Why We Need More Menopause Research
Menopause research is practically in its infancy compared to other areas of medicine. Modern research into menopause and medicinal treatments for menopause hasn’t been around long, either. In fact, it wasn’t regulated or adopted into regular practice until the 1970s. Modern treatment methods for menopause have only existed for 50 years, and even then, it’s not enough.
How Much Do We Know About Menopause?
We know that estrogen has a significant impact on how the female body regulates all of its systems, but we don’t know how each woman experiences those changes or to what degrees. Why is this? Every woman’s physiology is unique and research is not designed to take this into account. A research study is designed to have controls, variables that help maintain an average that can then be used to reflect the majority of a population.
No woman will experience the exact same menopausal symptoms at exactly the same degree. So while we can generalize certain experiences, we haven’t made more specific research into specific menopausal experiences as widespread and available to the public as we should.
Is Still Unknown About Menopause?
When we think about menopause, there are a few symptoms that are commonly known, like hot flashes, mood swings, and low libido, but there are dozens of other signs of menopause that the majority of women have never heard of. Take allergies as an example. Women in menopause can develop worse allergies to pollen, pet hair, and even certain foods as a result of the menopausal transition.
There could be upwards of 60 symptoms that women can experience throughout the menopausal stages, and yet, most women only know of as little as 5 symptoms. This makes it increasingly challenging for women to not only identify their menopausal symptoms but also inform their doctors about their health as they often think that their other health concerns are unrelated to the effects of menopause.
Needs To Change In Menopause Research?
Sometime around the 1970s, it became standard protocol to have mixed-gender participants within a research study, which essentially means that both male and female participants were required to be part of research studies. The purpose of this was to help decrease gender disparity in the treatment and study of general health conditions and commonly developed diseases in both men and women.
While this may have been helpful in understanding the differences between men and women’s experiences in things like weight loss, sleep disorders, and so on, its impact on menopausal research was questionable. In some early studies, menopausal research was conducted using male and female participants, even though men do not experience menopause at all. These studies used male participants mostly as a control variable in which to measure women’s experiences and menopausal symptoms against.
Now, this is problematic for many reasons. First, men do not go through menopause. Men may go through their own set of physical changes as they get older, but they do not experience the same issues that come with menopause in the way that women do. Second, men and women have differences in bodily processes and procedures that go far beyond just sex organs. Women’s sex hormones help regulate many other bodily functions in ways that men’s sex hormones may not. Third, measuring men’s experiences with illnesses or deficiencies does not accurately reflect what could be considered normal or average for women’s experiences.
Most modern medical research normalizes symptoms, treatments, and preventative methods according to male physiology. We measure symptoms of diseases based on the average experiences of what occurs to men, not to women. This is incredibly problematic. Women and men often experience different symptoms even when both are diagnosed with the same disease or condition.
Take the signs of a heart attack as an example. While men may feel more pressure and pain in their chest, women may feel less pressure in their chest. Women may also feel more pain or discomfort in the jaw and neck during a heart attack than men. Women often have a tendency to feel more nauseous during a heart attack than men, and shortness of breath is more common among women than it is men. Because of these differences, fewer women get treated for heart conditions than men and more women die from heart attacks and related heart conditions than men every year.
We Need To Normalize The Female Experience
If we are ever to truly understand how menopause affects the body, we need to stop comparing symptoms and health experiences to our male counterparts. We need to normalize average experiences within all-female studies so that we have a better understanding of how individual health differs in menopause. We need to understand the different effects menopause can have on the body by specifying research into more unique areas and providing enough funding to carry out those studies.