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Proov Podcast: Ana Gonzalez Herrera, founder of Hormone University

Written by: Dr. Amy Beckley, PhD, Founder and Inventor of the Proov test the first and only FDA-cleared test to confirm successful ovulation at home.

Written on 6/7/21

Amy Beckley, PhD:

All right, welcome back to another episode of the Proov Podcast. I am your host, Amy Beckley, founder of Proov. And as you all know, I had a personal battle with infertility that led me to invent Proov to help women give them more information about their bodies and their hormones.

So, it is my extreme pleasure to be joined here by Ana, who is the founder and inventor of Hormone University. So, Ana, welcome to the show. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and why you founded Hormone University.

Ana Gonzalez Herrera: 

Thank you so much, Amy, for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here, and we’re pursuing the same goal, which is to educate women about hormone health and hopefully how they can help themselves and prevent and be their own advocates, right?

So, my journey started with just fibroids in my early 20s, and after that, I was lucky to get a diagnosis of endometriosis. I was around 27 years old, and luckily, like I said, on average someone to get an endometriosis diagnosis, the average is about seven years. So, my doctor was one of those classic old style guys who would sit down and talk to you for an hour, an hour and a half, to explain things to you, right?

Amy:

That’s incredible. That’s like unheard of now.

Ana:

So, unheard of. Of course, he retired, and he happens to be a close friend of my family, and I’m forever grateful for all the care and time that he put into me and every patient he had. So, I was diagnosed. I had really, really painful PMS, and I kind of spent about one week or two weeks out of the month in pain.

So, a very long story short, but — maybe not that short, I ended up having in total five surgeries with endometriosis. So, really tough. And I think one thing that I want to make clear to anyone who listens is that be careful with stress. Stress can have a major impact. It’s like a chemical tsunami to our bodies. And I realized that about six months before I got like a really bad endometriosis crisis, I was usually very stressed in my life.

So, yeah, five surgeries in total. The last one was just two years ago, where the pain was so unbearable I couldn’t stand up. I looked five months pregnant. And I couldn’t sleep. So, it was just basically impossible to live. It was really truly unbearable. So, they basically discovered a infiltration in my colon, and that meant that they had to perform a colon resection —    

Amy:

Wow.

Ana:

 — a full hysterectomy. Everything was completely infiltrated with endometriosis. And that led into, of course, surgical menopause from one day to the next.

Yeah. So, Amy, look, you know, this was the pain of my life, right? I was going through these for about 12-13 years of my life. And, you know, it affected my professional life. It affected my personal life. I wanted to have a family and, you know, it got to the point where we tried IVF. I was married at the time. And the doctor was like with IVF, you might have a 10% chance of conceiving. And that was a huge slap on our faces.

And so, this whole story is really to explain that I realized I had no clue about hormonal health, and I had no clue how to take care of myself. And I was also suffering in silence. So, I’m really happy that people like you, Amy, have this podcast, because it’s so, so crucial to give this information to women out there.

So, my whole story led me to become a volunteer at the Endometriosis Foundation of America, where I’m now chair of the advisory board, and then led me to create Hormone University, which is the first online platform and destination for anything that’s hormonal health and wellness.

Amy: 

That’s great. I mean, it’s unfortunate that you had to kind of go through what you went through to bring this knowledge to women. I kind of want to go back to your story. So, you said you found out pretty early, like early 20s or so. Did you do anything at that point to try to — you know, I know there’s no cure to endometriosis, but to try to prevent it from progressing, or was it more like pain management? Like are there things that you learned later in life, where you’re like, man, if I could go back to my 23-year-old self when I got that diagnosis?

You know, in my story, I’ve had seven losses, and I always go back to if I had just known this information, could I have had more kids and could they be here, you know? And it’s like something that I go through constantly. So, you know, part of me is I want to invent this technology to help other women not have to live through the same pain that I went through, because education is power. It is so powerful to know.

And so, you know, endometriosis, like you said, is one of those things that we don’t diagnose. It takes up to seven years, and it requires surgery. I mean, I’ve had surgery to remove endometriosis before I had my son, and that was contributing to my body not ovulating very well, because I had it on my ovaries. And so, it’s a very common problem that does get misdiagnosed. And it’s amazing what a little bit of education could do, so.     

Ana: 

Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. And, you know, I’m really sorry you went through it. And I think that, you know, they say it’s 1 in 10 women. At Hormone University, we speak to doctors all the time, and actually they believe it’s much higher than that. And then, you add other stuff like PCOS, which we’re doing a full week about this, this week in fact, and so many other thyroid issues, etc.

