HEALTH by Sarah Stacey
Keeping track of your period is far from a novel concept. Some scholars have even proposed that the markings on the Ishango bone – an ancient African artefact – may have been an early lunar calendar to track menstruation. What has changed, however, is the technology. No more marking P in your diary, as I did. Now you can chart your cycle on your smartphone.
Tracking your hormonal cycle offers important insights into female health. ‘It’s a useful step for understanding PMS, detecting conditions such as endometriosis and charting fertility. I definitely support it as part of a woman’s health programme,’ says consultant gynaecologist Michael Dooley.
Health platform Flo is the first to use artificial intelligence to give accurate cycle predictions. To date, the free app has ten million users globally, monitoring different stages in the hormonal cycle from menstruation to pregnancy, early motherhood and menopause. By anonymously logging information such as symptoms, weight and moods, each user receives personalised feedback about their reproductive health.
Flo recently added another fan – the supermodel and mother of five Natalia Vodianova, who calls it ‘life-changing’. She began using Flo this year to track her fertility. ‘After two days, Flo knew me better than my partner. After a week, it knew more about me than I did,’ Natalia told my colleague Miranda Thompson when they met recently.
After Flo told Natalia that her daughter Neva, 11, was a candidate for the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccination, she contacted the app’s founder and joined as a key investor and director. ‘It’s an incredible tool for women. The more you know about your body, the more you know how to be healthier.’ Natalia will encourage Neva to use Flo when the time comes. ‘I want her to know that having a period is a beautiful time to take care of yourself.’
When Natalia was growing up in the Soviet Union, ‘you didn’t talk about what was happening to your body’. She adds, ‘When my boobs started to grow, I thought something was wrong with me. My mother said nothing. I was too ashamed to talk to my grandmother about it, so I just worried.’
Encouraging openness around periods is fundamental to Natalia’s global campaign ‘Let’s Talk About It. Period’. This month, she is travelling to India, where menstruating women are often considered ‘dirty’ or ‘unclean’, to speak out on period stigma and empower women.
Natalia thinks society should be more considerate when women have their period, particularly at work. ‘If you’re sick, sometimes you can’t go to work. It’s the same when women have bad period pains. It should be taken seriously,’ she says. Her take-home message to women is ‘don’t be ashamed to talk about it’.