It’s no secret that, when it comes to health, scientific advances have always prioritized men’s needs. Whether it’s because women couldn’t study medical science for centuries or because of the inherent myopia of the researcher, women’s health has always been a second-class citizen.

“For just about everything in medical science, we’re still very male-focused,” said Marcia Stefanick, an obstetrics and gynecology professor at Stanford, to SF Gate. “Our basic understanding is missing a key ingredient: the sex difference.”

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The impact of gender inequality on medical research

Although women and girls comprise about 50% of the population, researchers conduct most medical research on men.

As researchers Severine Lamon and Olivia Knowles of Deakin University explain, fundamental and preclinical research often “only focus on male humans, animals, and even cells.”

In fact, only 6% of research studies include all-female participant groups. And the scientists’ argument is baffling. The researchers explained that “the main reasoning is that females are a more ‘complicated’ model organism than males.”

Credit: Pexels.

“The physiological changes associated with the menstrual cycle add a lot of complexities to understanding how the body may respond to an external stimulus, such as taking a drug or performing a specific type of exercise.”

In addition, contraceptive use or menopause apparently makes researchers work twice as hard. Even when research with women is done correctly, the results may not apply to all women. This includes whether a woman is cisgender or gender nonconforming.

Taken together, this makes research with women “more time-consuming and expensive.” And these are the factors that always limit research. Meanwhile, women’s health remains a mystery at large.

The side effects of this medical malpractice are there for all to see

Lamon and Knowles explain that men and women are physiologically different. This involves several differences in hormones and genetics. 

“There’s also emerging evidence from our research team that sex differences impact epigenetics: how your behaviors and environment affect the expression of your genes.”

According to the researchers, “conducting health and physiology research in males exclusively disregards these differences. So our knowledge of the human body, which we mostly infer from what we observe in males, may not always hold true for females.”

Credit: Pexels.

However, this seems to be finally changing

new report published by National Geographic shows that medical research has finally focused on women’s health, particularly that of women of color.

For example, as NatGeo explains, medicine tends to underdiagnose diseases such as endometriosis, schizophrenia, and attention deficit disorder (ADHD). 

In the United States, African-American women are almost three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than white or Hispanic women. Along the same lines, scientists still do not know why so many women have difficulty breastfeeding.

However, researchers have found that ADHD symptoms differ between men and women. They have also found that the menstrual cycle can remodel the brain.

The NatGeo report highlighted that women only participate in 0.5% of brain imaging research. “This disparity in research explains why we are just beginning to understand how menstruation remodels the brain.”

“It is high time we made women’s brains a central topic of study,” says Julia Sacher, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Neurology and Cognitive Science in Leipzig, Germany, who led one of the studies.

Finally, opening up research on gender disparities could save many lives. Especially pregnant women with preeclampsia, anemia, and sepsis, and even provide a cure for hot flashes.