Brands are helping women decode hormones as their impact on overall health gains awareness.
Women are looking to their hormonal balance as key to their wellbeing, with a swathe of health apps, testing kits, and supplements coming onto the market to promote a greater awareness of how hormones impact overall health.
Dr. Monica Lascar of London’s Marion Gluck Clinic, which specializes in treating a range of conditions using bio-identical hormones, agrees that “there is an increasing awareness [of] the roles of hormones, and I welcome the explosion of the health and wellbeing culture that has also taken off,” says Lascar. “I’m glad hormones are becoming an integral part of this – they have been overlooked for so long, yet are so important to the way our bodies function.”
Lascar adds that she would “like to see more awareness on the effects of hormones on mood and energy levels generally, as part of a more holistic approach that may include a focus on real unprocessed food, the role of gut microbiome and an awareness on the impact of our environment, how chronic stress affects sex hormones, [and] awareness of the chemicals that we use every day [that] may contain endocrine disruptors [that affect] the efficiency of our hormones.”
One example that Lascar points out is how mood is impacted by the perimenopause – the lead-up to the menopause – that can happen “as early as your mid 30s, but more commonly after 40,” says Lascar. “Women [can] suffer with anxiety, depression, and other mood and sleep problems, and they and their care providers are often still overlooking this as being potentially due to perimenopause,” says Lascar. “Progesterone declines sharply in perimenopause, whilst estrogen levels may fluctuate widely and are often too high.” She adds that women “make progesterone when we ovulate, but if ovulation occurs less regularly, we may have an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone.” Lascar notes that progesterone “may interact with the GABA receptor, which is the brain’s main calming molecule, and therefore you may find it hard to switch off, which is typical of the insomnia and anxiety experienced during perimenopause.”
And Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator, tells JWT Innovation that hormones are “absolutely affecting the bacteria and microbiome of the skin, which then leads to changes in the pH,” he said. “So the main question for us becomes more about how we make the links between all of these things.”
One company that’s ushered in a greater awareness of hormones and how they affect women’s health from a fertility standpoint is Natural Cycles. The Swedish company offers a first-of-its-kind, FDA-approved digital birth control, which uses an algorithm and a basal thermometer to monitor women’s hormones fluctuations. Natural Cycles has been a pioneer in making women more aware of their hormonal ebbs and flows since its launch in 2014. But now, alongside period and ovulation tracking apps such as Clue, startups are broadening the scope and encouraging users to monitor the emotional impact of their hormones, alongside their physical effects.
Moody Month is an app that takes data from the user’s menstrual cycle and reported physical symptoms to provide a “daily feed of mood and hormone insights,” alongside the weather and phases of the moon, and how these natural phenomena might impact mood and wellbeing. The app also allows users to buy nutritional supplements tailored to their hormonal profile, and provides nutritional recommendations.
And arming women with hard data about their hormonal activity are a host of at-home hormone testing kits. They include Thorne, which provides an at-home fertility test, testing for levels of hormones including estradiol – the active form of estrogen – cortisol, progesterone, and DHEA. It then offers users a personalized health plan based on the results. The company also carries a plethora of vitamins and supplements to address hormonal imbalances.
In the UK, Lina Chan launched the at-home fertility test Adia in early 2019. Customers can order a blood test to take at home with a finger-prick, and test for levels of six hormones that impact fertility, including anti mullerian hormone, prolactin, and thyroxine. When the customer receives their results, the aim is that the test will help them understand their “ovarian reserve, ovulation and general health, all important markers for conception and pregnancy,” the company says. Chan also says that what sets Adia apart is that it contextualizes its results. “A lot of companies that you’ll go to, all you’ll get is a list of numbers and averages, but that doesn’t tell you anything,” says Chan. “What does that mean to how quickly I’m going to reach menopause, or what does that mean if I’m going to do IVF? Am I going to be a good candidate or not a good candidate? And what does it mean for my ovarian reserves? So…we translate all of that data into decisions and choices and information to make you aware.”
Chan says that Adia has launched with a fertility test “because it’s just so hard for people to access [testing].” She points out that in the UK, the country’s National Health Service requires patients to have been trying to conceive for between six months and a year to investigate their reproductive health. British private health clinics, she adds, start their prices for hormone testing at around £500 pounds, or around $650. Adia’s hormone testing process costs £169, or $219. “We’re really trying to reduce that cost for women,” says Chan. “We’ve had women as young as in their early twenties [taking the test], not necessarily thinking about having children, but they’re of the pool of women who want to be a little bit more proactive about their health, and just understand, where is it that I am in my fertility cycle, so that the choices I’m making today are not going to jeopardise my goal of having a family?”
However, Chan says that after establishing Adia in the fertility-testing space, she’s keen to turn her attention to how hormones impact women throughout their life cycle and health in general. “Eventually we’d love to get to menopause and perimenopause, and help women understand what their options are to have a better life,” Chan says. “Think about it – now our lifespan is so much longer that you’re actually living quite a number of years in your menopause years. So to be living with all those symptoms and not managing that, it can be quite distressing. You need to have those conversations.”
Main image courtesy of Modern Fertility