American women in midlife are the primary users of complementary and alternative medicine [CAM], according to a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health (2010; 19 , 23–30). Midlife women are between 45 and 57 years old. Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles; Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois; and the University of California, Davis, analyzed data from the 2002 National Health Interview Survey, a cross-sectional household survey that is representative of nonmilitary American adults.
Fifty-four percent of midlife women reported using prayer for health reasons. Forty-six percent reported using any type of CAM as part of their overall health management. The top five specific CAM therapies for women in this group were the following:
1. herbs and natural products
2. relaxation techniques
3. chiropractic care
4. yoga, tai chi or qigong
Study authors believe that these trends will continue. Stress can adversely affect depression and anxiety disorders, heart disease, autoimmune disorders and other chronic medical conditions. The impact of stress on health seems to differ between men and women. In seeking to understand why, scientists have determined that women and men respond differently to stress, according to a small study published in the The Journal of Neuroscience (2010; 30 , 431–38).
Researchers from Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Suffolk University in Boston studied 12 healthy, premenopausal Caucasian women along with a similar group of healthy men. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the scientists monitored the brain activity of subjects as they viewed stress-triggering images. The women were scanned twice—once at the beginning of their menstrual cycle and once at ovulation.
At the beginning of a woman’s cycle, her response to stress was equivalent to a man’s response. In contrast, at ovulation, the female reaction to stress was much lower than the male’s. “We found that women have been endowed with a natural hormonal capacity to regulate the stress response in the brain that differs from men,” said lead study author Jill Goldstein, PhD, director of research for the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor of psychiatry and medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Therefore, understanding sex differences in stress regulation in the brain can provide clues to understanding the nature of [chronic diseases affected by stress]. Mapping out sex-specific physiology in the brain will also provide the basis for the development of sex-specific treatments for these diseases.”