Women’s health: what is it and why does it matter?
Table of Contents
What is Women’s Health?
In a world that’s constantly striving for greater equality between genders, the concept of ‘Women’s Health’ might seem slightly counter-intuitive. If men and women are equal, why should we single out ‘Women’s Health’ in particular at HELLO INSIDE? Why devote so much of our time and resources to it? “What about ‘Men’s Health’?” some people may ask. Why not just call it ‘Health’?
So what is Women’s Health and why is it so important? We believe that gender equality essentially means equality of opportunity, and equality of access. In the case of health, that means that it’s simply not enough to just put out broad and generally applicable advice on health. Hoping that women find what they need within that. Women, as 50% of the global population, face unique and specific challenges and circumstances in their health. Due to some historic – and in some cases on-going – reasons, they run the risk of being lost in more general conversations about health, pathologies and diseases.
In this blog post we’ll:
- explain some of the historical context as to why we believe we ought to pay women the specific attention they deserve in our product,
- what kinds of challenges they face that are not faced by men,
- and why we at HELLO INSIDE are proud to be launching the Women’s Health Program in order to assist women in getting the help, advice and guidance that they leave to live longer, happier and healthier lives.
1. Women have been historically excluded from medical trials
In the United States, women were banned from partaking in clinical trials or studies by a Food and Drug Administration policy in 1977. This was because women’s bodies were considered “too complex” due to hormonal fluctuations. Medical professionals had other concerns as well on the potential impact of drugs on women’s fertility and child-bearing potential.
This ban applied equally to all women, regardless of whether or not they were taking contraception, or had no interest in having children in the future.
Although this ban was lifted in 1993, to this day we are still suffering from a huge knowledge gap. Vital medical data is missing not only on how certain diseases or pathologies manifest themselves in women in terms of symptoms, but also how women’s bodies and metabolisms respond to preventative and responsive medical care.
Women were excluded, for example, from clinical trials testing out new HIV drugs. Even though 48% of people living with HIV worldwide are women. As a result, when antiretroviral drugs were rolled out to HIV positive women, the only conclusive data about their effectiveness was from trials conducted solely on men. This left huge gray areas as to the safety and efficacy of these drugs on women.
Although it may sound like stating the obvious, it’s worth repeating it for the record. Women’s bodies are, were, and always will be very different to those of men. They are hugely affected by the hormonal balance required for their reproductive system, the menstrual cycle, and fertility. This means that there simply cannot be a one-size-fits-all-genders approach to crucial topics of health and wellbeing.
2. How women’s health is affected by specific diseases and pathologies
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. Yet women often do not display the typical symptoms or signs that are used to detect and preempt heart attacks. Women tend to present less severe symptoms than men.
As a result, women wait 30% longer to go to a hospital when first experiencing symptoms of a heart attack. And when they get to a hospital, women are 50% more likely to be misdiagnosed. This is simply because their symptoms are more vague or seemingly less severe than they would see in a man.
Although women can experience chest pains just like men do when facing a heart attack, understanding women’s health also means understanding the more subtle symptoms that women are likely to display than men, which could lead to misdiagnosis.
- Shortness of breath
- Back pain
- Jaw pain
If women are not aware that these symptoms could be linked to heart disease, they are less likely to get to the emergency room on time. Even if that does not prove to be fatal, it can cause long-term irreversible damage to the heart. This could lead to further complications down the line, such as arrhythmia or an increased chance of having a fatal heart attack later in life.
3. Misconceptions around body fat and body image
The last few decades has seen a revolution in the way media is created, accessed and consumed. Social media platforms and algorithms that play on some of the worst of human beings’ instincts and animalistic drives mean millions of us are bombarded daily with endless images of impossibly thin and supposedly attractive or desirable physiques.
Body dysmorphia and eating disorders are something that affect both men and women. However, a fundamental difference arises from the fact that while men generally are biologically designed to have leaner and more muscular physiques, for many women achieving the body fat levels paraded regularly to us through our mobile phone screens is an impossible and defeatist task.
Women naturally have higher body fat percentages, and store their fat in different places to men. Healthy levels of body fat in women even play a vital role in women’s metabolic, hormonal and reproductive systems. Biologically, women have evolved to retain more fat so that they can give birth, nourish and raise their children even in environments where there is a scarcity of food.
