Welcome to this podcast about un-hating periods by addressing the inflammation underlying period pain, bloating, fatigue, and other symptoms.
How’s it going? Did you know that before dentist chairs were invented the patient’s head was clenched between the surgeons knees? Didn’t see that coming did ya?!
Welcome to this podcast about un-hating periods by addressing the inflammation underlying period pain, bloating, fatigue, and other symptoms. Our special guests, two of three co-founders of Semaine Health, and the lead researcher and former cellular signalling and ageing scientist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Dr Matthew Crane.
Matt Crane 1:05
Thank you very much for having us.
And we have a surprise guest, one of the other co-founders, Lauren, who is the CEO. Welcome Lauren,
Lauren Lee 1:17
Thank you so much for having us. We’re so excited to be here.
I’m very excited as well; this is the first time that I actually have two guests, and they are also related, and they’re also related in terms of what we’re going to talk about, and this is actually so cool. Thank you. Thanks so much for coming. I met Matt and got to learn about Semaine Health. Semaine is French for week about the length of a period, I’m assuming that’s the connection.
Lauren Lee 1:45
Exactly and taking Semaine, you just have to take it the week of your period, so we doubled down on the name of the supplement.
Fantastic. So it was through LinkedIn, I read one of Matt’s posts I thought, wow, we’re making anti-PMS pills now, and they actually work? This is a really under researched issue, very topical and important so I just had to invite Dr Crane onto the podcast, I’m so happy to now have two of the co-founders ready here for me to interview. The first thing I was going to mention was actually Matt’s relationship to the other two co-founders. So, let’s start with that.
Matt Crane 2:26
So yeah, I’m actually married to Lauren, and that’s actually kind of how everything got started because Lauren has endometriosis and is really suffering from period pain and other sorts of discomfort for most of the time that we’ve been together. And so, it was one of those things; I’ve been with her on this journey as she’s gotten into surgery for endometriosis and learning about the disease progression of that.
Matt Crane 2:55
Anyone who must go through the healthcare system often for diseases that are less popular or less well known, you have to end up taking a lot of initiative in your own hands. And so just given my background as a biologist, it was really easy for me to do a lot of research into endometriosis, period pain and discomfort for her so I could be an advocate as she was going through the medical system. I just started reading lots of papers and lots of scientific literature and so that’s kind of how we got started on this. `And then Kath is actually Lauren’s twin sister and has a lot of similar conditions, similar pain points and so it’s a really tight knit family affair, co-founders, not very common for a lot of start-up companies.
That’s so amazing; so it felt like a family business.
Lauren Lee 3:45
It’s really interesting that you’ve taken something that started out as purely personal, and somehow weaved it in with your professional life.
Matt Crane 3:58
Exactly, it wasn’t something we `planned on doing or wanted to do. It was just one of those things that, as you’re going through this journey and realising that there just weren’t enough solutions because female health tends to be under looked, under-researched. So, it was one of those things that when we, I wouldn’t say stumbled on, because it took a lot of work, but certainly finding solutions that were helping Lauren and Kath was one of those things that we realised that if we weren’t taking initiative to try and make a difference, then maybe no one else was going to be doing that. And so, it’s obviously a personal passion and it just felt appropriate for us to try and to try and do something to make a difference.
Lauren Lee 4:45
It’s funny because Matt and I have two very different backgrounds. Obviously, he’s a research scientist and has been steeped in academia for decades, and I’m a graphic designer with just a bachelor’s degree. To be able to work on something together like this has been amazing and of course, from a personal standpoint, having Matt being able to help me literally with every single pain point that I have, has been incredible, but then also getting to partner together on a business, was not something we ever thought we would do when we got married 10 years ago.
That’s fantastic. As a graphic designer have you put your work on to the website because it’s a very nice website, I have to say.
Lauren Lee 5:33
Thank you so much. So, it’s not usual for the CEO to be doing all the content creation but because my background is in graphic design and art direction, I do all the content creation for our ads, our website, for all our packaging. So, I spend a lot of my time still doing what I was doing before we started Semaine, just with all the other responsibilities now of being a co-founder.
