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Why Women Must Find Empowerment When It Comes to Their Health

The statistics speak volumes. Women are twice as likely to face depression, insomnia, and Alzheimer’s compared with men. We experience significantly more anxiety and autoimmunity, including four-fold increased rates of multiple sclerosis and at least eight-fold rates of Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroiditis. Here’s the rub: we still don’t know why. The gender data gap continues to widen, seemingly unchanged over the past 25 years of my career. Conventional medicine has done a poor job of identifying our unique needs and personalizing treatment for these conditions in women. I find this not only inconceivable, but negligent.

The Problem

What troubles me most about the current notion of female empowerment is that there’s an unspoken expectation that we sacrifice our health in order to gain power. We’re expected not to leave the table, despite illness or birthing babies or caretaking. To me, that’s not true power. I believe our truest source of power is built on a foundation of robust biology, function, and health. Renewable power for women respects our biological imperatives.

I’m not referring to health as the absence of disease but as stability between physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and spiritual domains. It is from the clear-eyed vision of health and homeostasis that we can speak our truth, organize, break stereotypes and glass ceilings, heal, repair, broker true power, and create a more just world.

There are other problems, too. Take stress. Women are more chronically stressed compared with men, according to the annual stress poll by the American Psychological Association. Given the structural and sociocultural factors that limit our power, it’s not surprising that we are more stressed. Further, as women, we deal with stress differently than men. That’s because our bodies contain a delicate balance of hormones that are usually in flux. Instead of dismissing women as “moody” or “anxious” in times of distress, it’s time we approach our issues with an understanding of biological need. Our primary need is a smart way to counter the effects of high perceived stress, as measured by cortisol levels. To be fully empowered, I want you to care about your levels of cortisol, perhaps more than you do your retirement.

Moving Forward

After years of integrative medical practice as a gynecologist, I believe that female empowerment starts with our biology. As we take on more leadership and influencer roles that shape the world, we have work to do. As women, we need to quantify our health and improve it as the foundation for balanced power. You can learn more about how to do this work in my new book, Brain Body Diet.

Thankfully, we are not alone. Filling the gender research gap and personalizing better health for women is vital not just for the empowerment of women, but for the health of the planet and all people. If we can track and take back control of our health, prioritize our needs, and learn to tend and befriend other women, we’ll feel empowered in ways we never have before.

Dr. Sara Gottfried is a Harvard-trained MD, bestselling author, and leading expert on hormones. For more information, click here:

This essay was featured in the May 19th edition of Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper newsletter. The Sunday Paper is the paper of record for individuals who want to be Architects of Change, lead meaningful lives and Move Humanity Forward.  To get inspiring and informative content like this essay delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.