Exeleon Magazine

Revolutionizing Women’s Health: The Need for Gastrointestinal Solutions

Aja McCutchen on Gastrointestinal Solutions

The following is an op-ed piece written by Dr. Aja McCutchen, a gastro expert and a leading a voice advocating for women’s digestive health. This is part of Exeleon Magazine’s Women History Month celebration.

As a female gastroenterologist having treated now approximately 40,000 women, I have firsthand witnessed the grim realities of a woman’s experience in the traditional healthcare system.

Women are twice as likely to experience irritable bowel syndrome, a disturbance of the brain gut axis, compared to men. Women also experience increased risk of pelvic floor disturbances, alternating bowel habits with constipation and diarrhea, bloating as well as diseases such as gallstones.

Irritable bowel syndrome, for example, is intensified around menstrual cycles with 70% of women experiencing a shift in symptoms, yet little data exist on the optimal management and understanding of the exact mechanisms of these illnesses.

It was not until the past decade, that we began to formally guide our women with dietary and therapeutic recommendations for their functional bowel symptoms, such as the FODMAP diet. In addition to the lack of therapies, we know that there is a decreased awareness of gender specific symptoms and a stark lack of accessible solutions.

The data shows, and I have witnessed, that 46% OF THE FEMALE POPULUATION experience gut health issues with a significant portion unmanaged. We know that women and men are anatomically and hormonally unique, with women sharing anatomical space with their digestive organs and their reproductive organs, yet we have very little research to help guide our therapies! In addition to the lack of data in women specific digestive illness, women are more likely to experience dismissals and delays in diagnosis, with an average wait time of 24-26 days to see a GI specialist or an OB/GYN.

This underscores the urgent need for gender sensitive research, structural and societal reform, and deliberate strategies to address the unmet needs of our women suffering from digestive illnesses.

The Impact of Unresolved Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Women

While it’s true that women have a longer life expectancy than men, it’s also known that women are more likely to bear the negative impacts of chronic illness both personally and socially. Studies have shown that women are more likely to experience dismissal of symptoms, delays in diagnosis and suffer higher rates of chronic illness, financial loss and morbidity. Gut health is a major contributor to women’s disease burden. Overall, Gut health represents a $140B market with GI patients costing employers 3 to 8 times more than a healthy adult.

Gi issues are the 4th largest driver of employee related healthcare cost. On average, women are spending $7,000 per year for common GI symptoms, adding a significant financial burden to households. Women suffering from GI issues are looking for solutions to restore their control and choice.

Our Journey to Help Close Gender Gaps in Women’s Digestive Health

In January of 2023, myself along with two women physician co-founders embarked upon a journey to enter the fem-tech space to address the unmet needs of women and their digestive symptoms. As women physician founders with combined 50+ years of experience, we were stunned by the ABSENCE of physician founders in the femtech space.

We also quickly discovered that there were no significant gastrointestinal solutions in the femtech market. It was appalling to see such an incredible GAP in a trillion-dollar sector. The numbers speak for themselves as it relates to need for women seeking female centric digital solutions, as the annual revenue for flow app, which just focuses on menstrual cycle, is $100 million.

Entering the femtech market and digital tech space using AI power has been quite a journey. After bootstrapping most of our startup, we encountered the same issues that many physician entrepreneurs and women entrepreneur’s encounter…. a lack of funding! To compete in the market, we needed to grow our team… To add members to the team… we needed money.

Our Vision for the Future of Women’s Digestive Health

We are hopeful that the recent launch of the Women’s Health Initiative in November 2023 along with the February announcement of $100 M to accelerate women’s health research will allow founders like me, researchers, and innovators to help close the glaring gaps in women’s digestive diseases.

Throughout our entrepreneurial journey, we have encountered many amazing founders committed to changing the landscape of women’s health journeys, from wearables to destigmatizing and validating the lived experiences of women. We know that partnership is key to magnifying the impact of our discoveries. Shared API helps to accelerate our discoveries. With studies finally underway, we are acutely aware of the women’s hormonal changes that contribute to their digestive experiences.

As research emerges on women health, we are beginning to uncover the influence of the microbiome, changes in diversity of the microbiome and link this to various disease states. I am hopeful that, as we learn more about women’s biochemical changes, diet, and lifestyle influences, microbiome variations and gender differences, we can then begin to create and build personalized therapies that uniquely address the concerns and needs of our women. Our hope is that our motto, Better Gut, Better Woman, will one day be a true household reality.

About Aja McCutchen

Dr. Aja McCutchen with a dynamic career spanning 17 years as a gastroenterologist, stands at the forefront of medical innovation and leadership. She has played an instrumental role in the executive sphere, notably as a key figure in establishing the third largest private equity-backed healthcare platform in the United States.

Her efforts have not gone unnoticed, earning her multiple accolades including the prestigious “Physician of the Year” award, a testament to her relentless pursuit of challenging and reshaping industry norms. Her pioneering spirit is further evidenced by her trailblazing roles: the first Black female to serve on the executive committee and the board of directors for United Digestive, and as the national chair of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) for Independent GI.

Read Digital Version of the Magazine.

Follow Dr. Aja McCutchen on LinkedIn.

Exeleon’s Women History Month Page.

 

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