Amazing. I think the audience and myself can’t wait to learn more…… coming up next……
And we’re back. So, next, what are the challenges of taking a personal experience and turning it into a start up?
Lauren Lee 6:22
I know I can speak on that; just with my medical history and it’s interesting because Matt and I lived in the UK for a while too, so we’ve been through two different medical systems both in the UK and the US. And definitely for me personally, there’s been some trauma around the pain itself and just working through the systems and trying to get help. I never thought about turning my pain into something that could help others just because I felt I can forge my own path through that so having Matt essentially come up with a solution for me and then for everybody else has just been amazing. It gives purpose to me telling my story, either with endometriosis and or just period pain, and that’s been wonderful because people open up and tell us their stories and their journeys. I think it makes people feel far less alone but that isn’t something I would have done without starting Semaine, I would have just kept most of that to myself,
Matt Crane 7:22
Because there’s a lot of vulnerability behind telling your story and trying to put yourself out there and working through, specifically some of surgery and the medical trauma behind that. it was a little hard to put yourself out there in that way and go through the story and talk to other people; I think that’s very specific to us. I think the other thing that’s hard generally with taking a personal passion and turning into a start-up is making sure you understand what people are actually concerned about, because not everyone has the exact same conditions or past history and so it’s trying to make sure that you’re actually engaging with the people you want to be using the product and whose lives you want to affect and change.
Lauren Lee 8:02
Exactly, we talk about endometriosis a lot because that’s a condition I struggle with and Katherine as well and we’re very involved with the different Endo communities, both here and abroad. But really, Semaine, our PMS and period support supplement, is for helping women or people with periods with any sort of… it could be pelvic pain, it could be cramps, it could be bloating, it could be migraines. We’re trying to tackle all the different symptoms that women can feel on their period and that could be very different for me. Even somebody who also has endometriosis will feel very different. So as Matt was saying it is trying to listen to the pain points that people feel, and especially women have felt, dismissed by their doctors, not out of malicious reasoning but just because period pain is “normal”, and we want to help break the stigma around periods and having conversations about what really is normal and what isn’t.
Thank you. Perfect team: we’ve got the science side; we’ve got the personal experience side. I think a lot of people have to experience it to understand it, you can communicate about it, but you need to actually live it to really get it. So, both of you, from those sorts of different angles, in your experience so far, in your knowledge so far, what do you think is the cause for a lot of these symptoms, a lot of the issues that so many people are having and that healthcare systems are not really equipped to deal with?
Matt Crane 9:34
I think fundamentally underlying a lot of discomfort, especially around periods, about the menstrual cycle, really does come back to inflammation and I think it’s just a bit of a shame because given the historical practice of Western medicine and living in a largely patriarchal society, that period pain and discomfort, like childbirth and pain and discomfort have really been normalised to this incredible extent. If something is normal, then you don’t try and find solutions for it, and so we have a couple millennia of that deeply ingrained in our society. I think that’s really the fundamental cause why pharma hasn’t tackled this with greater seriousness or with medical practices well. If you look at studies looking at the amount of time lost even from an economic standpoint, you know there’s a lot of time and energy that is lost to discomfort or missed work or missed school for a lot of women, so, tackling this could be a huge economic benefit. I think it’s just been normalised for so long that it hasn’t been addressed. Underlying a lot of the pain and discomfort, recent studies have really been pointing to the fact that a lot of different causes are inflammatory and so the immune system is strongly connected to the menstrual cycle and there’s a lot of inflammation that just increases directly as you’re entering your period and starting to bleed, and that really does seem to be the underlying cause for a lot of these other different systems.
Lauren Lee 11:11
Which is incredible to me because I learned all this through Matt, and this is my body, I’m the one with the uterus and yet I don’t learn about this in school and our health classes in the US are very superficial, we don’t really talk about our bodies, about our cycles; particularly you know you’re just worried you’re going to start your period and you need to be prepared for that but no understanding on any level what that really means to your body or the fact that your cycle itself is a good indicator of your health, and not just fertility, or whether or not you’re going to have a baby. So, learning all these things and hopefully helping other women learn this is very empowering.
Thank you both so much. I think we want to know what Semaine can do because a lot of people are just going to have their mind blown by this. We’ll find out more in just a sec…….