So, going back to your question, Amy, I wish you had been there at the time, and I would have known about Proov. So, look, I tried everything and I was one of those people that I would read. I would call endometriosis experts from all over the world. And, you know, nutrition as well.

Unfortunately, in my case, I could not prevent it, and — like I said earlier, I think there is a strong link to the stress we go through in life as women, and I had a pretty good, you know, kind of demanding job. I was growing in my career. I was doing really well. And I think that definitely had a major effect.

So, my survival mechanism was about taking pain killers and trying not to have sugar, not to — you know, reduce alcohol, and basically — you know dairy, and gluten, and all of that, of course I tried all of that, and take all of the supplements you could imagine. But unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. And surgery after surgery.

I think the one thing that I learned — so, my doctor was in Spain and I was living in London at the time, so I think one of the mistakes I made was not to — basically one of the surgeries, the doctor I don’t think was a true expert in removing endometriosis, and I think he burnt my follicles, and my chances of becoming pregnant decreased so much after that surgery. So, I can’t imagine how many women go through this, and that’s one of the things that I always say to people, you know, when they come to me. Do your homework on who is taking care of you.

Amy:

Yeah. No, this is really, really important. You know, we always tell women don’t use Proov, don’t use these things as a replacement for medical advice, more of a conversation starter, because it’s really important that once you have this information and this knowledge, that you go see a professional that knows how to use that knowledge to help you, right?

And so, I see a lot of women who, you know, go on Amazon, and they go on the board, oh, what can I do to this, that, or whatever, and it's like, oh, you need — I guess the really popular one right now is Mucinex. You need Mucinex to increase your cervical fluid, so you can conceive. They’re all out there buying Mucinex. And I’m like, well you don’t know what Mucinex actually does. It could be preventing something else from happening, I don’t know. But just don’t blindly treat things based on knowledge, but take that, write it down, and then go see a healthcare professional to really help you.

Ana:

Absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. And found out things like, you know, how many patients have they treated with your own condition, right? And I think that’s just so powerful. You know, it will just give you that safety and that psychological tranquility, right? So, yeah, it’s really crucial.

Amy:

Yeah, I mean, the idea of stress, I mean, it is so, so true that, you know, we as women, we’re — you know, we’re career women; we maybe have, you know, other kids at home.

Ana:

Yeah.

Amy:

We just have so much stuff and stress in our lives. And, you know, you put on this like trying to conceive or just I’m in so much pain, I need to be out of pain, and you almost get in this negative feedback loop, where you’re like I just need to chill out, but you can’t chill out, because you’re stressed out.

And it’s like someone goes, oh, yeah, just relax. You’re like, you know what, I can’t just relax. It’s not like you, oh, sorry, I forgot to turn the relax switch on, okay, now I’m good, right? So, you know, this is a huge thing that women deal with high stress and what do we do about it? And so, you know, we try to collect ways that women can turn that switch off, like what can they do to help?

Some people take supplements. You know, a big one is ashwagandha, that really helps with the stress response. Definitely, definitely diets, lifestyle, you know, exercise, those kinds of things. I mean, there’s so much — you know, if you eat a diet high in sugar, it causes inflammation and it causes your body to feel like it’s stressed out. But, you know, another one is talking to people, you know?

Ana:

Yeah.

Amy:

A support program, a psychologist, psychiatrist, like somebody to, you know, help you through these things, because they can get bottled up and cause stress, and it is very, very isolating to deal with something so, you know, painful. I can’t imagine —

Ana:

Totally. I’m so glad you’re saying that. I’m so glad, Amy, because I think that we were born to be strong, but dammit, we’re not that strong. I mean, Jesus, you know? And I think that what you just said about getting help, I wish — okay, that is one thing I wish I had done, for sure. And I only did it — you know, my friends were like, God, you know, Ana, what you went through, you know, the last surgery, six hour surgery, colon resection, you know, surgical menopause.

I mean, they opened me up, right? So, my coping mechanism was to kind of not talk about it, and just leave it on the side. And then, I would be talking to someone like I am now with you, and I would start crying. In fact, I still have to like control myself. So, my friends were like, you need to talk to someone. This is not good, you know? And I started getting help. And that — you know, it’s been so good to do that.

So, yeah, don’t suffer in silence. You know, find a good therapist. Your friends are great therapists too. You know, find the time to talk to them, connect with them. You know, they’re really great support if you don’t want to worry your family or whatever.

Amy:

Yeah.

Ana:

So, yeah, really, really important.

