Just last weekend I was having a minor meltdown due to the fact that at forty-four years of age, I’ve officially entered perimenopause. While some may say that I still look young—biologically speaking it’s a whole other ball of wax.
To be honest, I’ve had many ongoing conflicts with my femininity. Not only have I suffered physically from debilitating menstrual cycles since they began at twelve, to add to matters, my womanliness has also gotten me in trouble throughout my life. Women have often been jealous of my outward appearance and when I was single, men were often threatened by both my sexual confidence and freedom.
Now, the femininity that I never really settled into is starting to slip away. While it’s inevitable as we all age, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
As I read the symptoms of perimenopause, (which is caused by the body making less estrogen and is the precursor to menopause)—including hair loss, painful sex, fatigue, urinary urgency and leakage, sleep issues, irregular periods, weight gain, worsened PMS, and loss of libido just to name a few—tears rolled down my cheek. I love my hair, sleep, and sex life and I don’t want to lose or dislike any of it!
Courtesy of Elix
Serendipitously, a few days later, a friend reached out to me about Elix, a new start-up that launches today that is the first tech-enabled hormonal health brand to personalize Chinese herbal medicine remedies that are backed by science to address women’s health issues. The timing was a synchronistic sign from the universe that my cries were heard.
Elix was founded by former college classmates Lulu Ge, Founder and CEO and Dr. Nicole Glathe DAOM, LAc, DiplOM, Co-Founder and Chief Healing Officer and was built on the principle that menstrual cycles are a vital sign that provide clues to the overall health of women. The brand comes to market today with Cycle Balance, a customizable formula of 12-19 organically extracted herbs clinically proven to regulate menstrual cycles and treat PMS by targeting and correcting users’ specific hormonal imbalances.
One of only 1% in her field, Dr. Glathe holds a doctoral degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is a board and NCCAOM-certified acupuncturist and herbalist. Specializing in women’s health, Dr. Glathe has treated hundreds of patients seeking relief from debilitating, hormonal-imbalance-induced pain and discomfort.
Ge holds an MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a Masters in Social-Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and was born in Hunan, China where her grandfather ran the local hospital. She had always been exposed to the teachings of Chinese medicine, but it wasn’t until she stopped taking hormonal birth control three years ago that she was led her back to her ancestral roots which eventually became the catalyst to start Elix.
Elix Founders Lulu Ge (l) and Dr. Nicole Glathe (r)
Courtesy of Elix
“I experienced a roulette wheel of debilitating menstrual symptoms,” Ge shares with me. “My search for a holistic and side-effect-free solution led me back to my generational roots in Chinese herbal medicine.” Through Ge’s journey of healing her own hormonal imbalances and the side effects from taking hormones, she learned firsthand about the massive gaps in accessibility to hormonal health care for women.
“Only 4% of healthcare R&D goes to fund women’s issues overall,” Ge adamantly tells me. “After two years in R&D and over 2,000 completed health assessment submissions in beta testing and pilots, we are extremely excited to launch Elix to the public today with the vision of de-stigmatizing the conversation around menstrual wellness and supporting millions of women in balancing their cycles.”
When I ask Ge why this number is so shockingly low she responds, “While I was studying at Wharton, I spoke with multiple alumni who are C-suite and senior execs at some of the largest billion dollar pharmaceutical companies and asked them the same question. Most of these higher-ups in healthcare were men, and most cited higher ROI in ‘other’ categories than in women’s needs. Some even referred to women’s issues as ‘niche’ and ‘lifestyle’, indicating a severely outdated mentality in the industry and dangerous disregard for the pervasive impact of these life-disrupting conditions.”
When you see stats like this is it’s hard to ignore the obvious gender disparities in healthcare. As a woman, hearing comments about how our health issues don’t correlate to money, it’s hard not to get infuriated.
Courtesy of Elix
“Up until a few decades ago, women were actually excluded from medical research and there is a long, terrifying history of our pain being ignored or misdiagnosed by the mostly male medical community,” states Ge. “In fact, up until the 1970s, 90%+ gynecologists were men and while many of them are exceptional doctors, it’s more difficult to advocate for issues without firsthand experience. That’s why we need more diversity of gender, race, backgrounds and experiences to transform modern healthcare.”
When I ask Glathe how Chinese medicine looks at and addresses women’s health issues she tells me, “Like western medicine, the menstrual cycle is divided into 4 segments corresponding to bleeding, follicular phase, ovulation, and luteal phases. These phases are always taken into account when prescribing herbs, so we can address the specific hormonal process at that particular time. This combination of Eastern wisdom with Western science is the foundational basis for Elix as well.”
