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Our experts tackle six women's health myths

Do periods really cause migraines? Is hormone therapy risky? In honor of National Women's Health week, we asked our expert providers to confirm or bust a few women's health myths that we hear in our clinic or in the media.  

In health care, women should be treated just like men.

Michelle Berlin, M.D., M.P.H., OB-GYN and director of the OHSU Center for Women's Health 

In terms of respect and access, yes, men and women should be treated the same way.  

That said, in every other way, women are different from men until proven otherwise. Women can show up to see a clinician with different symptoms, have a different diagnosis for the same symptoms, have different treatments, and can have different outcomes, and we have to take that into account when taking care of women. 

If you have gestational diabetes, you will be induced.

Amy Valent, D.O., perinatologist 

Not necessarily. If your gestational diabetes is well-controlled, we will want to monitor things closely but we won't induce you unless there's a problem or you get to 41 weeks gestation. If you are taking medication for your gestational diabetes, then we usually will want you to deliver by 39 weeks of gestation. This could require induction but if you go into labor spontaneously, you won't need to be induced. 

Periods cause migraines.

Juliette Preston, M.D., neurologist and director of the OHSU Headache Center 

Migraines have many triggers, and one of them is definitely a change of estrogen level. When you ovulate, your estrogen level goes up. This is a possible trigger for women who have migraines. About two days before your period, estrogen levels drop. This is another possible trigger. 

This is a very common trigger in women. Women are three times more likely to have migraines than men, and the reason is that women have these hormone cycles. Many women even stop having migraines after menopause when their hormones stop fluctuating. 

Many women think their birth control pills cause migraines, but it's really just the hormone cycle. Birth control pills can actually prevent migraines if you skip the placebo week, eliminating the estrogen fluctuation. 

More women get Alzheimer's disease because women live longer.

Julie Saugstad, Ph.D., and Ursula Sandau, Ph.D., researchers in cell and molecular neurobiology 

That certainly is a myth. Today, among the 6 million people in the United States who have Alzheimers, more than two-thirds are women. It's not because they live longer, it's because there are biological differences between males and females, including different sex chromosomes and different levels of hormones that circulate in their bodies. 

Our study, funded by the Center for Women's Health Circle of Giving, looks at cerebral spinal fluid in males and females. We've been looking for signatures that might be different between males and females that could account for these differences in Alzheimer's disease. We have found that there are differences in the extracellular vesicles, which are basically like packages. They move material from one cell to another which influences how that recipient cell functions. 

We're working to learn how we can translate this knowledge into treatments specifically for women with Alzheimer's disease. 

Women need to eat more carbs than men.

Christie Naze, R.D., C.D.E., registered dietitian who specializes in women's health 

This and many other nutrition myths have no scientific basis. At the simplest level, each person's needs for carbs, protein and fat are based on their body weight and the total number of calories they eat and use in a day.  

It's important to move away from generalizations when it comes to nutrition. What your body needs is very individual, based on your genes, microbiome, lifestyle, food sensitivities and goals. It's all about what makes you feel your very best. 

Hormone therapy to treat menopause symptoms is risky.

Karen Adams, M.D., OB-GYN and co-founder of the Menopause and Sexual Medicine program 

This is one of the biggest misconceptions about menopause. But we know that women under age 60 or less than ten years out from menopause can gain tremendous benefits from being on hormones. For these women, taking hormones for three to five years not only treats symptoms, but studies show their bones are stronger 15 years later, decreasing the risk of fracture and osteoporosis.  

When it comes to breast cancer, there is a slight increase in risk. However, things like a sedentary lifestyle, alcohol intake, or obesity increase the risk of breast cancer much more than hormone therapy. It's important to talk to your provider about your particular situation so you can make the best decision for yourself.