Women’s Health Lacks Data—Ava is Pioneering a Solution

By Lindsay Meisel

We live in a world that is designed by and for men. Men’s bodies have long been considered the de facto standard, while women’s bodies are assumed to be just a smaller version.

Because of this, female anatomy has been left out of decisions with far-reaching effects. Women’s bodies have not been considered in topics as disparate as how sidewalks are designed or how medications are developed. From critical decisions about how consumer products are deemed safe to how our smartphones are built.

Our society collects a lot of data—but it is mostly data on men. This disparity, which has recently been dubbed the “gender data gap” has been getting a lot of attention lately. The topic has been covered in publications like VoxThe Guardian, and Scientific American, to name a few.

At first glance, it sounds like this gender data gap might just cause minor inconveniences: women’s hands are too small for their phones, their feet don’t reach the pedals in their cars. It’s unfortunate, perhaps, that Apple released a health app that allows users to track something as obscure as selenium intake but forgot to include any options for menstruation.

But when you take a closer look, it becomes clear that this gap is dangerous for women. Consider the fact that women are 17 percent more likely than men to die if they’re in a car crash. (And they’re 47 percent more likely to be seriously injured.) And when you narrow in to examine the gap in women’s health, specifically, it’s clear that women have long taken pills and undergone procedures that were tested on men, but may not be beneficial or even safe for women.

The menstrual cycle, in particular, is still largely a great unknown; We are only beginning to understand how it impacts physical and mental health. The hormonal and physical variations within the menstrual cycle are a few of the reasons why some medical researchers haven’t included women in clinical studies. According to Invisible Women, a new book written by the British journalist and feminist activist, Caroline Criado Perez, medical researchers say that the female body is “too hormonal and too complicated to measure.” And one shocking example of the dangers that this presents is detailed in Perez’s book: a medication that was meant to prevent heart attacks was actually found to be more likely to trigger a heart attack during a certain point in a woman’s menstrual cycle.

And this is why at Ava, we are so incredibly passionate about closing this gap. Ava’s vision as a company is that we become a long-term companion for women, giving them scientific and data-driven insights across all stages of their reproductive lives. We aim to do so through clinical research and artificial intelligence. ​And this month, we are proud to announce that our clinical study on the menstrual cycle was published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Our study provides unprecedented insights into the physiological changes that occur during the different phases of the menstrual cycle.

According to the nonprofit, Women Deliver, “There is still a significant gender gap in health innovation. Some of the greatest challenges include limited gender-disaggregated data by disease leaving a dearth of information in the gender differences in diseases; a persistent gender gap in clinical studies – both in women participating in drug trials and in tracking the effect of certain drug innovations on women’s lives.”

Humboldt University in Berlin also looked specifically at the issue of women being excluded from clinical studies and found that many studies do not even report the gender of the trial sample. Among those that did indicate the gender, “19% of the studies had an underrepresentation of women in both intervention and control groups.”

Another point here: even when data is collected for both men and women, it’s often not disaggregated—meaning it’s not separated out into male versus female data and analyzed for differences.

Ava specializes in advancing the scientific understanding of women’s bodies and their health. We aim to understand the menstrual cycle in depth, not only so that we can develop products that will improve women’s’ lives, but also so that we can educate, empower, and arm women with critical information about their health.

What our clinical paper revealed is that temperature is not the only physiological signal that changes during the menstrual cycle. In fact, we see changes in five different signals throughout the cycle, and by tracking those signals simultaneously, we can detect when a woman is fertile in real time. ​ For a long time, the menstrual cycle has been understood as having only one signal—temperature—that changes throughout. But now, for the first time, we show that additional signals, collected simultaneously, are useful in fertility tracking.

Why has it taken us so long to understand more about the other signals that also change along with temperature? The answer brings us back to that unquestioned assumption that has long persisted: the male body is the “base model” and the female body is a variant. But algorithms and technology can also deepen our understanding of women’s health and combat these biases. And at Ava, we aim to do just that. This study is a big step, but we are just scratching the surface on what we understand about women’s reproductive health.

