Here’s to studies – and women’s health

Logo of the United States Office of Research o...
Logo of the United States Office of Research on Women’s Health, part of the National Institutes of Health. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the past 20+ years I’ve been involved with an assortment of Women’s Health Initiative studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health, a fascinating project if I ever encountered one. Launched in 1991, the WHI consisted of a set of clinical trials and an observational study, which together involved 161,808 generally healthy postmenopausal women. Studies were originally looking at things like hormone therapy (yes, it was this study that showed hormone therapy isn’t the miracle once thought,) diet modification, calcium & vitamin D supplement and their effect on heart disease, fractures, and breast and colorectal cancer.

When I first signed up it was just as part of a control group — I know myself well enough to know I wasn’t going to change my diet or undertake healthy habits beyond trying to stay in relatively good shape. A few years later I got breast cancer, and thereupon became part of another batch of studies and onto another batch of interesting mailings. After the first decade we surviving participants (I always get a birthday card from WHI as a sort of “Well, hooray, you’re still around” message) entered an annual report phase. We would fill out multi-page forms one assumes were used as databases for a limitless variety of women’s health issues. My personal favorite was the behavioral form that included this Yes-or-No box to check: “When you enter a room, do you think people are talking about you?” Hmmm.

Why am I proud of WHI, and happy to have been a part so far? Nobody ever studied women’s health so broadly. This was a chance to gather significant data specific to women’s health, as opposed to most studies that were either all about guys or gender nonspecific. I’m now embarking upon the LILAC Study: Life and Longevity After Cancer; let’s hear it for longevity.

What do I wish WHI might have included? Reproductive health.

Admittedly it could be hard to do that in a study of post-menopausal women, but still. A sizeable chunk of women’s health has to do with reproduction, and of late it has become more a matter of politics and religion than of health. And with so much unscientific misinformation being circulated every minute of every day about reproductive health, women are increasingly at risk. Any real data, real science is a plus.

Thank heaven for the Guttmacher Institute. For nearly a half century Guttmacher has been working to “advance sexual and reproductive health and rights through an interrelated program of research, policy analysis and public education.” Congress gets hysteria, Guttmacher offers fact. The media offer propaganda, Guttmacher offers data.

Miraculously, the National Institutes of Health is funded by our taxes. Guttmacher is a nonprofit, with highest ratings from Charity Navigator, Philanthropedia and other groups. I just sent a donation to Guttmacher. If you support reproductive justice and women’s health, you might want to do the same.

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