My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Dr Golnoush Golshirazi, a scientist and entrepreneur who advocates for women’s health and equality in the healthcare system. She is the co-founder of ScreenMe, a patient-centric at-home testing company that looks to empower all women with scientific insight and support around their sexual and reproductive health.
In this episode, Golnoush shares:
- How it took her £6,000 to find out she had endometriosis
- The fluke that led to her diagnosis
- What she did when her doctor that her that she had to do her own research to figure out a non-hormonal treatment strategy
- How recurring UTIs led to her starting an at-home testing company
- The importance of the vaginal microbiome and how it’s very different to the gut microbiome
- What you can do to improve your vaginal microbiome
- And of course, the story of her first period
Golnoush says that learning about how your body works and getting insights into your unique needs will help you make changes that have a powerful impact on your health
Thank you, Golnoush!
Get in touch with Golnoush:
Le’Nise: So hi Golnoush, thank you so much for coming on to the show today. I’m really excited to chat to you. We have a lot of the same common interests, so really excited to chat. But first, tell me the story of your very first period.
Golnoush: Thank you for having me. Yeah, it’s it’s it’s a story that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Probably one of the most dramatic moments of my life. I think I was, I know I was 12. I was 12 when I was on holiday with my family and my extended family, my aunts and my uncles. And we were all staying at a big epic house. And I was you know, there was a I feel like 12 year olds these days are a bit more mature than 12 year olds in my day for some reason. You know, I feel like at 12 I was just a child. I was you know, I was playing it was it was a lot more innocent. And and I remember very vividly the sudden pain. It was it was like someone stabbed me in my right side. And it was very, very just took the air out of me and I was doubled over. It wasn’t anything subtle. It wasn’t any kind of cramping. It was extreme agonising pain. And I was doubling over. I was telling my mom, everyone knew I’m not well, they thought it was my appendix, you know, they thought something’s going wrong. It was talk of if she would go to the hospital, should we not go to the hospital. No one thought she started her periods. It wasn’t something that anyone, you know, came to anyway. Even my mom. You know, no one just thought maybe she started that period. It was only after, you know, after acquired quite a bit, quite a few minutes or so, I needed to go to the bathroom and I went to the toilet, pulled down my pants, and I screamed because there’s blood, you know, And when you’ve been in that much pain and there’s so much drama happening and everyone thinks I have to go to the hospital and I don’t know what’s wrong, and suddenly there’s blood, you think you’re dying, You know, I was like, I must be dying. This is it. And I screamed and my mom came running in and I said, There’s blood. I’m going to die. And she said, No, you’re not dying. You’ve started your period. Um, and that was, that was how it’s, that was how it started.
Le’Nise: And did you know what was what a period was? So when you said when you, when you told your mom that you, you know, you thought you were dying. Yeah. And then she said, oh, that’s actually a period. Had you been taught a bit of about periods at that point?
Golnoush: Yeah. Yeah, I did know about periods. You know, I think unlike a lot of kids, actually, I asked, you know, when I asked my moms, I asked my mom how babies are made at the age of I think seven, six, I think I was six. I asked my mom, how are babies made? And my mom sat me down with a book on female anatomy. And and she actually told me all about periods. She didn’t tell me about how the sperm meets the egg and the rib, but she told me all about all the steps in between. So I you know, she told me a lot about periods. How periods, oh, happens, you bleed.
So at the age of six or seven, I was told, you know, in scientific detail what periods are and how they happen. And then, you know, some of my friends started their periods a bit earlier at the age of like nine, ten. So so I knew of you know, I knew that happens, but it’s not something that I think at that age until you start yours, it’s not something you spend much time thinking about or just acknowledging either other than the fact that one day I’m going to start my period and that’s going to involve bleeding. You don’t really think about it at all and you don’t know. You know, I didn’t pay attention to more than that, other than the fact that I would bleed one day that was all that was in my head. But at that point, that left my head. You know, I didn’t think that that was going to happen now. And this is it.
Le’Nise: Well, and I mean, I think a lot of a lot of people can relate to that because, you know, kids, they you know, they ask questions. They’re really forthright and they’re really kind of, you know, they get straight to the point. But then you can just tell, like once they’ve kind of taken in the information that they want to know, they just lose interest. It just it just. Yeah, yeah.
Golnoush: Yeah. Definitely. Yeah.
