Understanding your body is one of my key messages when it comes to midlife – hey, we called the Pausitivity campaign #KnowYourMenopause so I think that says it all. Which is why, when I first heard about Forth’s Female Hormone Mapping, I was keen to find out more.
What is Female Hormone Mapping?
Our hormones play an essential role in our wellbeing, but we’re often left in the dark as to what they’re doing and the impact this has on us.
During our menstrual cycle, our hormones go up and down with the demands of our ovaries (you can find out more in my guide to oestrogen and my guide to progesterone). These changes can leave you feeling tired, invigorated, hungry, restless, excited – you name it.
Forth’s Female Hormone Mapping combines a blood test with artificial intelligence and expert analysis to check four key female hormones and provide a personal guide to how your hormones will fluctuate over the cycle. Forth also does a test for menopause.
A single finger prick will give enough biomarkers to give you a selfie of your body’s hormones!
What are biomarkers?
Knew that was coming! They are “biological markers” – measurements of what is happening in a body at given time. So your blood pressure or heart rate are biomarkers, together with more complex tests such as your blood or urine composition and genetic make-up.
Thanks to medical advances over the last few years, biomarkers can now help with early diagnosis and personalised treatment, even helping show if a certain treatment will be effective or not.
And the best thing about Forth…?
It was started by a woman! Sarah Bolt is one of the women who was with me on an early APPG Menopause Zoom meeting for the #MenopauseRevolution, and being the sharp, investigative journalist I am (okay, nosey), I instantly googled her. She has an impressive background that is just perfect for my Celebrating Women section.
Bristol-born, she began her career as a music promoter in London before moving into marketing (her degree was in communications). And she was successful, with jobs at the likes of Virgin, Jack Daniels and Dyson (hmmm… wonder if she has a coveted hairdryer?)
But then, with two children, she hit 40 and like many of us at this time, Sarah began wondering what she was doing with her life.
It lead to her dropping her career of more than 20 years to do a masters, during which she discovered a passion for healthcare.
Here, Sarah tells us more about her change of life, biomarkers and why she’s a Meno Warrior…
Tell me about why you decided to do a Masters aged 40…
“When I turned 40, I was working as an new product development manager for Dyson, commuting three hours a day while trying my best to be a good mum to two young boys. Life just wasn’t working and it certainly didn’t feel enjoyable.
“My career has always been important to me and I didn’t want to give that up, but I asked myself what kind of imprint would all these hours working leave on society, what would be my legacy? I decided I wanted to move into a sector that had more purpose, one that could benefit from the 20 years marketing experience I had spent working on global brands.
“Healthcare was the sector I set my sights on, so I gave up my job, enrolled on a part-time masters degree in social marketing (marketing for social good) while at the same time getting some temporary contracts with the NHS working on behaviour change campaigns. Seven years after making that jump, I founded Forth.”
What is Forth?
“Our mission at Forth is to help people feel at their best throughout life by understanding what is going on inside their body and the steps they can take to improve their health. We do this through the provision of blood tests that can be done at home and sent to a lab for analysis.
“Results are displayed through an easy to understand dashboard and our team of doctors will give helpful tips on how you can improve your body’s biochemistry so you can feel better and hopefully live longer.”
What inspired you to set it up?
“The lightbulb moment for Forth really came when I bought my first FitBit in 2013. I loved the way they graphically presented data, but I wanted a deeper understanding of what was going on in my body that gave me more insight about how ‘healthy’ I was and how I could feel better.
“Healthcare had already started to change quite dramatically – the term ‘Digital Health’ started to emerge and people were becoming more interested in health prevention rather than sickness care. I didn’t know it then, but as I was starting Forth, I had also started my journey into the perimenopause.”
What challenges did you face?
For me, there have been two big challenges: one, raising investment, and two, over-coming imposter syndrome – and both are very much intertwined.
“As a business-to-consumer healthcare business, I needed to raise investment to really get the business off the ground. I knew nothing about raising money nor no one wealthy! It’s well documented that female-led companies only secure a small percentage of overall investment funding and add that to the fact that five years ago there weren’t companies like Forth around and angel investors questioned if a market existed.
“After hitting a brick wall, I decided to let the public decide if we had a viable business and launched a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube. It was a success and we’ve gone on to raise two further investment raises.
“Getting told you and your idea are not good enough time and time again is quite a brutal experience and a lot of woman struggle with confidence. At the beginning, I used to find it uncomfortable asking people to invest in me and the business but now it is a different story. After all, if you don’t back yourself, how can you ask others to back you?”
Can biomarkers help menopausal women?
“Yes, absolutely. Women are not prepared for the hormone changes that happen in their body, usually from their mid-40s, or really understand the impact those changes are having and will continue to have on their health.
“I wish I knew what was happening to my hormones and how fast they were changing throughout my 40s so I could have had some certainty about why I was feeling the way I was and make informed decisions regarding HRT.
“A few years ago, our chief medical officer, Dr Nicky Keay, who is an endocrinology specialist, invited me to join a bone-health study. Through this, I found out my hip and back bones had deteriorated and I was on the osteopenia range (the stage before osteoporosis). I was shocked. I considered myself to be fit and healthy, but the reality was my oestrogen levels were on the floor and this was impacting on my bone health [you can find out more about menopause bone loss here].
“This prompted me to look at how we could use Forth more to help women through the perimenopause and beyond. We already offered through a female hormone test and a menopause test, the latter of which enabled women to keep a check on their bone health and heart health, two areas impacted detrimentally by the menopause.
“However, current clinical practice is not to offer blood tests for women to confirm perimenopause because one-off blood tests that just measure hormones on a single day are of limited use. We agreed, so with the support of an government innovation grant, we developed a way to predict how a woman’s hormones fluctuate over her entire menstrual cycle using a combination of blood analysis and clinical expertise combined with artificial intelligence.
“The end result is Female Hormone Mapping, which is a potential game-changer by giving women more certainty of when their hormones are deteriorating and the speed of that deterioration.”
Can it help other female health concerns?
“Female Hormone Mapping is useful for all women who have naturally occurring cycles. For far too long female hormones have been talked about solely in the context of fertility and while that is important, hormones also have far reaching impact on a woman’s health beyond reproduction.
“The four key hormones – follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), oestrogen and progesterone – also impact the nervous system, the musculoskeletal system, the digestive system, the cardiovascular system, the immune system and metabolism. In short, female hormones are integral to a woman’s health, so checking your hormones are fluctuating throughout your cycle in the expected pattern is important.”
Finally, what do you hope to achieve with the APPG Menopause?
“I’m really excited to be involved with this initiative and feel that if woman work together, we can make a positive change [hear, hear!].
“For too long the significant impact of the menopause on women’s health and wellbeing has been unspoken. I’ve been through it and even working in healthcare I was not prepared – and surprisingly, our chief medical officer would say the same. Close female friends were being put on anti-depressants by their GPs and amongs this group of educated women there seemed to be a general lack of knowledge about HRT, other than the scaremongering of certain sectors of the tabloid newspapers.
“One of the joys of starting Forth is I can focus the business on areas I feel passionate about and that use the business to shed a light on female health, starting with the menopause and helping to support Carolyn Harris’s initiative [click here for more on the #MenopauseRevolution].”
To find out more about Forth, visit forthwithlife.co.uk.
What are your thoughts? Would you like to have more hormone testing done? Let me know in the comments below – and don’t forget to subscribe to download your free guide to HRT, menopause and midlife.