Amy:

Yeah, I mean, we have a really strong online community, because we have a lot of women that are coming to us that are struggling and they’re trying to conceive and they can’t. And they can’t tell their friends and family, because it’s not something they want to publicly say.

And so, you know, having an online community — like Instagram is a really good one, because you can have whatever name you want, IsabellaTTC513, right, and you could be totally anonymous, but you have the knowledge and the support system that you need to kind of like, you know, there’s other people going through this, and I can ask questions and get information.

Ana:

Yeah, absolutely. We’re starting at Hormone University to also create just some conversations around this on Clubhouse, and let’s see how it goes, but I think, yeah, that anonymity factor is important, absolutely.

Amy:

Yeah. So, back to what exactly Hormone University is and get people excited about this. So, you take subjects like PCOS, and you dive into the science. You’re like this is what happens when the hormones are in PCOS.   

Ana:

Right.

Amy:

Is that kind of what women can expect?

Ana:

So, what — the mission and the goal of Hormone University is to provide information, but it’s to provide clear information and to make it easier to digest, so that it’s not too scientific. And so, what we’re doing in the background, behind the scenes, is to — let’s say it’s PCOS, we then do our research for quite a while to understand how do we explain this in a clear way, and how do we make it, you know, kind of educational for people. So, someone might not know they have PCOS, but they might have, you know, unwanted extra hair or weight gain, and they’re like, oh, my God, what’s going on, or acne.

So, it’s just to kind of make that information very, very clear to people, so they can understand what’s going on, and offer tips, of course, and answer questions whenever we can. We, of course, have to say to people, you have to go to a doctor. We’re not, let’s say a doctor platform. I’m guessing you get the same as well. It’s like what do I do about this? You’re like, you need to go to your doctor. We are here to provide as much information as we can, so.

Amy:

Yeah. Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, like you had the extreme pleasure of having a doctor sit down with you for like an hour and a half. Most women get 5 minutes, maybe 10.

Ana:

I know, right?

Amy:

And so, if you’re dealing with really complex hormonal issues and you’re like, yeah, you know, I’m just not feeling well, it’s like all right, the doctors have like this huge list of things they can look at in labs, and like, you know, they try to figure it out, but you only have 5-10 minutes.

Whereas if you were to go to the doctor and you were like, you know what, I learned about this; I have these symptoms. Can you specifically run this panel? That’s an educated conversation now that you can use your time the best to solve those issues faster. So, that’s what I always tell people is you came here for knowledge, we gave you this knowledge, here is what you say back to them to get, you know, that resolution, that treatment.

Ana:

Absolutely. You’re right. And that’s the thing, right, doctors don’t have the time, so.

Amy:

Yeah, so doctors are experts in medicine. Women are the experts in themselves. And so, when you come in with a well educated woman and a well educated doctor, they can put the two together and you can get your goal as fast as possible.

So, it takes a good relationship between patient and doctor to really hit that goal. And so, that knowledge makes you the best educated version of yourself, and what we talked about was finding a good doctor makes that piece good. And so, that’s gonna be the most successful situation.

Ana:

Absolutely. And, you know, that’s why we launched — I say we; we’re a small team, but we launched Hormone University effectively with that goal, so that people could go to the doctor already knowing, okay, this is what’s going on and this is not just some random Google search. Everything has been reached. And so, yeah, definitely that’s the goal.

We’re also doing other things like we want to make — you know, the US is a particular country when it comes to healthcare, right? So, things like the tampon tax, which I was quite amazed about, right, that — I mean, we spend thousands in period care, so we’re like we need to do something about this. So, we launched a petition to eliminate the tampon tax in the states where it’s still there. I’m like, who thought that period care is a luxury item. You know that’s the classification? I mean, it’s — of course, you know, nothing against men, but it had to be someone who didn’t have a clue, you know, so.

Amy:

Yeah. I mean, healthcare is kind of broken in general, you know, but the standard of care for a woman to get reproductive services is to be trying for 12 months or have had 3 miscarriages. And I’m like whoever thought of that had to have been a male, because as soon as a female goes through their first miscarriage, they’re like, yeah, no, I don’t want to go through two more to get help.

Ana:

Oh, yeah.

Amy:

So, you know, it’s one of those men that just don’t deal with periods and they don’t deal with, you know, pregnancy and pregnancy losses in the way that women do.

Ana:

Yeah. I read an interview the other day of someone who said if men got periods on a monthly basis, the world would be run by women. And I think there’s probably — you know, we will never know, but it’s an interesting thought.

