Men and women are different. I realize this may not be a ground breaking revelation but aside from certain anatomical variations, the differences are not always noticeable.
Women certainly have a different hormonal milieu than men, and some of the internal variations can be directly attributed to such; however, laying everything at the feet of the hormonal hooligans is both simplistic and unfounded. In other words, men and women are not solely their hormones, but a complex interaction of gender specific, unique physiology. Let’s look at some examples.
Women are at a greater risk of developing problems from alcohol use than men. This applies to simple health risks as well as severe consequences. The National Institutes of Health state that, based on current research, female alcoholics have death rates 50 to 100 percent higher than those of male alcoholics, including deaths from suicides, alcohol-related accidents, heart disease and stroke, and liver cirrhosis. Even though there are more male alcoholics than female, the women fare worse overall. This is related to how alcohol is metabolized in the female system. Women are more likely to develop liver damage from excessive alcohol consumption even when compared to similar intake for males. In addition, having more than 2 drinks a day can increase the risk for breast cancer for a woman. Why do these differences exist? In general women have less body water than men of similar body weight, so that women achieve higher concentrations of alcohol in the blood after drinking equivalent amounts of alcohol. In addition, women have smaller quantities of the enzyme dehydrogenase that breaks down alcohol in the stomach. A woman will absorb about 30% more alcohol into her bloodstream than a man of the same weight who has consumed an equal amount. There is a push by many organizations, especially on college campuses to educate women as to these differences. The consequences later in life can be substantial.
For years medical research on heart disease and risk factors was done exclusively on men. The vast majority of major work done in the earlier decades purposely excluded women for reasons ranging from potential pregnancy to volunteer recruitment. What resulted is a plethora of data that is extremely useful, but biased. Only with the advent of multiple studies including women have researchers realized that heart disease risk factors, occurrence, and prognosis are different for men and women. Heart disease has taken a back seat to breast cancer, for example, largely due to media attention and breast cancer awareness programs; however, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women over 50. A woman is more than ten times as likely to die of cardiovascular disease as she is to die of breast cancer. This is partly due to the fact that the survival rate for breast cancer is quite high, whereas over 40% of women do not survive their first heart attack. Women’s hearts are anatomically different from men, and they also function differently. A woman’s heart on average is smaller than a man’s, and it also tends to have smaller blood vessels supplying it. Researchers from Columbia University and New York Presbyterian Hospital believe that women also have a different rhythmicity to the pacemaker of their hearts, which causes them to beat faster. These same researchers believe that it may take a woman’s heart longer to relax after each beat. Some surgeons also hypothesize that the fact that women have a 50 % greater chance of dying during heart surgery than men could be related to some fundamental difference in the way women’s hearts work. These differences have led to a bias in how physicians viewed heart symptoms in women. Several studies indicated that if a woman and a man presented to an emergency room with identical symptoms, the man would be more likely to be evaluated for heart problems than the woman. Luckily with the new data, this trend is reversing and early disease is being suspected and detected in women, hopefully reducing both death and disability.
Most would agree that men and women think differently. This may have a physiologic basis as research indicates that men’s and women’s brains are structurally different. There are variations in grey and white matter, which leads to differences in things such as verbal abilities and connectivity between the two sides of the brain. These anatomical peculiarities can lead to a number of behavioral differences once thought to be social or environmental.
It’s important to understand there is no advantage or disadvantage with these variations, it’s just that being aware of the differences may help in promoting each individual’s health.