Essential Takeaways:

  • Elix co-founder and CEO, Lulu Ge, explains how her journey with birth control and cycle related-symptoms led her from an OBGYN's dismissal of her debilitating pain to her roots in herbal medicine
     
  • During this time she discovered the massive gaps in funding for women's health research with further fueled the fire to start Elix
     
  • She teamed up with college roommate, Dr. Nicole Glathe (DAOM, LAc, DiplOM), to create the online health assessment and clinically-proven personalized herbal formulas, now known as Cycle Balance

Menstrual pain affects up to 90% of women and leads to 1,000,000,000+ hours of lost productivity annually in the U.S. alone. Yet, it’s always been an embarrassing topic — which leaves few sustainable options for treating it.

In healing my own debilitating symptoms, I learned of the massive gaps in access to holistic healthcare solutions for women, which has ignited this journey.

Join us in building the first #menstrualwellness community and brand that delivers personalized, proven healing so we can feel and do our best every day of the month. 

The background

3 years ago I went off birth control. I had always hated how it made me feel — nauseous, unsettled, and like my body was literally rejecting it. I also noticed more and more alarming headlines about the scary potential side effects (that we aren’t warned about) and decided it was finally time. It had been 16 years.

When my body stopped receiving the synthetic hormones it was used to, it responded with a roulette wheel of debilitating pain every month. For the first time, I experienced stab-me-in-the-uterus cramps, sharp headaches, bloating, unrelenting fatigue, and insomnia. I was not ‘myself.’ It got so bad that I actually had to call in sick to work — something I had never done before, let alone for my period.

Feeling the cycle of shame

Shamefully, I used to judge the women who complained about their periods. I saw them as unable to “suck it up” and had no idea that it was such a prevalent problem. Turns out that dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) causes up to 20% of women to miss work or school — and 46% are uncomfortable telling employers about the pain as a reason to need time off. I finally understood this dilemma as I began calling in sick. Each month, I blamed it on food poisoning or migraines.

I tried everything. From a cocktail of over-the-counter painkillers (which I hated taking because of the long-term health risks, and how they often kicked in too late or wore off too early), to fish oil and period supplements (which didn’t work at all), to a vibrating device that I strapped onto my stomach. Try presenting in a meeting while your uterus is vibrating...

I brought all this up during my annual physical, and the doctor dismissed it. She said she could give me a “prescription” for the pain, but “…honestly, I get cramps too — it happens to every woman, so you should probably just take it easy on your period.” Another OBGYN simply suggested going back on birth control…how could this be the primary solution?!

Back to my herbal healing roots

During a trip home to California, my mom brought up my menstrual issues to my 公公 (grandfather), who used to run the hospital in Southern China where I was born. My grandfather connected me with Dr. Xia Hongsheng, one of China’s leading experts who has authored nearly 100 papers and 45 books on how herbs help heal the body. After telling him my symptoms, sharing a detailed medical history, and sticking out my tongue, I was sent home with a prescription of a dozen herbs to purchase, boil daily, and drink before my next cycle.

The next month, I was shocked at how effectively the herbal formula was at reducing the stabbing pains. I didn’t experience the wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night cramps that signaled my period was starting.

After a few months, I was amazed by the steady waning of virtually all of my symptoms. My perfect attendance at work was reinstated, and I felt like myself again.

Addressing the broader gaps in women’s health

I started talking to my girlfriends about the pain and very quickly learned I wasn’t alone (90% of women suffer from dysmenorrhea), nor in my search for a natural solution that’s actually effective.

Everyone asked me for my “period herbs”, but Dr. Xia said my personalized formula only worked because it was tailored to my body’s particular pattern of symptoms — which, according to Chinese medicine, were all connected and needed to be holistically treated.

This differs from the approach of identifying and treating one symptom at a time, which can sometimes feel like a game of whack-a-mole. It would be fine if this method was effective, or free of the side effects that come with painkillers and birth control, but when only 4% of research and development in U.S. healthcare goes towards women’s health issues, it’s no surprise that we’re stuck with the same “solutions” (or lack thereof) that our grandmothers experienced.

Building the medical advisory team

That’s when I reached out to my college roommate and sorority sister, Dr. Nicole Glathe, DAOM, LAc, DiplOM. She is a board-certified acupuncturist and herbalist who holds a doctorate in Chinese Medicine and women’s health — a degree that only 1% of acupuncturists go on to achieve.

