LETTER FROM DR. JONAS
This month is typically reserved for gratitude and thankfulness – especially for mothers and the women in our lives. So, this month and next we will provide an opportunity for appreciation as we celebrate the women (and men) who have the most impact on who we are and who we become: our mothers and fathers.
With my own mother in the audience, I had the honor the of opening Women’s Wellness Day, hosted by the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute at the University of California Irvine’s Beckman Center, earlier this month. What an event it was, with other major speakers including Elizabeth Blackburn, Nobel Laureate and discoverer of telomeres – the aging genes in our chromosomes.
At the age of 91, my mother’s strength of character and spirituality still radiates even as her physical and mental strength fades. In fact, it was my mother who encouraged me to make How Healing Works an audiobook as she now prefers to listen to rather than read her books. I’ll be in touch as that comes out. In my talk, I told the story about how her kiss woke my dying father from a coma and allowed them to say goodbye before he passed. See the talk here. (Click ahead to 15:30.)
While preparing my remarks for the event, I paused to reflect on how women are the primary decision makers in healthcare and the specific challenges they face as patients, parents and caregivers.
Both as a health care practitioner and as a son, husband, father and grand-father, I was shocked at the gender gap when it comes to women and pain. For one, women have more frequent, longer lasting and severe pain than men. [1,3] For instance, one national survey found that while about 16 percent of white men and 8 percent of black men reported severe pain, those numbers jumped to about 22 percent for white women and 11 percent for black women, respectively. 
Women are also more likely to develop painful diseases, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, vulvodynia, autoimmune and temporomandibular disorders. They also report greater pain severity than men from certain conditions, like cancer.  And women simply pay attention to pain from physical conditions more than men. They recognize when something is wrong. Men, on the other hand, tend to ignore pain when they should pay attention to it, often leading to more advanced disease by the time they go in to “check it out.”
Women also differ in their response to pain medications. They end up getting both having their pain undertreated and inappropriately treated (for example, with more opioids) than men. Read more in my new guide: Women and Pain: Taking Control and Finding Relief .
That’s not to say that men aren’t facing similar uphill battles when it comes to chronic pain. My integrative health care guide for pain talks more broadly about pain in general.
Women make most of the decisions in healthcare. If they collectively demanded more integrative health care, they would get it. Women are more typically called to care for their aging parents in addition to their children. Nearly 1 in 6 women aged 40-59 are in this so-called sandwich generation. Women predominantly make health care decisions for those within their circle of care including children, parents and spouses. An important but weighty burden.
So this month and next, I hope we all pause to see how our health care choices affect our ability to be with those we love in our lives. How can an integrative approach to health help us all be better to our mothers, fathers and loved ones?