The WHRI Celebrates National Women’s Health Week

The Women’s Health Research Institute joins the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in celebrating National Women’s Health Week from May 14th through May 20th! The WHRI encourages you to make your health and well-being a top priority. This week we will feature additional information and resources on our blog and social media related to this year’s theme: Your Health at Every Age. Stay connected with us by following us on Twitter (@WomensHealthNU) or on Facebook.

Additional National Women’s Health Week resources can be found through the:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health
Illinois Department of Public Health

Sex Not Reported in Most Genetic Studies

One might wonder how biological sex may be over looked in human genetic studies, given that the genome itself contains a glaring sex-difference: the presence or absence of the Y chromosome. However, a recent commentary published in the journal, Biology of Sex Differences, highlights the fact that human genetic studies often overlook or under-report sex differences [1]. Similar to trends in other fields, the authors found that only 1% of studies which look for genetic links to diseases and disorders, otherwise known as genome-wide association studies, report results based on sex. They posit that while investigators are more than likely considering sex-differences, the complex datasets generated by genome-wide studies are typically analyzed by simple statistical methods in order to identify the most significant results. Thus, the data may not be analyzed directly by sex to increase statistical power. Alternatively, data sets which are analyzed by sex, but do not identify any apparent sex-differences, may never be reported. The authors provide the following recommendations for incorporating sex into genetic study design:

  • Perform separate analyses on male and female data 
  • Utilize publically-available data sets to increase sample size
  • Encourage journals to require the reporting of sex statistics.

To read the full article, “From sexless to sexy: Why it is time for human genetics to consider and report analyses of sex,” click here.  

References:

1. Powers et al., Biology of Sex Differences. 2017; 8:15 

Sex-Based Research Given a Spotlight at National Conference

This weekend, Chicago will see an influx of scientists amongst its many visitors, as the Experimental Biology meeting will be held from April 22nd – April 26th at McCormick Place. The Experimental Biology meeting is the annual gathering for 6 scientific societies, drawing in over 13,000 attendees each year. During the week-long meeting, attendees will come together to discuss recent breakthroughs and advances in the fields of anatomy and physiology, biochemistry and molecular biology, pathology, pharmacology, and nutrition. In addition, attendees may find themselves learning more about the role of sex and gender in health and disease.

The American Physiological Society will host several sessions throughout the Experimental Biology meeting with a focus on sex-based research and the inclusion of these practices in the medical and graduate classrooms. Sessions topics will include: 

  • Curricular Innovation in Sex and Gender Based Medical Physiology Education
  • Sex Differences in Physiology and Pathophysiology
  • Sex Differences in Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease
  • Sex differences in Diabetes, Obesity and Blood Pressure Control

The WHRI applauds the American Physiological Society for providing a platform for sex-based research on the national level. These sessions give visibility to sex-inclusive research practices and promote discussion of sex and gender influences in science and medicine.

More information about the Experimental Biology meeting or its participating societies can be found here

NU Medical Students Keep Women’s Health at Forefront

Throughout the 2016-2017 academic year, Northwestern University medical students have taken an active role in advancing women’s health. Students participated in workshops and activities sponsored by the Feinberg School of Medicine (FSM) Chapter of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA). The events incorporated aspects of women’s health while providing students an opportunity to improve their clinical skills, engage with faculty members, and advocate on behalf of their future patients.

Natasha Rich, a 2nd-year medical student and co-president of the FSM-AMWA chapter, finds these extracurricular activities to be particularly rewarding. “There is a strong interest amongst our members to gain additional training and experience in the unique aspects of women’s health and care that may not necessarily be covered on the day to day in the classroom,” she states.  


Students learn how to incorporate sexual health history into a routine exam. 

Recent AMWA-sponsored activities have included workshops on obtaining sexual health histories and recognizing intimate partner violence. In January, a group of medical students participated in the Chicago Women’s March. “Many of our members are passionate advocates for their communities and patients,” Rich shares. “As women and future physicians, students who participated in the march wanted to express their desire to protect their patient's [access] to healthcare.” 


FSM-AMWA members participate in the Chicago Women's March on January 21st, 2017. 

Students involved with the FSM-AMWA chapter are integrating women’s health into the classroom, clinic, and beyond. To learn more about their efforts or to become a member please contact Prianka Raju (prianka.raju@northwestern.edu) or Annika Nielsen (annika.nilsen@northwestern.edu). Medical, physician assistant, and physical therapy students, regardless of gender, are encouraged to become members. 

Sex-Specific Treatment Suggested for Women with Gout

Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis which affects over 8.3 million adults in the United States [1]. It stems from the build-up of uric acid, a common chemical found in the body.  When uric acid is over-produced, it can form tiny crystals which are deposited into joints of the toes, feet, wrists and fingers, causing arthritic pain. A recent study published in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders found that women may experience gout differently than men [2]. The study analyzed health information from 1237 patients who have been diagnosed by rheumatologists with gout. Women with gout were more likely to have their work and daily activities impaired by the disease as compared to men. In addition, women with gout typically had other health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease. This may indicate that women with gout may benefit from customized treatment plans due to their co-existing health conditions.

If you are interested in learning more about gout please consider checking out the following resources: 

References: 

  1. Centers for Disease Control 
  2. Harrold et al., BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2017;18(1):108. 

Physical Activity Promotes Healthy Gut Bacteria in Women

The human gut microbiome contains over 1,000 different species of bacteria which may play a significant role in our overall health [1]. Over the last decade, the study of the human microbiome has expanded tremendously through the support of the Human Microbiome Project [2]. We now know that imbalances in our gut microbes can play a role in the development and progression of various diseases and disorders [reviewed in 3-4]. A recent study published in PLoS One found that physical activity may impact the amount of “healthy” gut bacteria in women [5]. The study examined the activity patterns of 40 women over the course of one week and categorized them into a sedentary or active group based on the amount of physical activity they participated in. Stool samples from all of the participants were evaluated to determine the type and abundance of bacteria present. The authors found that while both groups of women had similar types of gut microbes, active women had higher amounts of health-promoting bacteria such as Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Roseburia hominis, and Akkermansia muciniphila. These results suggest that physical activity can directly impact our microbiome in a beneficial way. Thus, providing yet another example of why physical activity is important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle! 

References:

  1. Arumugam et al., Nature. 2011;473(7346):147-180.  
  2. Human Microbiome Project
  3. Lynch et al., N Engl J Med. 2016;375(24):2369-2379.
  4. Shreiner et al., Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2015; 31(1): 69–75.
  5. Bressa et al., PLoS One. 2017 Feb 10;12(2):e0171352.

 

 

American Heart Association Journal Dedicates Issues to Women’s Health and Sex-Based Research

The American Heart Association (AHA) journal, Circulation, has dedicated its February issue to women’s health and sex-based research in the cardiovascular field [1]. The issue follows suit in the AHA campaign “Go Red for Women,” which raises awareness of women’s cardiovascular health and promotes sex-specific treatment guidelines, risk assessment, and sex-based research. Research featured in the issue focuses not only on sex-based cardiovascular health but also broader topics such as gender-bias in faculty rank among academic cardiologists and sex-bias in preclinical cardiovascular research.  

To access the February issue of Circulation, click here.

February is American Heart Month, to learn more about heart health check out the following resources:

Reference:
1. Circulation. 2017;135(6).