Medicine not working? It may be because you’re a woman

Medicine not working? It may be because you’re a woman


Frustrated because a medication you’re taking–such as a painkiller or antidepressant–isn’t working the way you hoped or has too many side effects?

The problem could be that the drug was never tested on women, according to a new essay by a group of medical researchers in the journal Cell Metabolism.

“Right now, when you go to the doctor and you are given a prescription, it might not ever have been specifically tested in females,” says Deborah J. Clegg, Ph.D., essay co-author and professor of biomedical science at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in California. “Almost all basic research–regardless of whether it involves rodent models, dogs, or humans–is predominately done in males. The majority of research is done with the assumption that men and women are biologically the same.”

However, male and female bodies aren’t the same. Your female hormones could be affecting how a certain medication responds to your body as a whole. Or, its effectiveness or side effects change as your estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate across your cycle.

So, why in an age when modern medicine is making so many rapid advancements do most drug experiments and trials still use only males? Simply put: It’s easier. A woman’s fluctuating hormones mean that researchers have to do more testing to examine a drug’s effects in each menstrual cycle phase, for instance, when estrogen is high or low or progesterone is high or low, the essayists explain. To save time and money, they use males, then adopt a “one size fits all” approach by applying the males’ results to females. Then they hope for the best.

Unfortunately, this can mean being given a pharmaceutical that works one way in the male subjects tested, but a different way in you.

While there’s been some movement in recent years to include more females in pharmaceutical research–National Institutes of Health-funded clinical studies require both sexes to be included, for example–the essay authors lament that many experiments are still male-only.

Feel like this is unfair and there’s nothing you can do about it? Well, there is one way you might be able to make your voice heard by drug researchers: If you’re not satisfied with the way a medication is affecting a condition you have or its side effects are intolerable, don’t put up with it. Tell your doctor. Then, ask if there if there’s an alternative medication you can use–it may be more effective or result in fewer side effects in women.

If enough female patients make a point of switching from underperforming drugs or those with too many negative effects, it’s possible that researchers and pharmaceutical companies take notice at the loss of profits–which might motivate them to include more cycling females in their trials.

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