Earlier this week. Fox Business ran a piece claiming that the gender pay gap was nothing more than a myth. Some of the more interesting conclusions suggested that there are fewer women in select fields was because they choose to work in industries that pay less such as education, versus those that pay more (and where you find greater numbers of men), such as computer and engineering.
The author writes: “women sacrifice pay for all sorts of reasons including security, safety, flexibility, and fulfillment. Their priorities are vastly different than men’s. And when you account for that, when you compare apples to apples, when women actually make the same career choices as men, there is no gap. Men and women earn the same.” He adds that even when women pursue higher paying fields, such as medicine, they tend to gravitate towards areas that are less stressful, such dentistry rather than specialize in stressful positions such as surgery. Moreover, men work more hours.
While he acknowledges that women are having babies and do most of the child rearing — obvious factors that contribute to the gender pay gap — he claims that these are personal or societally-driven decisions and that truly, the glass ceiling has been broken.
Is this man living under a rock?!
I can rest on my laurels, throw a bunch of statistics in your direction and reinterpret the findings to provide evidence that the gender pay gap is a thing of the past. Or I can share the following proof that it’s not, that this author’s primary point, if you pay close attention to the article, has nothing to do with gender pay and more to do with his opinion that the Federal Government should not be wasting its time trying to equal the paying (pun intended) field.
That aside, let’s get down to brass tacks.
According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women continue to be paid less money than men in all but 7 of 534 occupations – respiratory therapy, computer support, operations research analysts, stock clerks, medical scientists, bookkeeping/accounting, and packager/package handlers. You can see the differences in the chart below as outlined by the Center for American Progress:
[Source: Center for American Progress]
Moreover, it’s not simply a matter of women choosing not to enter higher paying fields; often there is a discrimination bias taking place. For example, as Perry Hewett wrote in a 2011 Forbes.com piece, a key reason that women are lacking in tech is because this male-dominated industry is not broadening its professional networks to include more women. Anecdotally, I hear this all the time from my female techie friends. Importantly, the problem is magnified many fold among women of color who are trying the break the barriers. This problem is coupled with the need to improve girls’ access to science and technology programs (and boosting their interests in the same) so that we are producing a greater field of qualified applicants. And my gal pals also echo Hewett’s contention that visibility is a huge issue; even women who participate in more highly visible events are often invisible to the masses. Those who speak up are often ostracized when they do. The problem is pervasive.
In medicine, the reality is just as harsh. Although women are now entering medical school in droves, studies have suggested that gender discrimination is a large factor driving where females ultimately end up; in one survey, 75% of women on a surgical track had experienced gender discrimination. More specifically, female physicians have three choices in order to excel:
- deny that there is any distinction between her and her male colleagues, thereby joining the man’s clube and be subject to be treated as a “neuter”
- assume a more traditional societal role as a seductive, helpless, dependent female, which means she is then treated as a sex object
- become a superwoman and compulsive overachiever in career and family roles in order to supercede expectations in all areas of her life
As I’ve written previously, gender and age discrimination is also pervasive in the film and entertainment industry. I’m sure that there are more fields, more data, more anecdotes; I’ve simply scratched the surface with the most obvious. However, the issues underlying and driving the glass ceiling are complex. In some areas, women have shattered it; in the majority of others, it is intact. And to overcome the challenges we face as women, it’s more than simply leaning in, or making choices other than the ones that many women are forced to make.
The gender pay gap? It’s real and not going away anytime soon. And it will take more than empowerment to move the needle. I’m not entirely sure what the answer is. But when it comes to action, the future is now.Read More
When it comes to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is two the magic number? A variety of studies have examined the utility of TCM for menopausal symptoms and some have shown good benefit. However, does combining distinct forms of TCM yield better outcomes? Moreover, are these outcomes equal to those achieved by hormone therapy?
They may very well be, according to a small study that was presented this past May at the International Research Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health. Published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the study explores the use of a Chinese herbal formulation named Kun Bao Wan alone and in combination with acupuncture and compares it to hormone therapy. Available in powder form and priced at approximately $8.00 a box, Kun Bao Yan is used in Chinese medicine to balance hormone levels, relieve insomnia and improve blood circulation to restore healthy metabolism. A web and database search yielded almost no information on side effects, reinforcing the need to work directly with a practitioner versed in Chinese medicine versus using it on your own.
Regardless, over a two-month period, 57 women in peri- or full on menopause took Kun Bao Wan (5 gm. twice a day) alone or in combination of 5 acupuncture sessions a month, or were assigned hormone therapy. During this time, symptoms (hot flashes, tingling, insomnia, nervousness, weakness, dizziness, palpitations) were measured with a scientifically validated index. The researchers also assessed hormone levels (FSH, estradiol) and symptom severity and frequency.
