Should you take the blue pill or pink pill? Why gender matters in medicines

By Virginia Watson, NAWP

We have all heard the expression Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, taking the position that women and men are as different as beings from different planets.

But how different are men and women when it comes to medicine? How much gender matters in medicine?

Being male or female is an undervalued but potentially very important determinant of health, illness, and response to treatment.

There are many factors that can contribute to men and women reacting differently to drug treatment.

For example Women are generally smaller, but their surface area is not representative of their size compared with men, because the total body water is different.  There is a difference in fat tissue ratio, and the hormone matrix is different, particularly relating to pre-puberty, menarche and the menopause. There is also a difference in the metabolism and the enzymes in men and women.

Despite all their differences, the common assumption is that women and men experience disease and react to treatment in the same way. Currently, patients’ drug treatments largely ignore gender differences in relation to the design, conduct and analysis of testing new drugs.  This might lead to under or over dosing of patients.

There is a wide spread belief among Doctors, pharmacists and researchers that there is a huge potential blind-spot in optimizing effectiveness and toxicity of drugs in routine clinical practice and that better understanding of gender differences might significantly improve treatments for both sexes for future drugs after approval for public use.