways to study how different diseases and conditions and the medications to treat them affect women compared to men.

We’ve got to give credit where credit’s due – it’s totally valid not to subject pregnant women to clinical trials that could cause birth defects. But leaving women in the dark about very real health concerns is no way to bring forth equality between the sexes. Gender neutrality doesn’t cut it. I’ll continue to wait patiently for the feminists to catch up.

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