Amy:

Yeah. The other thing we were kind of discussing before we hopped on the video was this idea of funding in women’s health. You know, the fact is there’s so much innovation that needs to be done in this space. Like women just don’t have the right tools. You know, I have a colleague that’s helping to do a noninvasive test for endometriosis. I mean, gone are the days you have to get exploratory surgery to get a diagnosis. It’s literally like a small biopsy, and they send it, and it’s like you can diagnose it, and it’s done, right?

You know, we helped diagnose problems with ovulation, which are the leading cause of infertility. You know, hey, this is really powerful information. And so, you know, these kinds of things need to be innovated, and there’s just a lack of funding for these resources, because a lot of the funds are managed by men that aren’t faced with these challenges.

And so, here we are, women that are trying to make a difference, and we’re bootstrapping. I mean, I invented the thing in my basement five years ago. I didn’t have a whole bunch of money to kind of, you know, do this, and so we have slowly grown the technology and did more validation, went through FDA clearance, and this stuff, but it took a long time to get to where we are.

And you’re in a similar situation where it’s just you have a passion to change based off of what you went through, and so I commend you for doing that. And, you know, just letting all the listeners know that it’s just so tough to create innovative things that if you want change — if you don’t want there to be a period tax, and if you want better healthcare, you know, support these local companies.

And support doesn’t mean you have to buy the product; support means go tell your friend about the product or repost something that you saw on social media or whatever. Start the conversation, because it's — you know, these things are very taboo. Nobody wants to talk about their painful periods. Oh, you know, you’re a strong woman, just suck it up ‘til next month. No, absolutely not. We’ve got to talk about it.

Ana:

Yeah, absolutely. And thank you for mentioning that, Amy. I think, you know, the more we say it as well, the more it’s gonna become a conscious factor for all women, right? So, the one thing you mentioned about asking women founders. And we just need everyone’s support, right? And it doesn’t cost anything to forward something to a couple of friends. Like all of these little things make a big difference.

To us, we’re like working day and night, and trying to do something that will have an impact in society. And I’m so happy you mentioned that, and, you know, whoever listens to this, we want to thank you in advance for listening, because that already makes a difference.

And yeah, no more suffering in silence, please. I did it. That was not good. And I still remember, Amy, when I sent an article. It was actually the front page of one of the leading newspapers in the UK, the Guardian. And I’m like, okay, so I was a partner of this personal care company and I was the only female partner there, so I was heading global sales and marketing, you know, like traveling everywhere, and like opening new markets, and, of course dying with suffering at the same time, right?

And, you know, sometimes I would sit in meetings, and I would be like bending down with pain, looking at my male partners, like, oh, yeah — you know, and they would be ignoring, you know, that kind of look of we don’t want to deal with this, like she’s got her period. So, I remember sending an email saying this is what I’m going through. And just the link. And guess what? He never got back to me. He didn’t say I’m really sorry you’re going through this. Oh, my God. You know, nothing? I mean, nothing at all. And I want to stop that. I really want to stop that. That is not fair.

Amy:

Yeah, that’s crazy.

Ana:

Right? Such lack of empathy, right?

Amy:

Yeah. I mean, you were a very strong individual that put yourself in that situation. Many, many women won’t do that. They’ll sit at home. They won’t be able to hold a job. They won’t be able to do certain things, because they’re just so much in pain and they don’t want to let that part of them out. They’re like, I can’t leave my house and go to a board meeting, because I’m in so much pain.

And it prevents them from being their best self, right, from getting that job that they want, going on that date that they wanted to go on, or whatever it is, right? And so, you know, what you’re doing is helping so many women. And so, it’s amazing, because there’s so many people that —

Ana:

Yeah. I still get a little bit emotional thinking about what you just said, Amy. It’s — no one deserves that, you know? No one, no one, no one should go through that. No one. It’s unfair.

And so, you know, it’s heartbreaking. The people that get in touch with us to say, oh, my God, it isn’t known about this; thank you, or — you know what, actually you just inspired me to — I’m gonna tell my team, let’s do a post about talking in the workplace. I think we’re gonna do that. We have to speak up for ourselves, so.

Amy:

Yeah, absolutely. One time, a little bit off topic but still kind of on topic, I had the pleasure of going to P&G headquarters in Cincinnati —

Ana:

Procter and Gamble, yeah.

Amy:

 — the maker of Always and Tampax.

Ana:

Yeah, yeah.

Amy:

And I remember leaving the meeting and going to the restroom, and it was like the best restroom I could possibly imagine, because it was stocked with things like Bounty, and Charmin, and Tampax, and Always. And it was like — I was like, oh my God, could you imagine if that’s where you worked and you didn’t have to worry about stuffing a tampon into your pocket and running to the bathroom. It was like there and ready for you. It was like, oh my God.    