The findings appear to indicate that while all three strategies can significantly decrease menopause symptom scores, better results were achieved with Chinese medicine plus acupuncture compared to Chinese medicine alone, particularly in women who were postmenopausal. Additionally, Chinese medicine plus acupuncture was on par with hormone therapy with regards to its overall effects on FSH. Importantly, none of these strategies appeared to affect levels of circulating natural estradiol.
Granted, this study is quite small. But it does show that with Chinese Medicine, two combined modalities may be better than one. And are certainly on par with hormone therapy — and perhaps even safer.
I am a huge fan of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), having used various preparations over the past 20 years for numerous ailments. These preparations have been prescribed by a practitioner who is licensed and degreed in TCM and my experience, albeit anecdotal, has been nothing but positive. In fact, I have been using a TCM formulation for several years now to help battle numerous symptoms and in combination with other prescribed herbs, I’ve mostly won. That’s one of the main reasons that I am always intrigued when I stumble upon well-designed studies that demonstrate benefit, like this one in the journal Menopause.
A bit of context
TCM and other similar philosophies emphasizes various body systems that together, form a network or grid connected by a meridien, if you will, as well as the relationship of the body to its social and natural environment. Its primary focus on maintaining health and enhancing the body’s ability to fight off disease. TCM will not focus, for example, on treating specific pathogens but rather, on addressing non-specific factors that create disturbances or imbalances within a certain network. TCM also examines how these imbalances may occur in unique parts of a specific system, such as the heart and blood vessels and small intestine (all of which are part of the heart system) and how they change over time. Western medicine, on the other hand, focuses primarily on treating morbidities, or symptoms related to various conditions and diseases. You can read morerabout TCM in this post from last September.
In TCM, menopausal symptoms are believed to be related to a decline in yin or yang in the kidneys. One of the oldest prescriptions in TCM to reinforce kidney energy is known as ‘Qing E Fang’ (QEF) and the first record of its use dates back to the year 960. The preparation is a combination of four key ingredients that are mediated through estrogen receptors and expression, hence, its potential usefulness in menopause. (These ingredients, in case you are interested, are Cortex Eucommiae (whose bark and leaf have an antioxidant effect) Fructus Psoraleae (commonly used for bone health and to treat estrogen associated diseases), Semen Juglandis and Rhizoma Garlic.)
About the research
For this study, researchers used a formulation based on QEF known as Jiawei Qing’s Fang or, JQF, which used two of the four herbs (Cortex Eucommiae, Fructus Psoraleae) mentioned above. In JQF, they are combined with the herb, Salviae Miltiorrhizae, that has been used specifically to treat gynecological disorders and has properties that are similar to SERMs, drugs that mimic estrogen but are theoretically safer. The 72 women participating in the study were all perimenopausal and had severe and frequent hot flashes; they were randomly instructed to take JQF or placebo daily over 8 weeks. For a month thereafter, symptoms were evaluated using a menopause measure that looks at vasomotor, physical, psychosocial and sexual health). The women also kept daily diaries to record the frequency and severity of their flashes.
Notably, this is one of the first times that perimenopausal women have been the focus of a study that involves TCM. Moreover, in this study, researchers selected a formulation that worked on the kidney and also contained an herb that not only mimics SERMS but also improves blood circulation. And the findings? Women who randomly took JQF not only experienced significant improvements in their hot flashes, but also reported improvements in quality of life in terms of the impact of vasomotor and physical symptoms. Moreover, because Salviae Miltiorrhizae works on blood circulation, they also had reductions in the blood fats (triglyerides) which means that the formulation might also be beneficial in terms of heart disease prevention in menopausal women.
Is it time for a change of Rx for the change? Should you be seeking out a practitioner who can prescribe JQF and advise you on its best use for you? Or is it too early? JQF was well tolerated, although two women were found to have liver measures negatively affected in ways that did not require any medical intervention but did raise a few red flags and calls for more study. JQF represents a seemingly scientifically proven alternatives to hormone therapy. It’s refreshing to watch TCM come out of Asia and be increasingly incorporated into Western philosophy.
Women who choose to go the alternative route for menopausal hot flashes have few evidenced-based options. Although acupuncture and standardized black cohosh have been shown to be effective in ameliorating hot flashes, others, including red clover and even soy, have been less successful. Consequently, herbal practitioners often turn to Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herbal formulations or the lesser known (in the U.S.) Japanese multiherb medicinal formulations known as Kampo. Interestingly, the term Kampo refers to ‘the way of China” and the practice which is several thousand years old is based on TCM.