We’re determined to keep researching women’s health, and refining our expertise on the menstrual cycle. We are committed to continuing our research and being transparent about what we find. And we’ll remain steadfast to this vision until we live in a world where data collection and the scientific understanding of human health mirrors the population: equal parts women and men.

Women’s Health Lacks Data—Ava is Pioneering a Solution

Lindsay Meisel

Lindsay Meisel is the Head of Content at Ava. She has over a decade of experience writing about science, technology, and health, with a focus on women’s health and the menstrual cycle. Her work has been featured on The Fertility HourThe Birth HourThe Breakthrough Journal, and The Rumpus.

Don’t forget your girlfriends

EMILY WILSON HUSSEM

Relationships are exciting, especially in the very beginning.

I will not soon forget the excitement I felt on a day-to-day basis when I was first dating my husband. Every time he texted me something sweet and every time he called me on the phone, I felt a burst of excitement in my heart. It is easy to get carried away in the newness and excitement of a budding romance, and very easy to begin to spend most of the little free time you may get with a busy schedule with your boyfriend. And in the midst of all the excitement and butterflies, it is easy to put your friends on the back burner.

I have seen this happen more times than I can count, and I have walked away from friendships over this. It is a difficult facet of being a woman — the reality of trying to balance your relationship with your boyfriend while not forgetting your friends — or trying to wave your arms wildly (and figuratively) so that your friend with the boyfriend remembers that you exist. I believe that managing the balance of a romantic relationship and your friendships takes three important ingredients: intentionality, care and communication.

The most important thing to remember in the midst of trying to balance your friendships with your romantic relationship is that most romantic relationships do not last forever. I’m not trying to be a negative Nancy, but that is reality — most romantic relationships will end in a breakup! Some people marry from their first relationship, but many people have a few relationships before finding “the one.” This is so very important to keep in mind as you date because perhaps, like me, you have watched this unfortunate scenario play out countless times: a woman gets into a relationship and slowly stops putting time into her friendships. Her friends feel forgotten and as though she doesn’t care about them, so they begin to let go of the friendship, too. Sooner or later heartbreak hits and her boyfriend breaks up with her, and she is left with no one to turn to because she made her boyfriend her entire world. She spent every moment with him and just forgot her friends — imagine losing your boyfriend and realizing you have no friends who want to support you in your heartbreak — that is a recipe for serious sadness! Thankfully, this can be avoided!

Another important thing to remember is that both you and your friends must be realistic about what is reasonable in striking this balance between maintaining your relationship and your friendships. Your friends cannot expect that things will be the same as they were before you got into the relationship, because it simply can’t be! You also need to be realistic in the sense that yes, if you spend three weekends in a row only spending time with your boyfriend and not your friends, they will feel forgotten and set aside.

The core of all of this, in finding the balance in friendship and romance, lies in communication. Friendship is a mutual relationship where two people should have the ability and the courage to be open and honest with one another — in joys and in struggles, in fights and in working through obstacles together. Communicate your feelings. Let your friends know that you want them to communicate their feelings to you so you can learn and grow together as you navigate your relationship. If you are hurt, say so. If your friend is hurt, encourage her to say so. And if either of you are being over-sensitive and holding unrealistic expectations, you can go back to the conversation about what is realistic to expect of one another in the friendship and overcome that obstacle together.

Intentionality, care and communication. When you maintain these three ingredients in your friendships as you balance everyone you love and everyone who loves you, many misunderstandings and miscommunications will be avoided, and you will be able to journey happily together with both your boyfriend and your friends in harmony.

Emily Wilson Hussem travels the world speaking to women of all ages about their identity in Jesus Christ. She has dedicated her life to encouraging, equipping and empowering women to live in the freedom and joy they were made for. She lives in Southern California with her Dutch husband, Daniël, and son, Zion.