Historically, not much attention or focus has been given to menopause health and research. There are many reasons for that, but specifically we’ll focus on life expectancy, disparities in medical care among genders, and lack of funding for FemTech. Today, at least we have many more treatment options to choose from.
Believe it or not, so much of the lack in menopause research and technology is because of average life expectancy in women. From the 1500s through the 1800s, the average life expectancy for women was 30-40 years. Since the Great Depression, average life expectancy in women sky-rocketed: from 42 years in the 1900s, to 62 years in the 1930s, to 74 years in the 1970s, to 80 years today. Menopause can start anytime in your 40s or 50s, and the average starting age is 51, so it is unsurprising that when women started living past 40 and 50 years, there were few treatments besides traditional herbal remedies.
Prior to the boom in life expectancy, women that dealt with menopause also dealt with bizarre and harmful treatments to their condition. In Europe and the United States, menopausal women were often treated as if they were insane or sinful in some way. French physician Charles Pierre Louis De Gardanne studied what he called “The Critical Age of Women” and coined the term menopause in the 1820s. Though he was in some ways an advocate for menopausal women, he was also responsible for many negative societal attitudes and dangerous medical reactions to their situation. As a result of his writings, women endured risky ovarian and clitoral removals, acetate and lead injections, or were prescribed addictive drugs such as opium and morphine. Some women were bled out by doctors or leeches, some were given enemas, and some were even institutionalized for hysteria.
An interesting side note is that, although menopause has the same definition throughout history and worldwide, the symptoms are not always the same. In Western cultures, of course, women experiencing menopause have hot flashes, weight gain, insomnia, depression and more. There are 34 menopausal symptoms recognized in the United States, although Europe recognizes 48 discreet symptoms. By contrast, in Eastern cultures, menopause typically presents itself as brain fog, poor vision, and shoulder and back pain. Menopause is more often celebrated in these cultures than it is in the West, perhaps because age and wisdom are more valued by society. This may help to explain why Asia does not have such an extensive history of invasive menopause treatments.
In the late 1930s, doctors and researchers made a breakthrough when they produced pharmaceutical versions of the female hormone estrogen. This was the earliest modern form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Emminen and diethylstilbestrol were commercially available in the 1930s, and Premarin followed in the 1940s. Premarin’s popularity rose in the decades that followed, and by the 1980s and 1990s, it was one of the most prescribed medications in the United States. Progesterone, the other key female hormone, became incorporated into some HRT regimens as well. By 1999, there were 90 million active progesterone prescriptions.
Hormone replacement therapy seemed to be such an elegant solution to menopause, many physicians thought that it might help with other age-related conditions, such as heart disease. This hypothesis was explored in the Women’s Health Initiative trials, which revealed some conflicting evidence. At the time, studies showed that HRT turned out to increase the risk of heart disease, as well as blood clots, breast cancer, and stroke.
We discussed the dramatic impact of the Women’s Health Initiative’s research on HRT use with our friend and advisor, Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, Clinical Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine. “The risk/reward of postmenopausal hormone therapy (HT) continues to be greatly misunderstood by women, leaving them confused and overwhelmed by their options. Many will opt to suffer silently with symptoms like night sweats, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness,” Mary Jane noted. She continued that, “While appropriate and safe treatment should be individualized for each woman’s needs and risk profile, there are newer options with data showing lower risks of blood clot and stroke.” Thankfully, when used over short periods of time, HRT seems to be less risky for patients, although that is still debated amongst obstetricians. Without a clear understanding of what’s undeniably safe and effective, many women have gravitated toward the older, gentler treatments such as roots, teas, and powders.
Technologically savvy modern women don’t have to limit themselves to the supplements aisle, however. Women with menopause symptoms can also turn to devices such as electronic cooling rags, wearable fans, and even cryotherapeutic jewelry–all examples of technology focused on women’s health, or FemTech. We’ve come a long way since the 1800s, but compared to the technology sector as a whole, FemTech remains underfunded. Venture capital companies are traditionally male-led and male-dominated, causing products for women to get short shrift. Women spend roughly $500 billion on health products each year, and yet women’s healthcare R&D still only comprises about 4% of all healthcare R&D costs. Plus, many of today’s menopause devices were invented or designed by men for other purposes, and in our experience these tend to fall short of women’s needs. However, there is hope: in 2019 FemTech products generated more than $820 million in the global market, and revenue is expected to triple within the next 10 years.
Knowing that we are on the brink of this exciting new chapter of menopausal discovery, it is the right time to set some intentions and declare what it is that women actually want. At Thermaband, we obsess over this and pride ourselves on ushering in the golden age of menopausal relief. So, what does that look like? Something non-invasive and non-hormonal. Something discreet. Something that addresses and even anticipates your symptoms. Something designed by women who have dealt with menopause, specifically for women who are dealing with menopause. We call this special “something” the Zone.
We’re grateful to have much longer lifespans than our ancestors…and we’re grateful that we can help you make those years happier, calmer, and cooler.