Le’Nise: So you have this experience where your first period was incredibly painful and then how did it go from there?
Golnoush: Um, you know, it was really difficult. I think that that day was very difficult. It was the matter of, you know, the pain, all the pain. And then being told I’ve started my period and when my mom told me it’s my period. I started crying because I think I was overwhelmed by, you know, it’s a massive change in your life as a woman. And and I started crying. And I think it was because, first of all, I had to acknowledge that my life has changed now. And, you know, you know, I’ve never been a big fan of change. So that was the first sign. And then and then there was the overwhelming feeling of shame. That’s everyone in that house now knew that I started my period because it started so dramatically that everyone would be asking and knowing. So there was also that the fact that now everyone knows that I’ve started my period and although my family have never been the type that would shame periods or woman and, you know, quite empowered line of woen in my family, but I still felt that shame of people knowing that I’ve started my period and I’m bleeding.
And then there was the matter of is it going to be like this for the rest of my life? That don’t you know, I kind of just as a child, you kind of think, am I going to be in pain? And so it took me a moment to to come to terms with all of those complicated emotions. And going forward, I had quite regular periods. They would come regularly every month and they would come painfully every month. Um, my mother had painful periods, so did her mother. And, and so it wasn’t something that was out of the norm. It was like this is what periods are like for for the women of our family. And, and so you kind of inherited that pain and, and that’s how it went. And of course holidays ended. Then I had to go back to school and that meant going to school as a as as a woman, as a young woman who who has periods, painful periods, who has to miss school every month or so because of her periods. So it was a sort of of a struggle of some sorts in my life.
Le’Nise: It’s really interesting that you said that, you know, other people in your family, knowing that you had just started your period was a source of of shame and that you had made that link between people knowing about your period and shame so early on. Can you talk a bit more about that?
Golnoush: Yeah, definitely. You know, I think it happened so automatically and instinctively that you don’t process. You don’t think why you’re feeling shame. You just do. And it’s not like anyone had instilled that shame in me. No one had ever said, you know, periods are bad or periods are dirty or periods are something we need to hide. No one had ever said that to me. But I still felt shame. And, you know, thinking about it now. It must. You know, looking back, we don’t talk about periods. No. Yeah. No one says they’re bad and no one says they’re dirty and no one says they’re a problem. But no one talks about them. Full stop. And I think when we don’t talk about something, automatically, it comes with a baggage of shame. And I think that was the case. It’s this secret that women carry with them that is never spoken about. And mine was very public in that moment. And I think that is what triggered that shame for me. As you know, I’ve never heard anyone else advertise their period or I’ve never seen anyone else like, you know, make such a big deal out of their period. And now everyone knows about mine. And so that automatically made me quite embarrassed.
And then I think it goes on, you know, you then learn about your know while you knew, but you kind of learn about your specific period and you go on in life and every month it comes, but you don’t tell anyone that it’s come, you just get on with it. And mine was painful. I would be embarrassed to tell anyone because it just feels like you’re making it a scene like, you know, everyone else has periods and they’re not talking about them. So I felt a little more even because mine was painful. And I would think what people think, I’m being a drama queen with, you know, would people think I’m lying because not everyone seems to be feeling what I’m feeling. And not everyone seems to need to take a day out of school because they have their periods. So it was a lot of a lot of, you know, the inherent shame of having a period then the added shame of. I’m someone who can’t deal with her period pains as well as others. Yeah, complicated, complicated time. And then you eventually learn that. Oh, it’s not just women. Men is even worse. You don’t want your male teachers to know you’ve started your periods. You know, that was even more embarrassing. And again, it’s because no one speaks about it, you know? You know, it is a topic that is just the elephant in the room. It exists, but everyone ignores it. So if you stop ignoring it, you automatically feel shame.
Le’Nise: And having a period that was so painful that you would miss school every month. How did you cope with that? Was because you would have had to have that conversation with one of your parents to say, like, I’m in so much pain, I can’t go to school.
Golnoush: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, my mother was always on the edge. You know, it was you know, they knew it. The first day of my period would be a day I can’t even walk, let alone, you know, go out. I wouldn’t be able to walk for a couple of hours. Good. Couple of hours. It’s a time where I can’t walk. You know, I was sometimes not often, but sometimes I would even vomit because. Because it would just be so painful. And so, you know, my mom, my sister, my, you know, my immediate family would would always know. Interestingly, I would never talk to my father about it. Again, I think it just comes from that kind of thing of that was instilled in me of like, we just don’t talk, you know, it’s just embarrassing. I knew my mom would tell him I wouldn’t tell him directly, but just think I wouldn’t do it. And so it was, you know, my family knew. So, you know, my mom knew.
