Five Myths About Women's Health
It probably won’t surprise you to know that there are a lot of health and wellness myths out there. You could take all of our best-loved health “facts” and debunk about half of them with very little effort. Let’s try a few:
Myth: You need to drink eight glasses of water a day.
Fact: There is absolutely no scientific evidence to back this up. We do know that drinking pure water is healthy, but there is no magic to the number eight. Some people will thrive on eight glasses while others may need more or less. You can even drink too much water. Doing so puts stress on your kidneys and can cause other problems like having to pee too often. Check out this article for more.
Myth: Running a marathon (or any long-distance race) will help you lose weight.
Fact: Long-distance running is really hard on your body and actually triggers hormones that tell your body to eat more and hold on to fat. That doesn’t necessarily mean that marathon runners are fat. You are expending a lot of energy and burning a lot of calories to train. However, this means that you may not lose weight while training or you may simply gain all your weight back again when you are finished. If you are trying to run a marathon with the goal to lose weight, it’s really a hard way to do it. This is one article that addresses this misperception.
Myth: You must have eight hours of solid sleep a night.
Fact: The science of sleep is changing rapidly these days. Just like water, there is no magic to the number eight. There is also no evidence that you need to sleep solidly through the night in order to be healthy. Recent sleep studies have shown that when allowed to fall into natural sleep patterns, most people spend an hour or two awake in the middle of the night. The main issue may be that people aren’t sleeping enough (not even close to 8 hours) or that the quality of their sleep is poor. Again, people will vary in what they need. I’m a serious 9-hour-a-night person with a good 10-11 hour night thrown in there now and then.
I could keep going, but I won’t. What I’m trying to show you is that much of what we think we know about health and wellness is actually full of half-truths and misinformation. Part of the reason for this is that what we know about health and wellness is still changing constantly. There are lots of old stories out there that, although they have been fully debunked, still circulate. The problem is that some of these old stories are extremely harmful to our health. Women in particular (especially women of color) are harmed every day by these myths floating around. We need to debunk these so we can be proactive in finding the best health care we can.
This brings us to the first myth about women’s health I want to talk about today.
Myth #1: My doctor knows all the latest science about health and wellness.
Fact: Medical practice lags about 15-17 years behind current medical research. (I’ve heard this many places, but here is one study you can check out to know I’m not making this up.) That means that my doctor is working with medical knowledge that could be up to 17 years out of date! For example, if researchers today figure out that Lyme disease is not caused by tick bites it could take 17 years for that information to filter through the appropriate research channels, into medical schools, and finally to students who will eventually become doctors. If you go to your general practitioner or a specialist today, they very likely do not know what the cutting-edge research is on your particular issue. You should still go to your doctor if you are having a health issue, but you should consider taking what they say and doing your own research as well. If their advice doesn’t line up with the latest information out there, it might be good to get a second opinion.
Which leads directly into our next myth.
Myth #2: Doctors (including women’s health practitioners) know everything about women’s health.
Fact: Medical research, up until very recently, was almost always done on men, and then the results were simply assumed to apply to women. Yes, even medications intended to support women’s hormonal and breast health were tested on men! (Check out Maya Dusenbury’s book Doing Harm for more on this incredibly shocking situation.) That means that most of the mediations women are prescribed, treatments that are suggested, and surgeries that are performed have not been specifically researched or tested on women. There have been numerous books written in the past 10 years about this issue because it is a dangerous and unhealthy situation for women. We go to the doctor assuming they know what we need, but in reality, there are still many things about women’s health that are a mystery to science. There are many other things that are not a mystery, but still are not widely known (like how common heart attacks are among women and what the symptoms are.) There is a push to fill in the gaps, but the unfortunate reality is that even your women’s health specialists are working with incomplete and outdated information (due to Myth #1).
And to make all this worse, let’s talk about our next myth.
Myth #3: My doctor listens to what I have to say.
Fact: Doctors (even the female ones) hold some pretty damaging stereotypes about women. Just because they listen to you does not mean they believe a word you are saying. Many research studies show that women are more likely to leave a doctor’s office without pain medication, are more likely to be sent home from the emergency room with life-threatening conditions and spend more time (sometimes years) getting a diagnosis for their illnesses. (Check out Maya Dusenbury’s book Doing Harm for more on these studies.) Women are more often described as being “hysterical” or a “hypocondriac.” They are told to their faces that their problem is all in their head and they either need to “get a grip” or go see a psychologist. I’ve even heard stories of female doctors saying these things to female patients. Never assume that your doctor dismissing your symptoms is the right call. They just might hold some serious prejudice about women.