Yet the onslaught of bikini images – and unfathomably unscientific concepts such as the gap between a woman’s thighs – have left many women feeling that they need to undernourish themselves and live in a permanent caloric deficit in order to achieve impossibly low levels of body fat. Many women also follow unhealthy and unsafe diets in order to achieve this. This means that their immune and digestive systems may not receive enough nutrients in order to function optimally.
Beyond the physical effects, the mental health implications of the current world and the specific challenge this presents for women who – again – are biologically designed to carry more fat on their bodies than men, are significant. Another reason why we believe Women’s Health requires additional attention, especially in this regard.
Women’s health and body image
Body images and weight challenges start young for women, but often remain until old age. Studies show 50% of teens describe themselves as “self-conscious” about their bodies, while 26.2% report being “dissatisfied”. By age 60, 28.7% of women feel “dissatisfied” and 32.6% feel “self-conscious” about their bodies.
15% of young women have substantially disordered attitudes and behaviors towards eating. 90% of those who have eating disorders are women between the ages of 12 and 25.
4. The menstrual cycle
One of the most obvious differences between women and men’s health is that women have a monthly menstrual cycle. Starting in puberty in their early teens, the female cycle lasts until menopause in middle age.
For the menstrual cycle to be as unobtrusive and cause the least discomfort, it’s essential for all women to have a healthy and balanced lifestyle, and have metabolic balance. These conditions allow for women’s hormone production to be stable, which makes the menstrual cycle much easier to manage.
Phases of the menstrual cycle
As you can see in the above infographic, the menstrual cycle is made up of four distinct phases. At each of these phases, the body is producing different types and different levels of hormones, which can affect mood, energy levels, and even cause physical discomfort. The key hormones moving in a monthly dance are: Estrogen, Progesteron, Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle-Stimulation Hormone (FSH). We will not go into more details here other than: The dance is complex and very individual in the ranges the hormones move.
One fact that is highly unknown to most women about their health: Unstable blood glucose is the most underestimated underlying cause behind a number of hormonal problems. Blood glucose stability influences the entire hormonal – the endocrine – system. One key function of that system is to transport glucose to the brain, the muscles and organs. If already that very delicate process is not working properly, it seems intuitive that uncontrolled blood sugar is not the only problem you will encounter. Other parts of the endocrine system will not function as planned either. You might ask yourself: How to tackle and solve a causal issue you were not even aware of until now? That you have unstable blood glucose and that this might be the connection to a hormonal cascade and challenges you experience, every month.
How can I stabilize my blood glucose levels?
The good news is: unstable blood glucose can easily be improved by adapting your lifestyle choices along your cycle phases. The key to making sure each of the cycle phases is as seamless as possible is to find out your individual pattern.
Start by making sure that your blood glucose levels are in check. That is the easiest access point linked to how you move, what you eat, how you sleep – and how you feel in this context.
Aim to have a stable blood glucose response throughout all phases of the cycle. You can keep an eye on by continuously monitoring the glucose levels in your blood. You can do this by using a CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitoring) device and the Hello Inside App.
In the above infographic, we have outlined how you can best approach each of the four phases of your menstrual cycle by adjusting your nutrition and exercise plan. This helps you to best manage the different strains and pressures hormone production is placing on your body.
In HELLO INSIDE’s Women’s Health program, we go into this in much more detail. And we offer even more practical advice, knowledge and tips to make the menstrual cycle more manageable.
5. Women’s health and blood glucose
Having unstable blood glucose levels can pose a significant risk to women of developing serious pathologies at some point in their lives. High insulin resistance and poor blood glucose control are linked with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), infertility, menstrual dysfunction, problems with body weight, and even skin conditions.
The good news is that women can prevent these issues and their debilitating symptoms. This is possible by working to make their blood glucose levels stable. A study has shown that 24-weeks on a low-glycemic diet significantly improved insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS, and lowered fasting insulin.
Your biomarker “blood glucose” can tell you so much more about what’s going on inside your body. That’s why we should be constantly monitoring our blood glucose levels. It’s amazing and helpful to see how our body responds to specific lifestyle choices and decisions we make.
Take the first step towards hormonal balance and living a happier, healthier life. Check out our HELLO INSIDE’s brand new Women’s Health Program.