by Roger Anderson on May 15, 2013

Apples and oranges may not be that different after all. 

To Holly Herrington, MS, RD, LDN, they’re really one in the same … especially when considering less healthy alternatives like French fries and Oreos.

“Women tend to look at nutrition as we age and think of things in postmenopausal terms,” said Herrington, a member of the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation Center for Lifestyle Medicine and keynote speaker during the third annual Celebrating Women's Health event at Northwestern University. “But what you do in your 20s will affect you at 50 and at 70.” 

Held in conjunction with National Women’s Health Week, the lecture on Tuesday, May 14, was bookended by more than 20 exhibits featuring women's clinical and community services and a scientific poster session highlighting the range of sex-based research at the medical school and beyond. 

“Northwestern is a leader in developing gender-specific approaches to health and disease and this event provides clinicians and researchers with a very targeted audience,” said Teresa Woodruff, PhD, co-founder of the Women's Health Research Institute and Thomas J. Watkins Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “Our call to action this year is to make sure that basic and clinical studies include both sexes in all of their research.”  

In general, women remain underrepresented in biomedical research. Studies published in 2000 and 2008 concluded that they were still not included in mixed-sex cardiovascular trials in numbers that reflect the disease prevalence among the general population, and a survey of studies published in 2004 found that only 37 percent of participants were women and only 13 percent of studies analyzed data by sex. 

“Raising awareness about the value of sex and gender as part of the research equation will ensure that the next generation of health advances are more precise, with fewer adverse events,” said Woodruff, chief of fertility preservation and professor in medical social sciences and medicine-endocrinology. “It will ensure that every one of our health care dollars is stretched further and advances are made faster.”   

With more than 20 posters, ranging on topics from drug interactions and hormonal contraception to breast cancer treatment, therapy, and prevention, the poster session featured basic, translational, behavioral, and clinical research. 

“A lot of these projects overlap and I love to hear what other people think about my current scope and plan,” said Jeffrey Schneider, a postdoctoral fellow in cell and molecular biology who was presenting research from the lab of Thomas Hope, PhD, regarding antibodies and HIV. “Nothing beats interacting with people. You can read as many papers as you want, but it’s talking one on one that often sparks new ideas that may take your research in a different direction.” 

During her keynote lecture, “Eat Well at All Ages,” Herrington discussed natural solutions to giving the body what it needs as it ages. 

“Anybody can say eat your fruits and vegetables and people think they are automatically healthy if they do so,” said Herrington, a member of the American Dietetic Association and the American Society for Enteral and Parenteral Nutrition. “Women’s nutritional needs change as they age, but the answer isn’t just in vitamins and minerals. You have to evaluate what supplements are needed at age 20 and at age 60 and how you can change your diet so that you are getting them from the food you eat.” 

On Wednesday, Woodruff and other representatives from the Women’s Health Research Institute will be in Springfield to participate in an event marking Governor Pat Quinn’s proclamation of May 15 as Women’s Health Day in Illinois.