Sunday, June 24, 2012

Men Prefer Motrin, Women Prefer Opiates

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. That's as cliche as it gets for gender differences - the idea that men and women are raised so differently that they could be considered separate species from separate planets.
I'd prefer to be from Neptune, but Mars is cool, too.
In a lot of ways that's true. Just as my girlfriend can't get me to keep all my laundry in a hamper, I can't get her to understand that the floor is the biggest (and most under-utilized) storage space in any home. Still, there's common ground. We both like action movies, we both put on our pants one leg at a time (I tried doing both at once - it's overrated,) and we both believe that Saturday morning cartoons are the cornerstone for happiness.

That, and we're both the same biologically, right?

Wrong. It turns out that men and women vary in more ways medically than originally assumed. Years of focusing on what effects drugs might have on men (particularly middle-aged, white men,) has kept us behind on studying effects for women or minorities. The logic was that if it works for one human, it would work the same for all. But the truth, sad to say, is that the cliche still holds - Men prefer Motrin and women prefer opiates.

Pain and Relief

Studies have shown that women are more likely to report when they feel pain than men. Women will also report higher pain scores (on a one to ten scale) than men with the same condition. This suggests that pain tolerance could be social. Maybe we teach girls that it's okay to admit when something hurts. Or, on the other side, maybe it's the boys we're teaching to tough it out. Both sound right to me, but there hasn't been any conclusive studies to link medical pain-reports to the raising of children.

Although not medically tested, Mom's kisses are the best treatment for boo-boos and owies.
The differences of gender continue at a pharmaceutical level. Although male and female bodies go through the same steps to metabolize drugs, subtle differences in our bodies change the efficacy of certain drugs. For instance, due to their fluctuating levels of hormones, drug concentrations in the blood stream change by the day even if the dose is kept consistent. Also, because women have a higher percentage of body fat than men, medicines that store in fat stay in the body longer, meaning that less should be taken.

Ibuprofen, one of the most commonly prescribed painkillers in America, is more effective in men than in women. But that's not the only drug being noticed for treating the sexes differently. One commonly quoted study showed that one pain reliever (an opiod) prescribed to men and women after dental surgery caused an increase in pain for men and a decrease for women.

So what does this mean? Will pills eventually come in "his" and "hers?" Possibly. What's important is that these questions are being asked.

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