I would always get very upset also because I had to miss school and I didn’t know what kind of implications that would have. And and I didn’t find school to be very understanding either. You know, it wasn’t I don’t think schools are educated enough on the matters of female health, even though I went to an all girls school, you know, and it kind of makes you think you think these are young women going through the system and this is where they spend more time than they do at home. How is it that there’s so little information on on the basic anatomy and physiology of of women at school? There just wasn’t. And no one ever spoke to me about my periods at school. No one ever spoke to me about my health at school and in my in my, when I left my school at year 11. I have a yearbook and my teacher, my form teacher has written a little note and that yearbook and she says, never had a student who’s missed so many days of school for health. And, you know, you know, this kind of like a reminder for me of of how uneducated our educational system is when it comes to women’s health. How even woman. These institutions still are lacking information on how to educate younger girls about their health and how to care for them when it comes to their health.
Le’Nise: That’s really shocking that a teacher would not only say that, but write it in your book as a, you know, a permanent reminder of how how she viewed you. And it was through this prism of your poor health. Yes, Very, very surprising. And just underlines your point that teachers need better education on this topic.
Le’Nise: And then I read I read online that you you said that you had to spend around £6,000 of your savings ordering private tests to help you get an eventual diagnosis of endometriosis at age 27. Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about that journey? Because, you know, you started with very painful periods, you missed a lot of school. When you were in secondary and then 27, so you had finished university I, I’m guessing you were, had finished or you were doing your Ph.D.. That’s a long time to be battling with a monthly kind of issue that, condition that you wouldn’t know would be so debilitating.
Golnoush: It is a long time and it’s exhausting, but it’s it’s it takes a toll. People don’t notice it. You know, you think disabilities are visible and you think you would be able to see them. They’re not. And I think having chronic pain, regular chronic pain or regular pain is a disability. It does. It interferes with your life in every stage. So it’s like you said, at secondary school, it had already started doing that. It was interfering in my life. It affected my friendships. It affected my relationship with my teachers. It affected my confidence, you know, lack of control. Because even though they are regular and they’re coming, you never know exactly when it’s going to hit and how bad is going to hit. And so planning is hard, you know, knowing play dates, birthdays at that age. And my period would come and I can’t go, you know, I can’t go.
And then university. You get better at dealing with it, you get you get better at hiding that one day. But then there are times when I was at Cambridge doing my undergrad and I did Let’s go back to A-levels. I was doing my A-levels. That’s the first time I went to the doctors and I said, I’ve got very painful periods and I think they might come when I have exams, my A-level exams, and I’m terrified. Because I won’t be able to sit my exam if I’m in on my period and my GP told me to take paracetamol and that, you know, you think if I, if paracetamol was going to solve my problem, I wouldn’t be here. Hmm. And that was my first encounter with the medical system around period pains. I was lucky my period didn’t come on my A-level exams.
And then I went to university. And I was at Cambridge. Cambridge is an intense, intense environment. And you sit exams at the end of the year which dictates your entire year and that the anxiety that was my nightmare as is my period coming back. And it did. One day it did. And I had an exam. I had my evolution and behaviour exam and I remember it waking up in the morning and I couldn’t breathe and I had an exam. I called the porters at the college and I said, I’ve started my period and I can’t move. And I thought to myself, he must be thinking this whole college is girls, everyone living in this building is girls. Why is this woman calling me? It was very good. You know, he was he was an elderly gentleman who was very, very gentle when he said, you know, stay put. I’m going to make some calls. And they made some calls and they got back to me and said, do not fret. We are coming with the exam paper. And so they brought the exam paper to my bedroom and they said, you can sit it here. At the time, I was grateful. I could not be more grateful. I said, Oh my goodness, look at these people. They’re going out of their way. They’re bringing my exam paper. It was only after the exam they took the paper away and I sat there and I cried because it, you know, it kind of came to me that. I sat that paper in terrible pain. Let alone the hormones, you know, but terrible pain. I was doubling over while writing. And that’s not okay. You know, it wasn’t that’s not something to be grateful for.
