Whos Driving? Men Behind the Wheel of Womens Health.
Women’s health policy isn’t decided by women. In the US, most of the debate over women’s medical care is between male legislators. This lively interaction produces great copy: "…Democrats want to insult women by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing…birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government…” Thank you, Mike Huckabee, venerable former Governor of Arkansas!
Over the past two decades of developing botanical therapies for women’s health, I’ve talked with a lot of the men who decide the fate of women’s health. Many don’t understand how debilitating women’s disorders can be and simply lack interest since the issues aren’t life-threatening. Helping women with bloating or hot flashes isn’t going to get them big press.
Take the menopause transition. I‘ve tried to explain menopausal hot flashes to these gentlemen: “Can you remember the chills and sweats of a flu? Women feel them every day for four or five years.” To approximate a night sweat, I suggest they set their smart phones to wake them three times a night, and douse their clothes and bedding with water. It’ll give them a sense of the resulting daytime fatigue, irritability and loss of concentration. “Aha!” they say, “I get it, I have young kids.” Well, many menopausal women had those same young kids once upon a time. But during perimenopause, they additionally sacrifice their sexuality, libido and youthfulness. Their partners turn away from them (or turn elsewhere) when they lose their sexual drive. Women catapult into depression and despair. Menopause may not be life-threatening, but it sure is life-deadening.
For sixty years, doctors sold women the key to the fountain of youth in the form of hormone therapy (HT), or supplemental estrogen. Their beauty and vigor relied upon it, as did their husbands’ attention (they usually had husbands, in those days). Millions of women rushed to embrace the miracle cure for their sagging chins and libido. Then along came the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) in 1991. The WHI was a set of huge, federally-funded clinical trials in women’s health, some of which focused specifically on HT. To everyone’s great surprise (and fear), the results showed HT to be associated with increased risks for breast cancer, uterine cancer, heart disease, stroke, blood clots and dementia. Ladies, anyone get prescribed PREMARIN for your hot flashes? Ingesting estrogen from the pee of knocked-up horses—PRE(gnant) MAR(es) (ur)IN(e)—may not be your best move.
Following the WHI revelations, the FDA advised prescribing HT at the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time. Women, who can be really smart no matter what Governors think, decided the risks just weren’t worth it. Today, less than 5% of women are willing to take HT, while 40 million US women going through menopause are clamoring for relief.