What is Semaine? Does it work? and how does it work?
Lauren Lee 13:09
Semaine simply at a higher level, I’ll let Matt go into the science a little bit more, is a plant based anti-inflammatory supplement that you take just the week of your period to help with period pain and that could be cramping, bloating, fatigue, and I was beta tester number one.
Lauren Lee 13:30
My period pain has really fluctuated over the years, but it was very, very intense in my early 30s and after several surgeries for my endometriosis, did get a little bit better but I was still having to miss at least a day of work every month. Semaine helps me feel like, completely a normal person. My pain levels go down to zero on Semaine; of course, everybody’s different, everybody experiences pain differently and pain solutions differently but for 80% plus of our customers, they have great results on the first cycle of taking Semaine and feel so much better.
Matt Crane 14:10
And really what it is, is trying to find a plant-based solution to period pain because a lot of women do take, in the US, Midol, ibuprofen or different non-steroidal anti-inflammatory to help with inflammation around the menstrual cycle. It’s one of those things where Lauren had taken so much of these over the years, to try and tackle her own pain, that her stomach lining was really damaged as a result of these really high doses because that’s one of the common side effects of taking these non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; it can really affect your stomach lining in a negative way. And so, she was just unable to continue taking these because, even though she’s having bad pain, she just wasn’t able to take it because it messes with her stomach for weeks afterwards. That was the impetus to try and tackle, try and find maybe a slightly gentler, slightly different way of addressing the pain and the similar sort of underlying physiological symptoms; really what it is, is a combination of different plant extracts that have been pretty well studied to be shown that they do affect these different inflammatory pathways.
Also, some vitamins and minerals that we’ve got studies to show that if you’re deficient in, for example, magnesium, that you’re likely to have worse period pain, worse discomfort, and so it’s kind of just a combination of different things with really good clinical efficacy that have been pretty well studied and trying to find a combination that works better for people rather than just kind of a single approach. One of the things that was surprising to us was that about 20 to 25% of women report no benefits after taking the common pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory drugs and so it’s one of those things where we wanted to address multiple inflammatory pathways and a combination approach, and so that’s what it really is underlying.
I know Semaine is now available in the US at Target.
Lauren Lee 16:06
That’s right, yes we are available nationwide in Target stores and also, there’s an online, grocery called Price market out there in the US that that we’ve just sold out to, but most of our users do go through our website and get their Semaine through us, but we’re hoping to expand to other retailers and we would love to be more international because we have a lot of international customers and people who are interested in it. So, yeah, that’s the goal for the next couple years. And if you’re in the UK or Canada, and listening, for orders over $100 we do have free international shipping.
Wow, amazing, so you do international shipping, normally?
Lauren Lee 16:50
Yes, we do. And the reason why we don’t say we’re International is just because shipping costs are so expensive, so we tried to allay those as much as we can and offer a flat rate. So eventually we’d like to get to the point of growth that we can make that, whether that’s free shipping internationally or just be in retailers in the UK and Canada that they can do free shipping for our customers would be great,
That is so, so exciting, very, very, very exciting. Right. We’ll be back with these amazing two guests in just a second. …
Welcome back, everyone. I’m just trying to keep these guests on as much as possible because I feel like I just want to know more and more. Previously, after talking to Matt, there was a mention of some clinical trials that I thought sounds very interesting. Tell us more Matt.
Matt Crane 17:51
So, we’ve always been really excited about running our own clinical trials because we stand at this intersection between the classic wellness and dietary supplements, and trying to push that industry a little bit closer to some of the pharmaceutical practices and medical practices of having our own clinical trials and making sure that our products really do work and are efficacious. And so, with my background, PhD and working in the medical system for a long time, it really helps build trust in the company or even industry that we are running our own clinical trials. We know that there hasn’t been enough research in the medical community for women’s health and making sure that things are effective solutions for a woman’s pain point; that’s been a goal that we’ve always had when we started Semaine Health, to make sure that we were able to run our own clinical trials. We actually just launched our first fully independent clinical trial that you can look up on clinicaltrials.gov, search for our name and you can find the study design, the outcomes that we’re hoping for and so we want to try and be as completely above board as possible to show that we are running, we’re telling you what we’re doing, we’re telling you outcomes we’re hoping for. When we get the results, we’ll publish those on our own website and also submit to a peer review journal, because we really want to make sure that what we’re doing is helping and making a difference in women’s lives because we think that’s really important, both for the wellness industry to be pushed to be more rigorous and also hopefully to show pharma, “you have lots of money. Why are we, as a small start up being the ones running these clinical trials, you should really put some of your research dollars into helping tackle this significant condition and significant pain point for a lot of women”.