And I guess it was a wake up call for me then that there’s, you know, something is wrong with me, but I can’t be the only person. And surely the system needs to wake up. People need to know that this happens and it’s not okay. I cannot be measured to people who don’t have as much pain. At the same time, let alone men who never have periods. Hmm. How are we putting everyone on the same scale? You know, I understand the whole, you know, equality. I want to be equal. I want to have the same rights. But we have to look at the ground we’re standing on to make sure we balance that before we stop measuring people and equality. We cannot expect someone. We can’t expect the fish to climb a tree rights. We have to give them first the apparatus to breathe outside water before you expect them to climb. That’s how I felt. You know, I felt like I was I was being asked to compete with people who just it wasn’t fair. I didn’t you know, it wasn’t fair.
That’s when I started being interested in the system, the health care. And I started pushing the GP. I started asking for help. I was told I have anxiety. I was given anxiety medication. I was giving depression medication. I was told I have IBS, I have the PCOS, all of that and nothing helped it. Everyone was throwing these terms at me without giving me any explanation. My symptoms got worse, not my period symptoms, but my other symptoms. I would go to hospital outside of my periods every month or so, at least three or four times a year, from abdominal pain to severe abdominal pain. And they would be scanning me. They want to do they want to get my appendix out. They thought maybe it’s the appendix, maybe it’s that. None of that. And I didn’t let them because there was no there was no sign that there is an appendix issue.
And then I decided to go private and I spent a lot of money on private scanning. Nothing was found. Doctors still didn’t find anything. And then accidentally at one of my scans where we had it was a gastro actually a gastro specialist, I kind of insisted to him and it was a guy and he was one of his, one of my better doctors. And I insisted to him that I can feel something very low down. I said, You know, if I wasn’t sure I’m not pregnant, I would think I’m pregnant. There’s something I can feel. And he said, let’s have a let’s have an ultrasound of your abdomen. And they did an ultrasound. And again, I was very lucky. It’s all a matter of luck, really. I was very lucky that the person who was doing the ultrasound that day said to me, Listen, I don’t think your gut, there’s anything with your gut, but I let me get my colleague who who does ultrasounds on woman and she specialised. I want her to have a look. So someone else came in, she had a look and she said to me, I think I need to see a gynaecologists and ask them to investigate endometriosis. And I asked her, you know, how come you’re saying this? You know, I know that you can’t see endometriosis on an external scan. And she said, No, you can’t. And I can’t be 100% sure. But I’ve done a lot of scans and I know a lot of women. And what I’m seeing to me doesn’t look like the average polycystic ovarian cysts. To me, they look like they might be different type of cysts, and so they might actually be endometriosis rather than polycystic. And she was my miracle angel in that in that moment, you know, it was just by chance that she was there. And this guy who was doing my scan decided to get her opinion.
And so then I paid more to go see another gynaecologist with those results. And they did an MRI and more scans and they confirmed that endometriosis diagnosis. And I didn’t stop that. I mean, I was overwhelmed because I was like, finally, I know, I know what’s going on. And but the first thing that my gynaecologist told me was, okay, well, what we can do is we can have the can do. My colon was stuck to my cervix. And she said, you know, we can go in and do some surgery, but then you’ll have a year to get pregnant. At this point, she hasn’t asked me if I’m trying to get pregnant, if I’m even in a position to try. I wasn’t in a position to try. That was the last thing on my mind at that point. And that was it. That was all I was provided. So I just cancelled and I left and I called another gynaecologist and I went and saw another gynaecologist and he said, you know, he was he explained to me more. He explained that he thinks that we shouldn’t be hasty in taking making decisions. He offered me hormonal contraception, but it wasn’t right for me. I have a family history of embolisms or blood clots. And so I didn’t want to have any hormonal interventions. And so it was he said to me, okay, well, now we have to say, what do you want? You’re not trying to have a baby. So what do you want? And I said, I want I want to live a better life. I want to be more in charge of my body and I want to control my symptoms. And obviously I’m concerned about my future fertility. So those are the aspects that I want to focus on. And he said to me, I will, from my part, I can only do some private testing for your fertility and get your egg reserves and go down that route from symptom control. I’m living a better life. This is going to be up to you. You’re going to have to do your own research on your work and figure out what works for you, what doesn’t. Try supplements.
