It may be a popular concept that women may not be able to match men drink-for-drink when consuming alcohol because they typically weigh less than men. But this is not the only factor as women also metabolize alcohol differently.
Women generally have less of an enzyme made in the liver, called alcohol dehydrogenase, which is responsible for the breakdown of alcohol. Because they have less of this enzyme they metabolize alcohol slower, effectively getting intoxicated quicker if they consumed the same amount of alcohol as men.
Female Biology Effects on Drugs
It is not just alcohol that affects women differently, with weight being a factor again but other aspects of female biology playing a part too. One factor is that women have extra body fat compared with men, so any medication that is fat soluble (dissolves in fat before going to the brain) will be distributed differently in a woman. Particular drugs that this process effects are many medications used in psychiatry, including antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and antipsychotics.
It is unknown why, but women tend to respond better to certain antidepressants and antipsychotics than men. For example, women do better than men with the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors for bipolar disorder and also tricyclic antidepressants, which can also be used to treat migraines, panic disorder and Obesessive Compulsive Disorder.
Digestion can also play its part, as women tend to produce less gastric acid than men, resulting in slower digestion of foods. Because of this medications that need an acidic environment to be absorbed may not be as effective in women. Furthermore, drugs that are required to be taken on an empty stomach for absorption, like the antibiotic tetracycline, may not work as well if women do not wait long enough before taking it after eating.
Hormone Effects on drugs
Hormones can also have an impact on a drug’s effectiveness because they can change how drugs are metabolized and used in the body. Women’s hormones fluctuate across the course of their menstrual cycles and also during the menopause. Estrogen, for example, can have an inhibiting effect on the way a woman’s liver breaks down medication.
Dr Philip Muskin, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Centre in New York City explains more on the organ’s role saying: “Everything we eat goes through [the liver] and it is its job to filter out toxins. The body thinks medications are toxins.”
When the liver does not filter well, the concentration of a drug in the body may be higher than expected, even when the same dose as normal is taken. Some medications are also filtered in the kidneys, such as the cancer drug methotrexate, which clears from the body 13-17% slower in women than in men.
Heart Medications effects on women
Heart-related drugs can also affect women differently than men. While low-dose aspirin has long been the go-to choice in helping reduce the risk of heart attack, this recommendation has removed for women. This is precaution is due to the greater potential for bleeding in women.
The effects of drugs used for treating high blood pressure, may have the most potentially intense and shocking difference between the sexes. Drugs like these, also known as beta-blockers, have been shown to have a greater risk of re-hospitalization in women than in men. The drug warfarin, a blood thinner used to prevent strokes and blood clots, is one example where smaller doses are recommended for women than men. Specifically, they need 2.5 to 4.5mg less warfarin a week than men.
Pain Medication and Sleep Aides effects on women
Painkillers are another class of medications that have different side effects in women and men. Women taking acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibruprofen, were more likely to have high blood pressure than those who did not take the drugs.
Sleep aides also have their differences between the sexes, being excreted more slowly from a woman’s system than a man’s. The fairer sex reported having more problems driving when taking sleeping aide medications the night before.
Greater drug effects for women not a cause for panic
Although it is important to be aware of the possible differences in drug effects in women, that a specific dose for a male patient in many circumstances may not be same as that for a female patient, it does not mean they should be afraid of taking medication according to Dr Muskin.
In most cases, men and women take the same doses, but with many biological differences, women may be more likely to experience more of the effects. This may come in the form of more positive results, increase the likelihood of side effects, or both.
Dr Muskin recommends that people talk to their doctor about how they have responded to other medications, to give them a better understanding of what drugs and doses will be suitable, before taking anything new.
If you feel as though the levels of drugs or alcohol you or a loved one are taking may be dangerous or excessive you may consider a drug or alcohol test to help establish what is being taken and for how long. This form of testing can also be used to prove abstinence, providing clear evidence that someone has not been taking substances or consuming alcohol if required.
Please call AlphaBiolab’s friendly customer service team on 0333 600 1300 to arrange a drug or alcohol test or to enquire further about Drug and Alcohol testing.