Well Woman Weekly: Jannine Versi on Smashing the Menopause Taboo

Every Friday, we send out a weekly roundup of what’s new on Blood & Milk along with articles you may have missed from the archives. We also include an interview with an inspiring woman and this week we’re excited to Jannine Versi. To get the newsletter, sign up here.

Jannine Versi is the COO and co-founder of Elektra Health, a brand that is on a mission to smash the menopause taboo. Elektra is an innovative women’s health company helping women navigate the menopause transition with evidence-based education, virtual care & community. Elektra’s 21st Century Guide to Menopause helps women understand where they are in their menopause journey, how to proactively manage symptoms, and optimize long-term health and wellness. 

Jannine Versi, Co-Founder & COO, Elektra Health

You’ve talked in the past about observing many recent innovations in areas of women’s health like fertility and sexual health, but menopause has largely remained untouched. Why do you think this is?

There are many reasons but broadly, menopause suffers from a particular stigma because it connotes aging. I don’t think fertility and pregnancy are tainted in quite the same way, at least in part because our society privileges notions of motherhood and child-rearing (at least in theory). In the research community, PubMed has nearly one million articles referencing pregnancy, but fewer than 10 percent (84k) mention menopause. 

Women have largely internalized a sexist and ageist message that we’re supposed to just live with menopause, grit our teeth, and bear the symptoms. Many believe there aren’t solutions out there for them besides hormone replacement therapy, which is itself pretty misunderstood. As a result, both women and their doctors don’t talk about menopause. If we don’t discuss it, we can’t really innovate on it. This is, fortunately, starting to change but it’s a shift that must happen at all levels, ranging from medicine and science (i.e. scientific funding and physician training) to discourse on menopause and its impact on everyone (not just women) at home, at work, and in our culture.

Who is Elektra for? Which Elektra products or services might you recommend for someone just on the brink of perimenopause versus someone nearing the end of their menopausal journey?

Elektra is for women who are at any stage of navigating the menopause transition. Menopause technically means 12 months without a menstrual cycle. It’s actually just a moment in time, but the word also refers to a longer transition that for 80 percent of women entails physical and emotional changes. The average age of menopause in the U.S. is 51, but for most, symptoms become most noticeable in the early-to-mid 40s (some research actually indicates the late 30s), and they can continue for 10+ years. Menopause can come earlier or later, and everyone’s experience is unique.  There’s no single way to experience this universal female hormonal transition.

Elektra offers the first-of-its-kind digital platform with evidence-based pathways and educational content for managing symptoms, as well as a private community of support and 1:1 access to a dedicated menopause expert (a real person—not a bot!). In addition, women can receive virtual care through secure telemedicine visits, which can include labs and Rx, with our board-certified doctors and nurse practitioners who specialize in menopause and sexual medicine. Our philosophy of care is evidence-based, holistic, and in accordance with the gold standard set by the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) and other leading medical research institutions. No matter where someone is in their years-long menopause journey, Elektra is here to offer expertise, support, and community from highly-trained and empathic medical professionals.

From hot flashes to vaginal dryness, there are many infamous menopause symptoms, and yet, only 20 percent of OB-GYN programs train their doctors in menopause. How is Elektra helping fix this educational deficiency and get women the care and knowledge they deserve?

It’s a pretty stunning statistic when you pause and think about how closely we associate women’s health, in general, and no matter the age, with OB/GYN care. The fact is that menopause medicine is complex and menopause counseling by providers takes time, longer than the 15.7 minutes that most OB/GYNs can spend with patients today. Appropriate menopause care entails a lot of education and counseling, individualized based on someone’s specific needs, symptoms, and goals. This isn’t reimbursed as well as procedural medicine (to no one’s surprise, I’m sure). 

Elektra is stepping up to fill this gap on numerous fronts. Our Meno-morphosis program provides educational content, built by top medical experts, to ensure women can access the information they need based on the latest science and research to make informed choices about their care and how to optimize long-term health. We work with providers who are experienced in menopause care and certified by the North American Menopause Society. We’re also working with one of our medical advisors, Dr. Lila Nachtigall, to help educate and train a new generation of providers. Finally, we’re collaborating on research with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to advance the field of menopause management to benefit all providers and women.

You just closed a round of funding (congratulations!) and are actively growing the Elektra team. How do you balance this responsibility and hard work with making time for your own mental and physical health?

Thank you! It’s a great question and one that we think about a lot because building a startup—or anything from scratch—is challenging, time-consuming work, not to mention in the midst of a global pandemic. I don’t have the perfect solution but I try to put into practice the advice we often share with the women in the Elektra community: to carve out time to take care of your own health and wellbeing—physically and emotionally—in order to be able to care for others at home and at work. Specifically, for me, that’s committing to a few really important things that keep me grounded and enjoying my day-to-day. Sitting down to dinner with my husband most nights of the week (no iPhones allowed) and sticking to some kind of wind-down time before bed (Netflix allowed but no email) really helps. Plus regular chair massages (20 mins will turn me into a new woman!), long walks and short jogs in the park, and seeing my girlfriends IRL as much as possible are really restorative for me.

What’s next for Elektra and how can people join the community?

Stay tuned! There are lots of exciting things in the works, especially as October is World Menopause Awareness Month (mark your calendars :). Join our taboo-smashing movement at ElektraHealth.com. There you can learn more about our NEW Meno-morphosis program, dive into Elektra’s 21st century guide to menopause, and maybe even apply to join our amazing team

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