Ana:

Yeah. I actually worked for a Competitor of Proctor, so I know these corporations work, and I remember the bathrooms. They were great. I used to get beautiful free shampoo, and all these creams, and so yeah, it — or asking your colleague, hey, do you have a tampon?

Amy:

Right.

Ana:

You know, dying of like — you know, being terrified that your pants are gonna get stained and — yeah.

Amy:

Yeah, yeah. Do you do anything with, you know, adolescent girls that are going through puberty? Do you have any education and stuff on that?

Ana:

Yeah. We’re going to actually work on educating more on everything that’s PMS, and we just did a series on PMS and PMDD and birth control. So, yeah, it’s a big, big topic for us, ‘cause, you know, it all starts there, right? On average it’s 12 years old, right, when we get our period, so we find it extremely important to educate from as early as possible for sure.

Amy:

Yeah. I mean, this could be a whole other podcast, but I think, you know, women that are going — these young girls that are going through puberty, they’re getting put on hormonal contraception now, and it’s like their body doesn’t even know how to ovulate. And it’s like messing us up.

Like, you know, I have a 7-year-old daughter, and I’m like, okay, we need to hurry up with this innovation train, because I’m not gonna be putting her on this when she’s coming of age. Like, it’s just not gonna happen, because I think that’s what made me infertile, and I’m one, but I hear so many other stories that it messes with the body’s ability to regulate it’s own hormones, and it’s like you cannot take birth control to fix PCOS, endometriosis, whatever. It’s a Band-Aid of sorts. It’s not a fix.

Ana:

Band-Aid, exactly.

Amy:

A really Band-Aid at that.    

Ana:

It’s a really bad Band-Aid, absolutely. And I’m so glad you mentioned these, again, because two weeks ago when we did birth control, you know, we were doing the research, and I’m like, dig deeper because we need to show people about side effects.

And I think that the medical community sometimes, because of lack of time — and again, I’m not — you know, maybe I have to be careful with what I say, but I’m very frustrated with the brainwashing coming from the pharma industry, and this might sound controversial, but I stand by it. And so, you know, how many times they stopped my periods, you know, with injections, with birth control methodologies, didn’t help me at all. At all. It’s just like a very bad band-aid, and don’t get me started. I mean, I have a very strong opinion about this, so.   

Amy:

Yeah. No, I 100% agree. You know, the part that I struggle with is unintended pregnancy is very, very hard on children, right? And so, we have contraceptives, hormonal, are not good, and then you have unintended pregnancy is also not good. Which is like the lesser of the evils? And both of them you don’t want, so there’s something in the middle that we have to do.

We have to have a system that’s not gonna mess our children up, but it’s also gonna be to help them not have this unintended pregnancy, right? And so, that’s that innovation piece that I’m like, okay, you guys have like five years, get on it.

Ana:

Yeah, totally. And I think at the moment, there are all these apps to track your cycle. You know, but are they gonna be kind of — what’s the word, disciplined, right, at that age.

Amy:

You can’t expect a 12-year-old to, you know, do that kind of stuff. That’s the problem. You can expect her to go in and get an IUD in and not have to worry about it. That you can expect a 12-year-old to do, but.

Ana:

Yeah. It’s a tough one, I have to say. A tough one.

Amy:

But I’m glad you’re tackling topics like this. You know, it’s just not easy to talk about, especially when, you know, your ideas don’t match someone else’s ideas. So, having a place like Hormone University that has all this information curated in one section where you can take that and say, hey, doctor, I don’t want an X or I want Y, it’s so powerful.

Ana:

Right.

Amy:

So, I thank you for everything that you’re doing. Very, very much needed.     

Ana: 

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Amy:

If you could, tell our listeners where to find you.

Ana:

Yeah, thank you. So, we are on Instagram @hormoneuniversity, all together. And our website, which we just relaunched and it’s kind of very dynamic and you’ll find all the latest articles and everything, it’s Hormone-University.com.

Amy:

Awesome. And I will link that too. I think it’s just so powerful to have this information, so.    

Ana:

Yeah.

Amy:

Anyways, I’m gonna wrap up. Thank you very much for being on the show. I really appreciated it. I know the listeners are going to enjoy going to the website and learning about all these different things. So, thank you for taking your struggle and turning it around to something powerful for other women.

Ana:

Thank you so much, Amy. It’s such a pleasure. Thank you.