Lauren Lee 19:40
I think we also want to make sure that we build that trust with our customers and future customers. I know as somebody who’s experienced so much pain, being very motivated to try to find something that would solve that pain and being frustrated when I would try lots of different supplements or herbal tonics or pharmaceuticals that either wouldn’t work or they didn’t feel quite right, that being able to tell our customers that we’ve done clinical trials, that this is what it’s shown; it’s not just something whoo whoo even though it is plant based. It really is about building that confidence for our customer base as well.
Thank you. That’s fantastic. I know there’s a lot of things that go into Semaine so, is that going to be the envision, a readymade thing for everyone or do you think that’s something adjusted and personalised for people.
Matt Crane 20:37
That is a really great question; I think we would position it as a relatively generic product that works for most people because most people do just want something they can find and take off a shelf at a store because you’re busy right and you want something that works for the vast majority of people. I think there is, as a scientist, this frustrating 10 to 15% of women who don’t seem to respond due to the formulation and so I want to figure out what’s causing that and find something that maybe works exactly for them. So, I think our goal really is to have this to be a simple thing that fits into people’s lives; everyone just gets exhausted. If you have period pain, if you have something that you’re trying to deal with and cope with on a monthly basis, that is just something that wears you down and you don’t want to spend all your personal time researching on YouTube or researching on the internet to find solutions that are really customised more specifically for you. Our goal is to try and take some of that burden on ourselves because we’ve experienced that in our own personal lives, and to make it easier for people who are going through the same journey.
Lauren Lee 21:47
We’ve also learned from our customers and just delving into women’s health, a little bit more, the myriad of pain points that people can experience, whether that is physical pain like myself or maybe it’s irregular periods or very heavy flows or acne or mood swings. We are actually developing our second product to help address some of the more common hormonal imbalances that happened because of blood sugar levels; that is a way too for us to keep expanding beyond just helping people with painful periods, hopefully getting into the menopause space as well, just different spaces where women have often felt like they are looking for solutions and not finding anything or not being heard.
That’s fantastic. Yeah, menopause is definitely another big target isn’t it.
Lauren Lee 22:36
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s changing and shifting; it’s becoming less stigmatised just like periods. I think, at least we’re in the world right now, so I feel like you’re hearing more about either supplements or supportive groups or healthcare groups that are helping women through menopause a little bit more, but still I feel like overall that’s something that’s very stigmatised or just made light of even though it’s something nearly every woman goes through, and it’s still often dismissed or belittled, and it can really, really change your quality of life. It’s the same again with period pain or heavy periods or mood swings; they’re things that we’re told to muscle through and power through and really there’s no need to do that.
Fantastic, thank you. I was wondering, do you see Semaine as something potentially to help people with trying to transition into completely pain free periods, possibly in the future.
Matt Crane 23:40
`We would love that. When we’re going through our own personal journeys, sometimes when you’re just dealing with a lot of pain, discomfort, you live on hope, and we don’t want to tell everyone that you will have a pain free period. A lot of our customers do, and it’s really changed their life, really dramatically affected their quality of life. And our goal would be that yeah, periods are normal, but pain shouldn’t be. It’s the thing that we think about a lot, because pain is common, but pain is not normal, right so it’s like the sort of ideas that are there stuck in our heads and so we really hope that it will help most people transition to a pain free period.
