Ana G. Herrera knows what it’s like to be unheard. She spent more than 10 years fighting for doctors to address the intense pain that accompanied the fibroid tumors she was diagnosed with in her early twenties. The searing pain was coupled with the mental anguish of trying to understand what she was dealing with and find a way to get doctors to listen to her feedback and concerns. She was repeatedly dismissed and gaslit before doctors pinned down the hormonal condition that was causing her anguish.
Herrera chose to prevent other women from having similar experiences by equipping them with some of the resources they’d need to speak up for themselves. “My company Hormone University basically aims to educate women about hormonal imbalances so that they can themselves understand more about their own bodies and how they function,” said Herrera. “I want women to understand and to know as much as possible.”
Had Hererra had a resource like the one she started, her health outcome likely would’ve been different. “I suffered from a condition called endometriosis for most of my adult life,” she explained. Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the type present in the uterine lining forms outside of the uterus, causing chronic inflammation and potentially severe scar tissue. Studies show it affects 10–15% of all women of reproductive age. By the time the condition was diagnosed in Herrera, it was greatly advanced. “Unfortunately I had stage four endometriosis which led doctors to perform a full hysterectomy,” she said. “It was a six-hour surgery.”
She’s had five total surgeries to date. “The pain is pretty excruciating,” she added. “I spent around 40% of my time in excruciating pain.”
Herrera, and her fellow chronic pain sufferers, wrestle with more than just physical pain though. “It’s very, very hard because there is this stigma, right, that is attached to hormonal conditions. And then we are kind of labeled as hysterical or emotional and, unfortunately, men don’t have an idea of what we go through.” She hopes that celebrities like Keke Palmer and Tia Mowry opening up about their experiences with hormone-based illnesses will help normalize them in the public eye.
Palmer recently revealed she had been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and Mowry wrote an edometriosis-friendly cookbook filled with anti-inflammatory dishes. “So many now celebrities have started to just talk openly about it,” said Herrera. “And I think that’s creating a positive awareness because I think that, you know, the medical community will listen to it. It has impacted my mental health. When you suffer from chronic pain, when women’s pain isn’t taken seriously enough, it really affects us.”
According to The Journal of Law Medicine and Ethics, “There are gender-based biases regarding women’s pain experiences. These biases have led health-care providers to discount women’s self-reports of pain at least until there is objective evidence for the pain’s cause.”
“It can lead to depression,” Herrera continued. “There’s a high rate of also suicide because you just can’t deal with this pain, you know, you can, you can try and stuff yourself with painkillers, but there is no end to it. There is also a kind of free panic every time that you’re, you’re going into PMS because you know that pain is coming.”
An extensive survey of 13,500 women conducted by the BBC found that nearly half of those diagnosed with endometriosis have been plagued by suicidal thoughts. The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports that “higher levels of depression” were present “among women with endometriosis compared to controls.”
Because of how critical the information Hormone University provides is it’s not hidden behind a paywall.
“The number one goal is to educate. So when you go to our website and you go to our editorial content, and by the way, everything is absolutely free. There is no premium subscription or anything like that. We are basically here to provide knowledge from experts and create positive social impact. So when you go to our editorial content, you’ll be able to find articles from our own research and from talking to experts in the different fields.”
Hormone University empowers its audience by providing them with the vocabulary they need to speak up. It provides a full hormone dictionary that defines many of the puzzling terms patients hear in doctor’s offices and clinics on a regular basis in addition to their editorial content. They also promote civic action in the women’s health space.
“One big initiative that we have launched is to eliminate that tampon tax because it’s currently considered that menstrual care products are luxury goods, and this is something that impacts low-income groups,” Herrera explained.
The company provides downloadable non-clinical resources that help women manage their healthcare decisions. “We just launched a really cool wellness planner because we want women to control what they’re doing for their health, right? So that’s something that you can download for free. It’s a guide that’s where you can write your goals on a daily basis.”
She continued, “We want to focus on the self-care. We want women to really, really start looking after themselves before anything happened. So our vision is to continue working on that education.”
Learn more about Hormone University here.