Women Are Twice as Likely to Suffer Side Effects From Meds and It's Because of How We Test Them — Mostly on Men

The dosage of medicine you receive may be too much for you depending on your sex.

UC Berkeley and the University of Chicago shared results from a study that showed women are more likely to experience the adverse side effects from medication because men have typically tested these meds. The findings were published in the journal Biology of Sex Differences this June.

Data was gathered and examined from several thousand medical journals that focused on 86 different medicines. These drugs included antidepressants, cardiovascular and anti-seizure drugs, and analgesics.

"When it comes to prescribing drugs, a one-size-fits-all approach, based on male-dominated clinical trials, is not working, and women are getting the short end of the stick," study lead author Irving Zucker, a professor emeritus of psychology and of integrative biology at UC Berkeley, revealed.

"These drugs are optimized from the beginning to work on male bodies," Professor Brian Prendergast, a University of Chicago psychologist and co-author of the study, also noted. "We need to immediately reevaluate the widespread practice of prescribing the same doses to men and women."

Historically, women were barred from clinical pharmaceutical trials of medication due to the risks of those with "childbearing potential" the study noted. It was also believed that their hormone cycles could skew results, so men were used when evaluating drugs. Science Alert reported that it's been 27 years since the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rescinded this policy. However, the consequences of this policy are still prevalent.

stock photo Getty/luchschen/iStock/Getty

Women who participated in the study were given the same dosage of certain drugs as men. The women had a higher concentration of the medicine in their blood, and it ultimately took women longer than men for the drug to leave their systems.

Additionally, women wound up suffering worse side effects 90 percent of the time, including nausea; headaches; depression; cognitive deficits; seizures; hallucinations; agitation; and cardiac anomalies. Men, meanwhile, experienced half as many side effects as compared to the women involved in this study.

"Neglect of females is widespread, even in cell and animal studies where the subjects have been predominantly male," Zucker said.

"There are a lot of drugs that are prescribed on a 'one-size-fits-all' basis, and it's clear that this doesn't always work," Prendergast added. "Especially for drugs that we already know have a wide therapeutic range —meaning there's a wide range of doses that are still effective—we could do a lot better job of titrating dosages with sex in mind."

Zucker and Predergast concluded that there should be broader awareness of how these drugs can impact people based on their sex. Doctors should prescribe smaller doses of meds to women whenever possible, and slowly increase the dosage provided there are no negative side effects. Another recommendation that came from this study focused on separating adverse effects by sex on drug labels and popular medical websites, such as WebMD.

"The decades-long pattern of neglect of female animals in pre-clinical research and underrepresentation of women in clinical trials and research must be corrected, and the recent NIH oversight and vigilance must be maintained," they wrote.