Lauren Lee 24:23
Yeah, absolutely. I know before we started this, before Matt started his research, I really just assumed periods were meant to be painful. When I met that unicorn who was like “well I’ve never had cramps “or “my periods just happened and it’s no big deal”, I’m like wow, I didn’t know that was possible. I just assumed most of us were meant to experience very, very painful periods and the large part of that was the feedback I would get from my doctors, whether they were OB GYN or my GP, that I would just hear, “Oh, you have painful periods, yeah that’s normal, that just sucks”, and there wasn’t really this impetus to come up with solutions or talk through what exactly was the pain I was feeling. That’s why it took me so long to get diagnosed with endometriosis because no one actually asked any more questions because it was just assumed that “oh yeah she has painful periods, that’s very common” so really with Semaine, we do hope that it helps. Most women feel that way; I do, I feel very little pain on my period now because I take it consistently. Just educating women around this idea that extreme and severe period pain isn’t normal and something we should normalise, that it is your body telling you something else, that maybe you just have way more inflammation in your body, maybe you do have a fibroid, maybe you’re suffering from something else and those things should always be investigated. So, if we can help do that with our platform, help women to delve a little deeper and push their doctors a little bit more and really be able to advocate for themselves because they understand that these pain symptoms are not normal; that would be the biggest goal and hope I have for Semaine.
Yeah, let’s keep the inspirational spirit going. If you had someone who was in the throes of not having hope, being faced with a very dismissive healthcare system or doctor and has just been through this for a very long time and just completely given up, what message would you have for them?
Lauren Lee 26:38
I think I would say that there is hope. I know exactly what it feels like to be in that moment of just chronic pain and not thinking that things can change or get better; even if it’s not thinking about being optimistic or pessimistic about it, you’re just trying to get through the moment, you are not alone. I felt very low when I was starting this journey because it was pre-Instagram and pre, a lot of community groups, and now there’s so much more. I would say if you can find a group where women are talking about periods or talking about pain; I got very involved with some endometriosis groups and support groups, and that made me feel far less alone. Just reading other people’s stories online about having, whether it’s period pain, whether it was their endometriosis journey, was so, so helpful that helped me feel like, okay, that there are other women going through this, maybe their symptoms are not identical to mine, but they’ve been through similar trauma or understand that pain and are looking for solutions too. That feeling of being alone is really the scariest part of losing hope I think so I would encourage that person to definitely find that group, reach out to us, to me, whether that’s through DMs on our Instagram at Semaine Health or even chatting to us. That’s really the best part of my day, being able to connect with people that are the customers or not and talk to, hear what they’re experiencing not as a medical practitioner, but just as somebody who can listen to them, hear their story, and then also share my experience to help them feel less alone in their pain.
It’s just about not thinking that you were alone.
Lauren Lee 28:25
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely, because I think anybody who experiences chronic pain or any condition especially consistently, that wears you down. It’s just hard to think that anybody else is experiencing it and especially with period pain since we’re supposed to pretend it doesn’t really exist or it’s normal, you don’t necessarily know other people are experiencing it. At work ,in a setting like that, you wouldn’t show that you’re in pain, you’re trying to cover that up.
Matt Crane 28:53
It’s one of the things we found too that a lot of women have felt alone, working with doctors or physicians and that’s one reason that a lot of them do turn to the wellness community and to alternative or complementary medical approaches because feeling heard is so important to you, to your own journey and to your experiences. I think that’s one reason that a lot of them do turn to wellness approaches as opposed to physicians because they feel heard in those communities. That’s one reason as well that we really want to take a rigorous, pharmaceutical approach to how we’re designing our products, how we’re testing them and that we’re doing clinical trials but also to make sure that we sit in the wellness community and that space because that’s where a lot of women do turn for solutions. They know that they feel heard and that their discomfort will not be dismissed. That’s where we want to reach out to people and to make sure that we are always there even though hopefully our standards, and our design practices are much more pharmaceutical in terms of how rigorous we’re taking things.
That’s fantastic. Thanks so much, Matt, Thank you so much Lauren, two amazing guests, cofounders of Semaine Health, un-hate your period, I like that tagline on your website it’s brilliant.
Lauren Lee 30:10
Thank you and thank you so much for letting us speak about this; we just love being able to share the story, whether people go out and buy something and give it a try, or it just helps them find a community or be left alone, that is it.
Thank you again. Thank you for listening. Remember, original apple trees grow far too tall for any human through.
Lauren Lee, Matt Crane 30:42