In her own work, Nicole used Chinese medicine’s method of pattern diagnosis to treat hundreds of women. Like me, they had turned to alternative medicine in their desperation to escape their cycles of pain and she helped them understand that our menstrual health can provide critical insights into our overall health. Most had no idea their “non-menstrual” symptoms — like sleeplessness, headaches, hot flashes, or intense thirst — were also manifestations of the same hormonal imbalances behind their menstrual symptoms.

Nicole and I saw a great need to spread awareness around the important link between menstrual health and our overall health, as well as make the holistic solutions accessible to more people. A girl as young as ten should never again have to start a multi-decade relationship with hormonal birth control as the only way to manage debilitating cramps — especially when research shows it is linked to depressive symptoms later in life. And no one of any age should have to miss a day of our lives due to crippling menstrual pain.

246 clinical trials & studies to build a better solution

Nicole and I knew we wanted to ground our offering in modern science and research. After all, we live in the western world and most people are pretty skeptical of Chinese medicine and herbal supplements — with good reason. Too many brands in the category make false claims and consumers don’t know who or what to trust. 

Our goal was to democratize access to the personalized experience of receiving treatment from a practitioner of Chinese medicine, so Nicole led a review of 246 clinical trials and studies to see how we could replicate that experience online with proven herbs and formulas. After nearly a year of R&D, we created an in-depth health assessment that links a person’s symptoms to their underlying pattern of hormonal imbalances and recommends an herbal formula tailored to those needs.

We brought on Dr. Xia (the one who originally treated my dysmenorrhea) as our Chief Medical Advisor and reviewed our questionnaire and approach with him. Our work with him led to the final step in our health assessment: we require the patient to submit a photo of their tongue, as it’s the body’s only visible organ that provides an indication of our internal health. (If you’ve ever been to a Chinese medicine doctor, they always inspect your tongue!)

With our health assessment finalized, we got to work on finalizing the treatments themselves. We couldn’t expect people to boil pungent herbs for 45 minutes every day, so our initial idea was to develop a powder treatment. However, the highest quality powders we could source were 1) not guaranteed to be created without harmful solvents or fillers 2) difficult to dissolve without very hot water, and 3) difficult to gulp down without something to mask the bitter flavor.

So, we decided to boil and blend the organic, whole herbs ourselves and ended up creating easy-to-mix concentrated liquid tinctures that can be taken anywhere and are well-suited for women on-the-go.

Democratizing access to holistic healing

After piloting this solution with 300+ women for nearly a year and incorporating feedback from our inspiring community, we are thrilled to introduce Elix — soft-launching in January 2020.

Elix is the first menstrual wellness brand to deliver personalized, proven healing so we can get back to living our lives. In our pilot, 93% of women reported an improvement in menstrual symptoms in just the first month alone, with results improving with the length of use.

Our mission is to build a community of naturopathic doctors, herbalists, acupuncturists, nutritionists, and other healers to provide women with the tools and knowledge needed to be our own best advocates in the doctor’s office — and in life. We’re here to build a future where we can all feel and do our best every day of the month, starting with a holistic approach to balancing our cycle.

If you or anyone you know is living with debilitating symptoms each month, Dr. Nicole and I welcome you to try Elix and experience what it’s like to finally spend every day exactly as you wish and feeling like your most vibrant self.

Sources:

Eliza Brooke, Vox, June 2019: “The Bitter Pill: Why isn’t birth control better?

Kells McPhillips, Well+Good, December 2019: “The Three Foundational Hormones Everyone Should Know About”

A. Pawlowski, TODAY.com, June 2019: “Menstrual pain linked to days of lost productivity for women having periods

Katie Hunt, CNN, June 2019: “Period pain linked to nearly 9 days of lost productivity for a woman in a year”

Ashley Fetters, The Atlantic, August 2018: “The Doctor Doesn’t Listen to Her. But the Media Is Starting To”

Bethy Squires, VICE, October 2016: “The Racist and Sexist History of Keeping Birth Control Side Effects Secret”

Dalya Benor, The New York Times, October 2019: “Reframing Negative Self-Talk, One Video at a Time”

Elizabeth Gulino, Refinery29, November 2019: “Why Do I Have Period Cramps If I’m Not On My Period?”

Lauren Valenti, Vogue, October 2019 “Why Every 20-Something Should Know More About Their Hormones”

Isadora Baum, Bustle, December 2017: “10 Things Your Tongue Can Tell You About Your Health, Based On Chinese Medicine”

Melissa Batchelor Warnke, The L.A Times, February 2019: “The Oscars talked about periods and it was glorious”

Elsbeth Riley, MindBodyGreen, October 2019: “Hormones 101: How They Work & 7 Ways To Balance Them Naturally”

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