For those unfamiliar, Chinese medicine has a rich history dating back 5000 years and while there are several schools of thought in Chinese herbalism, they seem to converge when it comes to women’s health. Individualization is a key primary requirement of Chinese medicine: it’s about creating the right treatment for the individual at the right time to achieve optimal health.
“Chinese medicine doctors use a technique called pattern diagnosis in addition to a diagnosis of a western-defined disease such as dysmenorrhea,” explains Glathe. “The syndrome is determined based on the signs and symptoms displayed by the patient, their physical condition, disease status, and constitution. Only after which herbal medicine prescriptions for treatment are given. There are herbs to relieve primary symptoms, but if the root cause is not solved, those symptoms can easily recur month after month.”
Courtesy of Elix
Elix provides women customized herb blends based on their online patient intake form. The questions answered and symptoms reported in the online health assessment are used to determine patterns and the root cause, which then determine the most suitable herbal formula.
“We source our herbs from the rural regions in China and Greater Asia that are traditionally known for the highest purity and potency where they’ve been organically and wild-harvested on specific remote terrains and mountainsides for thousands of years,” Ge tells me when I ask where they source their herbs. “To ensure exceptional quality, we source everything organically and triple test every supplier and every batch of herbs for purity and potency. We are on track to receive our organic certification soon, after a very long and thorough process of quality monitoring.”
The last leg of the intake is uploading a picture of your tongue, which may seem odd to those unfamiliar with Chinese medicine.
“The tongue is the only internal organ visible without a scalpel,” explains Glathe. “The tongue may not seem like an organ in the traditional sense, but it is 100% pure muscle, fed directly by blood and nerves, with cells that regenerate every 10 days, much like the cells lining the digestive tract. Looking at it can give us clues about what’s happening with the other organs and general internal environment.” Specifically, Chinese medicine looks at the color, moisture, shape, and strength of the tongue in order to determine the state of health.
Courtesy of Elix
“Elix is fundamentally a tech-enabled company that empowers us to put her needs at the forefront,” Ge tells me in response to me asking if they are a tech company. “The way we’re democratizing access to personalized herbal healing would not be possible without modern technology, data science & analytics and we see tech as a vital tool for elevating this precious herbal medicine to improve how we meet the overlooked needs within women’s health.”
Tech has also enabled the brand to create a feedback loop that currently doesn’t exist for providers of herbal and nutritional supplements—something that is needed more across modern healthcare as a whole.
Ge continues, “We believe it’s essential to measure what you want to improve and continuously improve the way we serve her needs. That’s why we’ve also created a follow-up health assessment that she can take after every month of treatment to monitor and track progress while obtaining feedback used for future product development.’
While PMS is often associated with younger women Ge tells me. “We’ve actually seen in beta that PMS is actually a very prominent and overlooked issue for women in their 30’s and 40’s—especially after childbirth as our bodies work to adapt to a ‘new normal’.”
Courtesy of Elix
Glathe adds, “It seems that later in life we also learn to ‘deal’ with our cycles in different ways, which includes everything from denying the pain in order to prove our strength, to society telling us that the pain is normal, and us accepting this as truth.”
When it comes to perimenopause and post-childbirth specifically Glathe continues, “Dramatic shifts in the hormones and therefore the cycle occur, which are times where our bodies are desperate for support from a nutritional and balancing aspect, which is where herbal medicine comes in.”
The brand has already begun R&D for future formulas to support other phases of womanhood. “We are also looking at ways to partner with other service providers and clinics,” states Ge. “We know that these herbs work best in coordination with behavioral and lifestyle shifts and believe in a proactive, holistic approach to achieving the most transformational health benefits.”
When I ask what women can expect from the brand in the future Ge tells me, “The broader vision for Elix is to be her trusted friend and advisor for scientifically backed herbal healing—from her first period to her last hot flash and everything in between.”
Courtesy of Elix
Members of the Elix community will also soon have access to exclusive events and content so that they can be their own best advocates in life and while in their doctor’s office. Ge continues, “We already have an exciting line-up of events around the country planned for 2020 and are continuing to add new partners with aligned intentions in holistic health for pop-ups and experiences.”
Because my blend arrived while I had my cycle I haven’t been able to try it out just yet. But because perimenopause is such a treat, “Flo” will be back in town in another 14-18 days at which point I will take my custom Elix blend six days prior twice a day. I am excited to see how it works and what changes will transpire.