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Women's Health Research Institute Putting Women's Health Research First

April  2013
In This Issue
Women and Eye Health
Health Tip
Institute Happenings
Upcoming Events
Related Blogs
Sjogren's syndrome more common in women

Why is sex-based research so important

 Why boys talk later than girls: hormones?

Dear Friends,


Traditionally, women's health research focused on female cancers and reproductive issues like pregnancy and menopause.  Today, we know that sex differences exist across all body systems and that the XX-XY (female-male) knowledge gap persists in basic, preclinical and clinical research.


This month's e-newsletter focuses on sex differences in eye health--a topic rarely considered when thinking of women's health.   We hope that it "opens your eyes" on the need for continued advocacy for women's health research across all disciplines. 




The Institute Staff


Women and Eye Health       


It turns out that women and men really do see the world differently, in the most literal sense.  Not only are women more likely to suffer from eye diseases and conditions than men, new research suggests that there are differences in our basic visual function. 

The "Vision Problems in the U.S." study from Prevent Blindness America (PBA) and the National Eye Institute (NEI) shows that of the more than 3.6 million Americans age 40 and older who suffer from visual impairment, including blindness, 2.3 million are women. Dr. Janine Austin Clayton, the National Institute of Health's Director of the Office of Research on Women's Health, got her start in the field of ophthalmology, where she discovered specific eye diseases that affect women disproportionately. In an NPR Tell Me More segment entitled "Women's Health: More Than Bikini Medicine", host Michel Martin asked Clayton what prompted her to look at sex differences in ophthalmology. Clayton said it was because of "the preponderance of women that I was seeing as patients time after time; 9 out of 10 of the people I was seeing as patients were women."

Why are women more likely to be afflicted by certain eye diseases and conditions? The answer lies mainly in the hormonal fluctuations that occur throughout the woman's life cycle. Hormones are chemicals that regulate important body functions that can affect the eyes, and when they change, so can your eyesight. From puberty to menopause, women are constantly subject to changing hormonal levels. Women on birth control pills, for example, may experience changes in eyesight, and women who are pregnant or menopausal often experience dry, irritated eyes.  

Eye diseases and conditions that women are more prone to include: 

  • Cataracts: A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye, caused by a buildup of protein, which prevents light from passing clearly through the eye and causes some loss of vision. The clouded vision caused by cataracts may make it difficult to do everyday activities such as driving a car or reading an expression on someone's face. If left untreated, cataracts can cause blindness.
  • Diabetic Retinopathy: Diabetic retinopathy is a disease that affects some people with diabetes. It usually affects both eyes and occurs when insufficient oxygen is delivered to the retina, damaging retinal blood vessels, causing them to leak and the retina to swell. Let untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause vision loss or blindness.
  • Dry Eye Syndrome: Dry eye syndrome is a condition in which the eye produces an insufficient amount of natural tears. Symptoms range from mild to moderate, including ocular discomfort, burning, stinging, and tired eyes.
  • Glaucoma: Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can harm the eye's optic nerve and cause vision loss and blindness. Peripheral vision is lost first and generally occurs slowly and gradually.
  • Macular Degeneration: Macular degeneration is the destruction of the macular, which is the central retina of the eye. The more common "dry" macular degeneration is slow and gradual, while "wet" macular degeneration may occur more quickly. Unlike glaucoma, macular generation affects the center of the field vision first.
Regarding the difference in basic visual function between women and men, a recent study in the journal Biology of Sex Differences suggests that men's eyes are more sensitive to small details and moving objects, while women are more sensitive to color changes.  Israel Abramov, a researcher at the City University of New York, and his team tested large groups of young adults (males and females over age 16) who had 20/20 sight (with or without the help of glasses or contacts) and normal color vision. A test designed to measure sense of contrast involved showing participants images made up of light and dark bars that varied in width and alternated in color, so they appeared to flicker. Results demonstrated that male volunteers were better than female at identifying the more rapidly changing images made up of thinner bars.  In another part of the study, researchers asked volunteers to describe the different colors displayed to them. Researchers found that female volunteers were better able than males at telling the difference between hues, and the men required a slightly longer wavelength of a color to experience the same shade as the women.   
Now that we know that women are more likely to suffer from eye diseases and conditions, it is very important that we take steps to promote our eye health.  Take a look at some tips below!


  • Eat healthy (studies have shown that nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc, and vitamins C and E may help ward off age-related vision problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts) 
  • Get regular eye exams 
  • Keep blood glucose and blood pressure under control 
  • Quit smoking (smoking makes you more likely to get cataracts, optic nerve damage, and macular degeneration) 
  • Take a break from your computer (staring at a computer screen can cause: eyestrain, blurry vision, dry eyes, etc. ) Click HERE for tips to reduce strain 
  • Use eye cosmetics safely.  Click HERE for information    
  • Use safety eyewear at home, at work, and while playing sports
  • Wear sunglasses that protect your eyes from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays  

The April 9 Forum topic is on the Importance of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms for Health and Disease. This program will be especially interesting to nurses who do shift work. It has been approved for one nursing contact hour. To register,

click here.



March was a busy month for the new Leadership Council of the Women's Health Research Institute (WHRI). All five of the subcommittees of the Council met and identified innovative ways and actions to advance women's health research and care at Northwestern that will be announced at our National Women's Health Week events in Chicago and Springfield during the month of May.



Congratulations to Dr. Teresa Woodruff, WHRI Director, on receiving an award to support the proposed Center for Reproductive Health after Disease. The new center will explore the basic science need to understand human follicle and egg biology and pursue cutting-edge options for preserving reproductive health after fertility threatening diseases. It will also provide physicians, patients, and their families information about options for preserving reproductive function. This five-year, $7.76 million award brings together specialists in reproductive health, molecular biology, engineering, transplantation, breast cancer, and preventive medicine for this collaborative and innovative research.


Dr. Woodruff's exciting reproductive work was featured in the April 1 edition of Crain's Chicago Business


Nadia Reynolds and Cathryn Smeyers who lead the Institute's Women's Health Science Program for High School Girls (WHSP), attended the Chicago Public School (CPS) Science Fair on March 22nd, to award the second annual Teresa K Woodruff prize for women's health to a middle school project.



April 9, 2013 - 12:00pm