Kampo is prescribed by over 90% of Japanese gynecologists and is regulated by the Japanese Ministry of Health to insure manufacturing standards and product stability. One of the most popular Kampo agents for perimenopausal hot flash management is an 1,800 year old formulaton known as “keishibukuryogan” or in the US, as TU-025. Comprised of a combination of cinnamon bark, peony root, peach kernal and mountain bark, it active ingredient remains unknown. Japanese data from both the government and the manufacturer demonstrate a very low incidence of side effects and no estrogenic activity, which means that theoretically, it could be safely used by women who have had breast or gynecologic cancers. Nevertheless, its utility in American women has not been known, at least until now.
In a study published in the August issue of Menopause, 178 postmenopausal women were randomly assigned placebo, 7.5 g/daily TU-025 or 12.5 g/daily TU-025 for 12 weeks. All participants reported 28 or more hot flashes a week, had been in menopause for at least a year, had stopped using hormones for at least 8 weeks if they were already using them, smoked less than 10 cigarettes a day and most were slightly overweight or obese (based on body mass index). None were using antidepressants (which studies have shown may help alleviate hot flashes), nor did they have a history of breast or uterine cancer. While the 7.5 gram daily is the dose taken most often by Japanese women, the researchers upped the dose to 12.5 gm daily to account for a larger sized American woman.Read More
Mental energy. That elusive construct that is defined by our mood and feelings of fatigue or energy, our motivation, determination and enthusiasms and our ability to sustain focus and attention. I don’t know about you but I find that my mental energy is not always optimum. Moreover, I am not surprised; between physical, work and life demands, I am often overworked, overextended and overstressed. Personally, I find that downtime, exercise and creative endeavors help to refuel and refresh. However, can foods do the same?,
According to researcher Michael C. Falk from the Life Sciences Research Center in Bethesda, MD, part of the challenge in determining whether or not certain substances can enhance mental energy is the diverse number of methods used to measure effect. So, a lack of proof of the benefit of a particular substance might be partially related to the method. Nevertheless, in a recent study, he and his colleagues identified the most widely studied substances in diet and supplements: Ginko biloba, ginseng, glucose and omega-3 fatty acids and examined how they might be impacting the different facets of mental energy.
Ginkgo biloba Ginko has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries, mostly for age-related declines in cognition, dementia and for Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, it hasn’t shown much promise in this regard, but some data suggest that it might have use in improving mood, boosting how quickly individuals process information, and even improve attention. Less clear, however, how much should be taken and in what form (i.e. supplement or extract) or the length of time before results are seen.
Ginseng Like Ginkgo, ginseng is another herb that is common to TCM, either alone or in combination with others. An important challenge when using ginseng for medicinal purposes is that it quality is highly variable, which is why, similar to other herbs, you need to look for standardized formulations. When it comes to mental energy, the verdict is still out and research studies are inconclusive. The question remains, however, whether or not this is due to the fact that claims that it boosts mental prowess are false or that the actual ginseng being studied is too varied in quality and the part of the plant from which study formulations are derived are inconsistent.
Glucose Sugar. Not only is it an essential energy source for the body but it is the brain’s primary energy source. And yet, the studies that have looked at the effects of glucose on brain function, memory or even mood are all over the map and according to researchers, not very well documented. So before you start in on the next sugar buzz, you might want to find another boost for your mood, fatigue or focus.
Omega-3 fatty acids I love fish oils. Researchers continue to study them because their utility is so broad, although the source of omega-3, dosage and ratio of EPA and DHA appear to be important factors in terms of mood (i.e. depression in particular) and mental energy. Overuse of fish oils can also impair the ability of blood to clot and depress overall immune functioning. Still, out of the dietary components that researchers studied, omega-3′s were by far the one most backed by clear data. Most recently, they’ve also been shown to help prevent stroke. In so far as mental energy goes, the researchers note that evidence suggests that fish oils may help delay or reduce cognitive decline in the elderly or improve verbal fluency. Less clear is whether this benefit is stronger if the they are taken earlier in life before cognitive decline. And of course, there is litte agreement on whether or not fish oils supplements convey the same benefits as obtaining the through dietary sources.
The upshot is that the evidence is scattered, inconclusive and downright shoddy in some areas. And mental energy might need more than certain foods to reach its optimum level. Personally, I’m going to stick with my current program to maintain the mental mojo. But I’m open to suggestions. What about you? How are you dealing with the overworked, overextended and overstressed paradigm?Read More