A couple of years ago, there was a clinical trial of the male contraceptive injection. The results showed that although the injection had a 98.4% efficacy rate at pregnancy prevention (making it more effective than condoms) the side effects that the men experienced were too severe. These side effects included acne (45%) and mood swings (20%). Um…
As a woman who has been on the female contraceptive pill, and experienced mood swings, acne, weight gain, irregular periods and migraines, I feel like there’s a staggering dissonance between men and women’s ability to stomach side effects.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only instance where women have been treated as second class citizens by modern medicine. Take the research on heart attacks. The majority of data comes from research performed on men due to the fact that women have historically been excluded from clinical trials and biomedical research. Even now, only one third of cardiovascular clinical trial subjects are female. It was only recently (in the past decade) that scientists and doctors realized that women present with different symptoms to men when they’re having a heart attack. This particular gender bias has resulted in women who suffer a heart attack being 50% more likely than men to be given a wrong initial diagnosis and further research has estimated that over ten years, more than 8,000 women in England and Wales could have been saved if they received equal heart attack care to men. Not cool.
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the wellness industry has proliferated primarily among women. Many wellness treatments and alternative medicines address issues such as hormonal imbalances, periods and fertility issues. Emma Cannon, a holistic fertility expert, has made it her life mission to unite wellness with modern medicine. “I believe wellness has been allowed to proliferate because people aren’t getting what they need from the health system – and I’ve spent the last 25 years trying to work collaboratively between the two.”
“Patients aren’t getting the help they want partly because medicine is so patriarchal and it takes so long for a practice to become mainstream,” she explains. “I have patients who are going through IVF, and the clinics don’t speak to them about their sex lives. The system sometimes offers nothing unless they’re sure they have a medical solution for it, as in the case of improving couples’ sex lives. But some lifestyle factors have a huge impact on health outcomes, they just haven’t made it into the mainstream yet.”
Emma specializes in uniting modern medicine with a combination of lifestyle, diet and emotional advice to provide her patients with a holistic treatment program. “I’m the first to say if someone needs to see a doctor, but I’m also the first to offer them diet, emotional and environmental advice. If you come to see me, you might walk out with a referral to a surgeon, a shaman, or anything in between.”
Then there’s the rise in Fem Tech – the technology-based treatments developed specifically to cater to women’s health concerns, including treatment for pelvic floor prolapse with devices such as Elvie, and a hormone free contraceptive app, Natural Cycles. The latter was a result of years of dissatisfaction with the options available to women. “I made a personal decision to stop using hormonal contraceptives, but couldn’t find an adequate alternative,” said Natural Cycles founder Dr Elina Berglund. “I did some research and found out that you can accurately predict ovulation through body temperature, and so could calculate when you’re fertile and when you’re not.” Using her knowledge of statistical mathematics from her experience as a particle physicist, Dr Berglund created an algorithm that could predict her ovulation – and things took off from there. “At first, it was just meant for me to use. But I quickly realised that there was a wider need from my female friends and colleagues. Together with my husband, who is also a physicist, we turned the algorithm into an app so more people could benefit.” Natural Cycles now has hundreds of thousands of users across 200 countries.
However, while the increasing evidence to support alternative and complimentary treatment options can only be welcomed, there’s also a darker side of wellness that if followed in isolation would be just as harmful, if not considerably more so, than a patriarchal medical system. “A lot of what is being tooted as wellness is actually illness. Some of the people on Instagram who have the most followers are some of the unhealthiest people I’ve ever met,” says Emma. “I believe somewhere in the middle lies the truth, the happy balance that is both preventative and curative.”