Of Mice and Women: His and Her Healthcare

Lab Miceby Janet Simpson Benvenuti

What do mice have to do with men and women’s health? It turns out, nearly everything.

Here are a few surprising facts.

  • Most medical research begins in laboratories using mice. Until 20 years ago, researchers used only male mice, finding the hormonal cycles of female mice an ‘unnecessary’ complication in experimental design.
  • Despite laws today that require all government-funded research to include females in animal and human studies, the sex of the animals is not often stated in published results.
  • Further, when clinical trials begin, researchers frequently do not enroll adequate numbers of women or, when they do, they fail to report data separately by sex.

Why does sex matter? Because many diseases, medications, and medical devices impact men and women differently. Here are just a few examples.

Perhaps you saw the report filed by Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes about Ambien, a commonly prescribed medication, that found women need half the dosing typically recommended by their physicians. Do other drugs need to be adjusted? Most likely, we just don’t know which ones.

Perhaps you know that more women die each year from lung cancer than from breast, ovarian and uterine cancers combined, and that nonsmoking women are three times more likely than nonsmoking men to get lung cancer. We still don’t know why.

Perhaps you  watched Dr. Johnson’s TED talk, where she explained sex differences in heart disease and depression, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease and how attention to sex differences in medical research that is already funded and underway will benefit both men AND women’s health.

What does this mean for you and your family?

Make it a habit to ask your physicians if the treatment, diagnostic tests, or medications being prescribed work differently for women and men. They may not know the answer when you ask, but the question may prompt them to find out.

Read “Why Women’s Health Can’t Wait” written by the Connor’s Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology. Join their Call to Action to hold federal agencies, medical device and pharmaceutical researchers accountable for how their studies address sex.

Consider supporting the work of Dr. Johnson and her colleagues, tireless advocates for Women’s Health, as they work with Congress and leading research institutions to address this issue.

Collectively, we can improve the health of our mothers and grandmothers, sisters and daughters as well as the men in our lives by insisting that the science behind health care accounts for sex differences.

Who knew that mice were so important to our health and well-being?

© 2014 Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.






Have your parents had any problems with their medication? It was only by chance that my family discovered that the medication my seventy-eight-year-old father started taking after his by-pass surgery was causing his hallucinations.  He had been prescribed Serax™ for anxiety following surgery; but its continued use over the next two years pushed my father to a tipping point at which this once charming and quick-witted man imagined conversations and experienced wild dreams.  Fortunately for us, one of my mother’s doctors, a physician with training in psychopharmacology, identified the problem and switched my father to a milder drug.  His good humor returned.

Each year, Americans of all ages consume about $200 billion worth of prescription drugs, with seniors accounting for approximately one-third of those medications.  Because older people are more likely to experience multiple ailments, they are more likely to be prescribed multiple prescriptions; it is critical for them and their families to recognize the potentially harmful side-effects of each medication prescribed.

Dovetail Health, a Massachusetts-based health care service, seeks to prevent cases like my father’s by offering pharmaceutical advice to seniors in the transition from hospital or nursing facility back home.  With their team of licensed pharmacists, nurse health coaches, and care coordinators, Dovetail provides a 30-day program to reduce preventable readmission through a comprehensive medication assessment.  Their typical client takes five or more medications and has a mixture of chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes or congestive heart failure. While their long-term goal is to stabilize the senior so they can live as independently as possible in their own home, this service has the additional benefit of reducing hospital readmission rate within 30 days of discharge from the typical 20-23% to 11%. Services like those that Dovetail offers aren’t yet available everywhere, but you can help your parents by simply preparing a list of their medications, recording the dosage and time of day taken.  Include vitamins and any over-the-counter medicines, such as laxatives, that they take daily too.  Have them bring this list to their local pharmacist, and then to their doctor, for advice.  It’s often enough for a physician to simply see the full list of medications to recognize opportunities to reduce the number of prescriptions or to lower the dosage of particular medications. Dizziness, an upset stomach, anxiety and even forgetfulness can be caused by taking the wrong medication, in the wrong dosing at the wrong time of day.  Working with your parents to help them understand how to take their medications correctly can help prevent the kind of side effects that might limit their independence.

©Circle of Life Partners™