And that’s where it all started. So at that point, I’d spent quite a lot of money on diagnosis and consultations alone. And then it was a matter of, okay, well then I did my fertility testing and spends over £600 on that, which was crazy. And then it was a matter of, Alright, well, how do I, how do I do this now? How do I take care of my my body and my endometriosis? What do I do? And I was a scientist, you know, at this point I was finishing my, my Ph.D., like you rightly said. And that was difficult, by the way, getting through a Ph.D. twice, I wanted to quit. And my co-founder, Dr. Lukasz Ciszewski, he was there, and he helped me through all of that. But that was when I thought, okay, as a scientist who knows a lot about the human body, who’s a molecular biologist, I still didn’t know what to do with myself. And so then I had to plan my way through a lot of research, contacting a lot of health coaches and nutritionists and practitioners, women’s health practitioners, as well as doctors who were open minded to helping me in alternative ways rather than just medication and took.
And that’s brought me to a stage where I could be a lot more confident. I took charge of my health a lot more. My period pains were a lot more manageable. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes they come and they come strong. So it’s not you know, I have flare ups, but just less often as I used to. Anxiety is much less than it was previously. And so the quality of my life changed drastically. And I haven’t been to the hospital for pains like that in the past three years. And so that for me is a huge and that was the trigger. It was it was the trigger of I want to do something about this and I want to do it now. And that means education of women about their health, their anatomy, their body, and how to take control of it, providing access to cheaper alternatives and getting insights about your body, your fertility, your hormones, your vagina. You know, I was having a recurring infection even though I wasn’t sexually active. I was having these infections. And I later found out that it was because my vaginal microbiome was an absolute mess because of my hormonal balance issues. So getting that kind of insight gave me the power to do something about it. And I wanted to make that available for women so that they can take charge of that. And so hopefully they can teach their daughters. And so hopefully we can have a whole societal change in the way we view women, how we help women, and the way we conduct research and even develop medication for women.
Le’Nise: What really gets me about your story is, well, a couple of things is it’s this story I’ve heard so many times before, but also, you know, the fact that you, you getting this on this road to diagnosis was a fluke. Yeah, well, if you hadn’t if that that ultrasound technician who specialised in women’s health hadn’t been in that day, you know, you would have had to have gone back on that kind of conveyor belt of scans and to seeing more doctors. So that’s just that really gets to me that, you know, that we just we don’t I still don’t have the training in all aspects of, you know, medicine to really identify women’s health conditions. You know, like the fact that, you know, they thought it was a digestive issue. They thought you had IBS. You know, we know that, you know, that’s one of the most common misdiagnosis of endometriosis. But also going back to what you said about you sitting in that exam paper at Cambridge and how, you know, I’m sure that they thought that they were doing you a massive favour.
Golnoush: Oh, yeah. You know, they were doing what they could, right. Yeah. Well into that bedroom.
Golnoush: They for I mean invigilators just.
Le’Nise: And the fact that like they weren’t able to say well actually you know, can we, you can just do it tomorrow, you know, we can have, we can make a set up for you because if they were able to send an invigilatorsto your room, then they could have just done the same sort of thing the next day. But the kind of lack of understanding of the level of pain that you were experiencing. But like kudos to you for being able to write that paper while you were, you know, doubled up in in pain. And I’m sure you did very well.
Golnoush: I could have done better and no, I mean, I don’t think I you know, I at that point my friends were like, well, me know, my mom was like, well done. You know, you did this. And I look back and I think, I don’t know. Yes, well done. For, for sitting that paper in pain. Maybe I shouldn’t have. Maybe I should have refused to sit that paper, and maybe that would have forced the system to then accommodate for my pain. I think this is the mistake that a lot of a lot of women make because we we are massively accommodating to accommodate. Right. Like we hate confrontation or we hate being a burden. And I certainly hate being a you know, I I’m really, really bad at feeling like I’m inconveniencing other people.
