Health facts every woman should know

Men and women are different down to cellular levels. According to the Institute of Medicine, there are sex chromosomes in every cell in the body. This captures how fundamentally different men and women are.

This also means that men and women are affected by diseases, treatments and chemicals differently. Despite this knowledge, issues affecting women’s health have a long history of being ignored. Female subjects are often excluded from toxicology or biomedical research. This has long term effects on women’s health. There is a snowball effect on every step of the medical process- from prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease.

With this in mind, recently there has been more research focusing on women’s health. Here are a few of them:

1. Maternal smoking may lead to reproductive health issues in daughters

By smoking during pregnancy, mothers were more likely to have daughters who showed signs of increased testosterone exposure, which could lead to long term reproductive health issues. This is according to findings presented at the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology meeting in September 2019.

“Increased testosterone exposure may lead to increased risk of altered ovarian development and function, and the reproductive health and fertility may be affected in the future,” explained one of the researchers. “Long term metabolic and behavioural effects, such as male-gendered behaviours, may also be observed in female offspring.

The researchers used anogenital distance in infants as a marker to determine testosterone in utero exposure. They compared 56 newborn girls and 64 newborn boys. They found that female infants whose mothers smoked during pregnancy, therefore experiencing more testosterone exposure, had increased anogenital distance.

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2. Forced sexual initiation linked to adverse health outcomes

Reports show that one in three Kenyan women has experienced sexual harassment, violence, assault or rape in their lifetime. Many women report that their first sexual experience was forced.

Recent research published in JAMA Internal Medicine shows women whose first sexual intercourse was forced were at increased risk of adverse outcomes in reproductive, gynaecologic and general health.

Those who had a forced sexual initiation were more likely to have an unwanted pregnancy, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease and problems with ovulation or menstruation. Additionally, survivors of forced sexual initiation were more likely to report drug abuse, general poor health and difficulty completing tasks due to physical or mental conditions.

3. Why women are more likely to experience migraines

Women account for more than 75 per cent of migraine complaints. According to research published in August 2018 in the Journal Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, the changing levels of the hormone oestrogen make cells around a key nerve in the head and connected blood vessels more sensitive to migraine triggers. This increases the risk of migraines for women. Meanwhile, male sex hormone testosterone appears to protect men from migraines.

4. Multiple pregnancies increase the risk of diabetes

Women who have had four or more pregnancies are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. This is according to data collected by the British National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The study found out that there was a 28 per cent increase in diabetes risk among postmenopausal women who had four or more pregnancies, compared to those who had been pregnant two or three times.

The researchers explained that pregnancy is diabetogenic, meaning it produces persistent elevation of blood-glucose concentration which could eventually lead to diabetes. The study involved looking at the health data of more than 9000 post-menopausal women who hadn’t had gestational diabetes during any of their pregnancies.

5. Long-term antibiotic ups heart risk for women

Women who take antibiotics over a long period of time are more likely to suffer from heart attack or stroke, according to a 2019 research published in the European Heart Journal.

Researchers found that women aged 60 or older who took antibiotics for two months or more had the highest risk of heart disease. But long usage of antibiotics also placed younger women (ages 40-50) at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The good news, is that the researchers found no elevated risk from antibiotic use in women aged 20-39.

The researchers theorised that long-term use of antibiotics destroyed good bacteria in the gut, increasing the prevalence of bacteria, viruses, and other micro-organisms which cause disease.

6. One Dose of HPV may be enough

In the past, public health officials would recommend two-three doses of HPV vaccine to protect women and girls from cervical cancer. However, recent research suggests that one dose of HPV vaccine might be enough.

A study from Australia found out that one dose of human papillomvirus was as effective as three. This is highly encouraging, considering that most women and girls are unlikely to go for a second or third shot. The HPV vaccine is most effective in those who haven’t been exposed to any HPV strains, or simply haven’t started having sex.

7. Osteoporosis and Yoga

There are various reasons why women love yoga. It’s mostly marketed towards women, it boosts natural feminine flexibility, it suits body types and fitness levels, and its trendy. However, recent research cautions people with osteoporosis to avoid yoga poses that flex the spine. The research published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings examined injuries in people with osteoporosis and osteopenia- conditions characterised by low bone density.

They reviewed health records of 89 people-mostly women- referred to the Mayo Clinic from 2006-2018 for pain from practising yoga. The researchers identified 29 bony injuries which included degeneration of disks, vertebrae slippage, and compression fractures. While yoga is undoubtedly beneficial to most people, the researchers recommended that those who have bone density issues should modify yoga poses to avoid putting pressure on their spines.

8. Oral contraceptives may protect women from knee injuries

Taking the pill may protect women from anterior cruciate ligament injuries, particularly in young athletic women. Although such injuries can affect both men and women, research shows that female athletes are two to eight times as likely to experience ACL injuries compared to their male counterparts.

These prompted researchers to investigate whether hormones are involved, and whether contraceptive might help. Using a US national database, the researchers from Brown University analysed a decade of prescription and insurance details from more than 165,000 female patients from age 15 to 49.

They found the women who used oral contraceptives were 18% less likely to need reconstructive surgery for knee damage than those who didn’t take the pill. However, had significant shortcomings. More research is needed to confirm or dismiss their findings.

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Institute of MedicineHealth factsJAMA Internal Medicine