Monday 9 May 2016

Marla Ahlgrimm: Sex and Gender Influence Health and Disease

Marla Ahlgrimm
Sex, as well as gender, can have a lasting influence on health, says Marla Ahlgrimm. While the two are distinct concepts, they are often intimately linked. In the following brief interview, Ahlgrimm answers common questions relating to the topic.

Q: What is the difference between “sex” and “gender?”

Marla Ahlgrimm: Sex is defined by biology. It is what results as the combination of chromosomes at conception. Gender, by contrast, is partly made up of social constructs. It is what defines the behaviors and identities of men, women, and gender diverse individuals.

Q: How does sex play a role in mental health?

Marla Ahlgrimm: In general, women tend to suffer from depression more often than men. This may be partially due to female hormones, which are related to puberty, pregnancy, and perimenopause. Fortunately, women are more likely to seek treatment for depression than men.

Q: Do women have different cardiovascular risks than men?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Yes, and that is also part biology and part environment. Women’s hearts are actually constructed differently than men’s, with narrower blood vessels that branch in a much more complicated pattern. This means signs of a heart attack are different than in men, and may be overlooked or misdiagnosed completely. Furthermore, since women are typically the primary caregiver at home (of both children and aging family members), they are more likely to delay seeking treatment for their own medical concerns.

Q: Why is osteoporosis considered a disease specific to women?

Marla Ahlgrimm: Osteoporosis is a condition that affects bone density and is not exclusive to women. However, women have less bone mass than men and often experience bone loss caused by rapidly shifting hormones at the onset of menopause. Similarly, women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis in the knees because of loose ligaments, imbalanced leg strength, and damage caused by walking in high-heeled shoes.


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