But it’s for the sake I think at this point is I think for the sake of if I ever have daughters, you know, I don’t want them to go through this. And for that sake, I think we have to be like, actually, no, there is nothing heroic in walking all over yourself. It’s this is not heroic. You’re setting the path for just being ignored and mistreated, you know, just not being taken seriously and definitely setting the path for the health care system to not differentiate between women’s health and generic health or men’s health. And that’s where the issue is. I had a lot of high tech tests done on me. You know, I was having my arterial blood being examined because they thought something’s wrong in my heart. My resting heart rate was way above what it should be. And so I was having all sorts of things like really high end tests being done. The only reason being no one stopped to think when looking at this individual with these symptoms. Let’s also think about the fact that she has a vagina, a uterus and ovaries. You know, let’s think about that. Also because if someone had done that. Surely. And you know, earlier than that, someone would say, Maybe, maybe let’s think that this might be a hormonal situation. Hmm. Maybe. Let’s think that this has to do with her reproductive system because she has one. We can’t diagnose or treat woman by completely ignoring the fact that they have a whole reproductive system and a hormonal system that rules everything.
Le’Nise: And you you talked also about how you had seen that doctor who said basically said, you know, do your you going to have to do your own research, basically saying, okay, you know, I’ve offered you the pill, You don’t want to take it. You have family history. So it go off and do your own research. And now you’re a scientist, so you are comfortable with diving into the research, you know, going on PubMed, doing research, you know, knowing how to even use PubMed, knowing how to like, dissect a paper and the different types of papers. And I just I find that the fact that, you know, you still struggled to find answers, even given given your background. And I just think about like women that I speak to who are just like they just feel completely unmoored by this. They can’t find answers. They’re Googling, they’re following like just random advice from like health, like, just like fitness influencers and just anything because they’re just so desperate for answers.
And now this led to you starting your own femtech business. With that word femtech is that, you know, I kind of it’s realistic to me in the same category as like mom blogger. It’s you know, you’re a blogger and you’re a mom, you are a tech entrepreneur and you’re a woman. You know.
Golnoush: I feel like femtech has now become the generic term for women’s health. Like women’s health, anything like entrepreneurship or solutions. It’s all kind of now coming and fitting into Femtech. Yeah, it did lead to that. You know, struggling as a scientist to even find out what I need and realising that how many different pieces I needed in order to really get the help I want the quality of help. It’s and then, of course, realising the majority of the women out there won’t even be able to do what I did. I was privileged enough to have that savings to be able to spend it. I was privileged enough to have had the education and the time to be able to spend finding what I needed. And it shouldn’t be for. It was hard as a woman who was privileged, let alone if you’re not. If you are a mother who doesn’t have time to even scratch her head, let alone spend time on yourself. If you haven’t had education in the sciences, if you don’t have the money to spend, you shouldn’t be you shouldn’t have to live in pain or live with a lack of help and support. And so the initial idea was, why can’t we have, you know, doctors, health coaches and practitioners, nutritionists, you know, women’s health coaches as well as scientists come together in order to form a platform, an environment where women can go and they can get the help they need from the medical, you know, from a medical side, from from a holistic side and from a scientific side. Why is that not available and why is that not there?
And that’s what started my my journey with Screen Me is bringing together medical, scientific and holistic practitioners in order to provide women with a safe space where they can be heard or listened to. Because I know that for 20 whatever, 9,8, 17 years, no one actually took me. So, you know, no one listen to what I’m saying, which is, Hello, I’m in pain. Something is wrong. You know, you’re anxious, you’re depressed, you have exams. That’s you are not listening to me. So a space for a woman to be heard and then to be advised and in a scientifically accurate and professional but open minded way and provided affordable testing in order to get the insight and then put in touch, you know, that’s what we do in ScreenMe we get women who come to us for advice, they do their testing, and then we connect them with the right individuals who can help them. You know, I didn’t I didn’t know where to look to find those health coaches that could help me. It was you know, Google is a big place and and who knows what to you know, I can confidently say 80% of the information I read was not true. So, you know, and a safe space to be heard, to be provided with insights and to be then referred to the right sources in order to receive the personal help that you need in.