Let’s now tackle one of the worst misconceptions about female health next.
Myth #4: Menstrual pain is normal and the root cause of a lot of other problems/symptoms.
Fact: Menstrual pain is extremely common, but it isn’t necessarily normal. Some mild discomfort the first few days of your cycle? Sure, that’s not surprising. Debilitating pain that keeps you in bed all day? Definitely not normal. Medical professionals want to dismiss any pain that might be associated with your period because they think it is normal and nothing can be done about it (and partly because they probably don’t believe it is that bad due to Myth #3). This does a huge disservice to millions of women who suffer needlessly every month. The other side of this problem is that medical professionals tend to dismiss a lot of symptoms as being associated with your menstrual cycle. If you faint, throw up, have a seizure, or display a multitude of other symptoms the first question you are usually asked is, “are on your period?” If the answer is yes, then the investigation into what is wrong generally stops there. In the minds of the medical professional, all is now explained and you are sent home and told it is normal. This causes a situation where a lot of medical symptoms get ignored even though they may be pointing to very serious issues.
This brings us to our last myth.
Myth #5: There is nothing you can do about it. Just buck up and deal with it.
Fact: Medical professionals are really good at this sort of statement because they either don’t know what is wrong, don’t know what to do about it, or don’t believe there is a real problem. If you hear this from a doctor or specialist, that’s your cue to say thank you, stand up, and go get help somewhere else. There is no excuse for anyone to tell a woman to “just deal with it.” If you feel poorly enough to seek help, then there is something wrong. If there is something wrong, then there is definitely something you can do about it. I believe that your body is made to heal. It was this belief that started me on my journey to healing nearly 15 years ago. It’s also the reason why I started this business. I want all women to know they can heal. I don’t believe that anyone should just give up and say, “there is nothing I can do about this.” I believe there is always an available path toward healing.
So after revealing these myths, do I think that your best option is to skip seeing a doctor? No, not necessarily. Medial professionals are good at many things and can spot some serious issues that need immediate attention. I would definitely recommend seeing one if you are experiencing acute or life-threatening symptoms. If you do see a doctor and they dismiss your problem, then you need to go see another one. The sad fact is that many women have to see more than one practitioner before getting help, even with serious problems such as spleen ruptures and heart attacks. If you think you are experiencing something serious like that, you should consider taking a male relative with you to back up your story. It is a maddening, but effective way to get the attention of medical professionals.
If your problem is not life-threatening, then you have more options. You can still check in first with your doctor and get their opinion. Sometimes this is helpful. There are many good practitioners out there that can give you quality medical advice. See what they say and then trust your intuition to know if you should follow their advice.
If you take a problem to a medical practitioner and they don’t believe you, they give you a pill and tell you to deal with it, they dismiss the issue, or anything else that feels wrong to you, then walk out and try someone else. At this point, you could stick with the medical profession or go the alternative route.
I know many people think alternative health options are quackery, but there is a lot of knowledge and practical support you can get from that sector that you may not get from medical doctors. The first reason is that alternative professionals are more likely to believe you. I’ve never had my symptoms and concerns dismissed in the same way they were by medical doctors. The second reason is that most alternative health workers believe that your body is able to heal. They have all kinds of ways of supporting your body’s natural healing process. I use energy work such as Reiki and EFT to open up the body to healing. Other practitioners use Trauger, acupressure, yoga, supplements, oils, and so much more to help you heal.
If you decide to go the alternative route, you will also trust your intuition to know when something is working for you or not. If anything a practitioner says feels uncomfortable, trust your gut and go find someone else to work with. You have plenty of other options to try. The world of integrated health is vast and diverse. You can find what helps you and give your body a chance to heal.
I don’t share these five myths with you to scare or frustrate you. I want you to know them so you are empowered to take back your health into your own hands. Know that the medical system is stacked against women. If you have had a bad experience with a medical professional, know you are not alone. Most importantly, know that your own intuition is the best guide to finding the help you need. Don’t let anyone tell you that you will never heal or that your condition is permanent. Believe that you can change your health and start looking for other ways to find the support you need.
Have you been struggling with a health issue? Are you having trouble finding someone who will support your quest for answers? Send me an email and let’s connect! I know what it is like to have symptoms no one can explain and few people believe. I’d love to hear your story and let you know that you aren’t crazy. I’ll do my best to suggest some ways to move forward in your own healing journey.
Looking for more stories of healing or want to know more about energy work? Check out the rest of my blog and my website. There’s plenty here to explore!