Interview with the Founders - Vanessa Ford and Danielle Jacobs
Nearly 25 million women ages 45 and older go through one of the three stages of menopause, and their many inconveniences, every year. While the glories of the internet may seem like the perfect fountain of information, many women feel lost or uncertain about what they can do to relieve their discomfort and better their health as they experience these changes.
MenoLabs, co-founded by Vanessa Ford and Danielle Jacobs, is a menopausal probiotic company designed to help accurately inform women on menopausal health and the benefits that can be reaped by using probiotic and prebiotic supplements. Today, they have offered some insight into the MenoLabs company itself, as well as how they hope to steer the conversation surrounding menopausal health toward a more active, positive light.
Can you describe what MenoLabs is?
Vanessa: MenoLabs is a woman-founded company, founded by Danielle Jacobs and myself, along with our research co-founder, Dr. John P. Konhilas, that aims to fundamentally change the way we think about and approach menopause. We formulate probiotics that specifically help women in menopause.
Why did you, personally, want to start this project?
Vanessa: Well, we're both women, first of all.
Danielle: Yes, we both have daughters that are going to be going through this as well as ourselves. We both saw our mothers go through it - or not go through it because they didn't talk about it.
I'm probably 90 percent sure I'm in perimenopause, but I don't have 100 percent of the symptoms. When you have a society that's looked at menopause as something you don't talk about, it's hard to come into that time of your life when so much is changing, and we wanted to bring some light to the issue.
Vanessa: And I have been in perimenopause for about 3 years now. It started when I was 44 and I am 47 now. My personal transition into Menopause was what prompted me to want to start MenoLabs. Speaking from personal experience, at my previous job, I was clearly going through perimenopause and didn't fully realize it at first. I'd be talking to my staff, and I would blank. My brain would just shut off on me. When I realized that I was exhibiting perimenopausal symptoms, I distinctly remember refusing to bring up the problems I was having at my old job.
I had a female boss. I had a supportive work environment. I had a great HR manager that I could've gone to talk to. Yet, I still felt embarrassed and ashamed to talk about it. Now, I'm a relatively open and honest person when it comes to my health and how I'm feeling, but if I had issues talking about menopause, then I can't even imagine how hard it must be for women of a shyer disposition to talk about it.
What are some common misconceptions about menopause?
Vanessa: Danielle and I have both been doing a lot of research, talking to women, interviewing them, chatting on forums and listening to them and what they're going through. I think the biggest misconception is that women, as they hit menopause, become fundamentally different people.
I can tell you that a lot of these women don't recognize themselves. They're on these forums, and they're saying, “I just said something terrible to my family members that I would never have said three years ago, five years ago, and I don't understand why I said it”. So they feel like they're becoming different people, but you're not becoming a different person. What's happening is your estrogen levels are dropping. It's a hormonal change in your body, but that doesn't fundamentally change who you are. But it can change how you interact.
Danielle: And I think that because people are so unsure about how to approach the women in their lives about it, it makes us as women more self-conscious about it.
Of the many naturally occurring conditions that women experience (i.e., menstruation and pregnancy), why is menopause one of the least researched topics by comparison?
Vanessa: If you look at menopause throughout history, the way women in midlife have been treated by societies, you'll see something really interesting that happens about 200 years ago. We start really thinking about the human body in a fundamentally different way. We're not thinking about the human body as directed by humors in the blood and that sort of thing. We're doing more scientific research, such as it is in the 19th century.
So, if you look back in history, you'll see that there is a shift in how women in menopause are treated because of the way science was looking at human bodies. We now understand chemical reactions, hormones, we understand the microbiome, and we're doing more research into that. There's still a lot we don't know, and that's why research is important. Still, we have to get away from these; these 19th-century ways, even 20th century ways, of approaching menopause and women in menopause and think about them in terms of what we know now, in the 21st-century issue.
People often use the terms illness or disorder when referring to menopause. Why is this terminology incorrect?
Vanessa: The pace of research and what we discover is so quick thanks to technology that we now have a fundamentally different understanding of what menopause is, and it's not a disease.
Danielle: No, it's a transition. It's just a shift that all women eventually have to go through.
Vanessa: Exactly, there is no reason to call it a disease or illness because if it happens to all women, then how could that mean that you, the individual, are sick?
Your company is focused on probiotic health for women in menopause, what can you tell us about the research into probiotics' effect on relieving menopausal symptoms?
Danielle: We've done a lot of research into probiotics, which is really what started it for us. With the help of our research partner, Dr. Konhilas, we started seeing how probiotics, specifically, were helping relieve symptoms like hot flashes, helping with heart disease. Our research started with probiotics and then became more specific. We then started thinking about prebiotics as a way to answer the question of, how do we help support the array of symptoms that come with menopause? Because, as we know, there are so many.
There are different focuses on what women require, which is why we have several different products because some women need more help with the weight loss aspect of menopause while other women may be more concerned with bone health. Products like MenoGlow are more focused around acne issues, skin issues, thinning hair, and brittle nails. So, we tried to use prebiotics as a way to supplement probiotics and tailor to the specific needs of women.
How can women reading this article change the conversation about menopause toward a more positive one when discussing it with their friends, families, and loved ones?
Danielle: I think it starts with self-identifying, first of all. Don't think it's not happening to you, and don't be afraid to say it's happening to you. In so many ways, women are afraid to say that they're going through this because there is such a label surrounding it. Once you can self identify, then you're able to ask for the support from everybody around you.
Vanessa: Once people understand what's happening to you, they're much more likely to be sympathetic, but if you don't say anything, then that can be problematic.
What can women expect from MenoLabs?
Vanessa: We have some pretty exciting things in the works. We're building a social app called MenoLife, where women can connect with other women who can help you through this process. You'll also eventually be able to get diet plans there, be able to talk to experts who can help you with your exercise goals, a whole host of things really. You can track your symptoms, eventually. And I think what is most exciting for us as a research company is that we’ll have thousands of women self-reporting their symptoms and the things that are happening to them, and we'll be able to look for patterns and those patterns can help determine the next area of research.
How can your audience/customers get involved with MenoLabs, but also with each other to help change the conversation?
Vanessa: The app is launching into beta testing on January 28th. It will begin as a social gathering app for women, as we've already said. Eventually, we're going to have all the things I talked about earlier, the symptom tracking, the diet and exercise plans and suggestions, and experts that you can talk to. So that's going to be an extremely valuable tool. Plus, we'll keep improving that tool all the time because that's what we believe in.
As far as changing the conversation - honestly, the first thing would be willing to talk about your period.
Danielle: I was going to say the same thing. That apprehension to talk about menopause stems from that same apprehension about not being able to talk about your period. Periods and menopause are normal functions in a woman's life.
Vanessa: And be proactive about your menopausal health.
Danielle: Absolutely! What I think a lot of women tend to forget is that menopause is not just this ten-year time frame of going through these changes. This is something you have to prepare for and think ahead about, which can be hard sometimes because if you don't have the symptoms, you're not thinking about it. Finding women of the same age group can provide you with a support network. So, if you can encourage others to share their experiences and talk about it with you, then you'll be okay.