Le’Nise: Then you and your co-founder founded your company ScreenMe. And there is a focus on testing, gut and rationale along with other types of blood testing. I’m really interested in what you said about the vaginal microbiome and how certain conditions where there’s a hormonal aspect that affects the vaginal microbiome. And what’s really interesting is that I don’t think that, as you said, you know, you were having lots of infections and then you finally made the link between your changing hormones and the issues with your vaginal microbiome. And I was just reading something yesterday about this woman. She was constantly getting UTIs and how she had constantly being put on antibiotics to try to clear the UTIs. And then reading the comments, so many other women talking about the exact same issue and then starting to talk about other issues with their health. And I just it just made me think how, you know, we’re starting to know more about the gut. And it’s a really, like, fascinating space. But there’s still so much research that needs to be done around the vaginal microbiome. So can you just talk a little bit for someone listening who doesn’t even know like, oh my gosh, my body, my vagina has a microbiome? What does that mean? Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Golnoush: Yeah, I think the fact that we know so much like everyone knows, gut health and gut microbiome and we don’t the vagina itself is representative of the way our society works there. The reason we all know about the gut microbiome is because men also have guts. And so it’s a bigger market, and so there’s more money being pumped into that market. So everyone talks about it but the vaginal, so actually the vaginal microbiome is a lot more understood than the gut because it’s a lot more simple. So yes, the vagina has a microbiome. The vagina is an opening into our body. And so what people don’t realise is that because it’s an opening into our reproductive system, it’s actually a very sensitive area. It means things can go into our body, unwanted things, disease causing agents.
And so the vagina is like the immune system of that reproductive system. It’s there to stop you getting unwanted disease, causing bacteria, yeast, other, you know, viruses, it’s there to stop it. And it does that through the microbiome. So it has an ecosystem of bacteria that are there to help keep the reproductive system safe and the vagina clean. So the vagina is self-cleaning when it’s healthy. So this environment is not like the gut, it is meant to be not as diverse as the gut. We want it to be diverse, to be healthy. The vagina should not be diverse. We want the vagina to be dominated by protective bacteria that make it acidic. And when we have. You know, health issues. So the vagina, this ecosystem is maintained through this very fine balance of hormones that we have. And when we have any kind of issues with our hormonal system, with our immune system, the vagina reacts to that. The ecosystem reacts to that. So, you know. Kind of going finding that out while I was doing my PhD, having my own issues. It was for me, it was mindblowing. I was like, Oh my goodness, there’s so much we can understand by looking at the vaginal ecosystem. You know, I could tell if a woman was having, you know, oestrogen issues just by looking at the vaginal ecosystem when the blood would not show anything.
So the vagina is a very, very good way of looking at women’s hormonal and immune health. You know, it’s it’s a very representative ecosystem to be looking at, it’s a powerful tool when it comes to inside diagnosis and treatment. So. So yeah, your vagina is there, the microbiome is there. It’s really important. It plays a really important role in preventing infections and lowering your risk of STDs as well. So we know women who don’t get STDs sometimes, even even when they’re not that careful, and women who get them all the time. And the difference is the vaginal microbiomes and how protective it is, which is very interesting. So your protection against infections and STDs. Protection against HPV. So what makes a woman get rid of an HPV infection? The clearance rate is higher and woman who doesn’t. Is there vaginal microbiome and how protective that is? So we know that women who have imbalanced vaginal microbiome dysbiosis, they have very slow clearance of HPV. And so that can then go on to cancer and other complications and pelvic inflammatory disease and all of that. So the vaginal microbiome is really important for infection, STD, HPV and fertility complications. So we know that women who don’t have enough lactobacillus or a protective bacteria in their vagina are at higher risk of miscarriage, infertility and also IVF implantation failure. So really, the vagina is the key at the core of a woman’s reproductive system and her immune system. And I think all women should really understand their vagina and give it the the attention it needs in order to protect themselves from disease down the line.
Le’Nise: What are a few things, a few simple things that a woman can do to improve for vaginal microbiome?
Golnoush: Yeah, good question. So first of all, with the hormonal health, thin hormonal health. So balancing your hormones is really, really important in order to take care of your vaginal microbiome, no matter what you do, if your hormones are not doing well, you can’t you can’t fix the microbiome. So so think hormonally friendly lifestyle, think hormonally friendly nutrition. You know, understand your periods. Talk to someone who understands periods and eat for your hormones. I think that’s really, really important way to starts start that.
The next step would be hygiene. A lot of people think the vagina needs to be cleaned and there’s a lot of products out there that pushes us to clean the vagina. The vagina is self-cleaning if it’s healthy. So actually using products to clean the vagina is going to cause problems. It’s going to change the pH of the vagina. And it can also cause dysbiosis or an imbalance of that bacterial environment. So we shouldn’t really be washing the vagina with any cleaning products. Water alone should be enough. If the vagina is smelling abnormal or it’s offending you or you’re uncomfortable, that is a big sign. That’s your body telling you something is wrong, that you know your line of protection down there is down. And so get help. Find out why that’s happening. Get yourself screened. Find out what is going on, why there’s a dysbiosis. And then there’s ways of then fixing that, you know, working with a coach, with a women’s health coach, you can actually take control and regain that balance. So that’s that’s really, really important with the hygiene part of things as well.
And the other is your sex life is really important to be aware of. Obviously, safe sex, as everyone knows, is really important. But then even if you are with one partner, I often find a woman becoming, oh well, I’m always just with my partner, so I don’t need to be careful. You need to be careful so the products you use in your sex life are really important. So lube, for example, is one that can be very problematic in the vaginal microbiome. Just, you know, over-the-counter lube stuff that we buy has product, has stuff in it that can cause dysbiosis in the vagina. So be careful of the products that you use in your intimate life in general. Make sure that they’re vaginally friendly. Unfortunately, you know, products are made for purposes like making sex easy, but they’re not made with the thought of what will this do to the vagina? You know, how will this affect the vagina. That’s not taken into account when products are created. So do you do some research. We’ve got a lot of blogs on our website about these topics, educational blogs on how to choose lube, how to take care of the vagina. That can be that can be very helpful. I think being aware of these things will automatically change the way you start choosing and using products on the way you know, choose cotton. Be careful of others. It increases your…
That last tip I’m going to say because oh so often is well, we love living in leggings. Everyone’s wearing leggings all the time. Leggings are one of sometimes the number one culprits of vaginal dysbiosis. You know, it’s it can. It’s not breathable is not as breathable. It creates quite a dark, moist environment. And that can encourage the growth of some of the bad bacteria. So be wary of the stuff that you wear around your you know, around your groin area for long periods of time. Make sure that you are allowing your groin area to breathe and and take care of it. Be aware. I would say an annual vaginal microbiome test for every woman is is the way to make sure that you’re protected, that you’re lowering your risk of infections as you go through life. You’re one step ahead of the game and even your hormones.
Le’Nise: Fantastic. I know that will help so many. I learned I learned something there as well, and I will definitely be linking to the blogs, blog posts that you mentioned, choosing the right lube. Super important. So you look out for those in the show notes. Just to kind of close off our conversation. You are really passionate about educating women and making sure that they feel the empowerment that maybe you didn’t feel when you were going through your diagnosis journey. What do you think that women need to do to take charge of their health?
Golnoush: That’s a good question. I think it starts with learning about the body. You know, that’s the first step is acknowledge that you have a vagina, uterus and ovaries, irrespective of fertility and having a baby. It doesn’t matter whether having a child is on your timeline or not. Your body is is more than that. And so so learn of the importance of your of your reproductive system in your health. Keep track of your periods. Understand how your body ticks. When do I you know, this is how I feel at this point in my cycle. That’s how I feel at the other point in my cycle. You know, I get pain at this point. Understand how your body ticks. Make friends with it. That’s the first step is I think I didn’t I didn’t understand my body. And it took me a while to actually be okay. My body is unique and this is how it is.
And then the next step would be get insight, you know, get insights into the different aspects of your of your body, whether it be I’m going to actually do my you know, I’m going to just do a normal nutrition test like just, you know, my bloods and look at my vitamin levels and see where I stand. That can be quite empowering. You know, just just knowing what your body needs. Get insights, understand your unique needs and then small. It doesn’t mean you have to make huge changes in your life to take control. You don’t. Really small changes go a long, long way. They did for me, and they do for a lot of women that we’ve seen, that we’ve tested, that we’ve referred on. Little small changes make a huge life changing difference. The first step being, I feel like someone’s heard me. I feel like I understand my body better and I now know what to do next. It’s not going to be an overnight thing. It’s going to be time, but it’s just about taking that first step.
Le’Nise: Fantastic. Where can people find you?
Golnoush: Oh, everywhere. So you can. You can definitely find this on ScreenMe.co.uk There’s a small chat box on the website. That’s me. Usually 99% of the time you can find us on Instagram @screenmewomen. Feel free to message us there as well. Or just email us at email@example.com. We’re very open and supporting women and directing them in the direction that they need to go. Sometimes we can’t help, but we will then direct them to where they need to go or just provide information where they need it. So don’t be shy in asking questions or just saying, I need help in this thing. We are we are more than happy to to just help.
Le’Nise: Great. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show today. It’s been so informative speaking to you. And thank you so much for sharing your story.
Golnoush: Thank you very much for having me.