Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse, but Elizabeth Ruzzo says she experienced it firsthand after telling a doctor that she suffered from suicidal ideation after taking birth control pills.
Ruzzo’s doctor told her there was no connection between birth control and self-harm, but she decided to stop taking the pill to see if her mental health improved. When it did, Ruzzo grasped the disconnect between women’s unique hormonal makeup and blanket-statement practices from medicine today.
Her realization led her to found Adyn Health, a startup that proactively helps women make health decisions that complement their hormonal state and background. The company started with, of course, helping people pick more personalized birth control.
Ruzzo is part of a group of growing entrepreneurs who are betting that hormonal health is the key wedge into the digital health boom. Hormones are fluctuating, ever-evolving, and diverse — but these founders say they’re also key to solving many health conditions that disproportionately impact women, from diabetes to infertility to mental health challenges.
Many believe it’s that complexity that underscores the opportunity. Hormonal health sits at the center of conversations around personalized medicine and women’s health: By 2025, women’s health could be a $50 billion industry, and by 2026, digital health more broadly is estimated to hit $221 billion.
Still, as funding for women’s health startups drops and stigma continues to impact where venture dollars go, it’s unclear whether the sector will remain in its infancy or hit a true inflection point.
The future is proactive
Ruzzo views Adyn as a precision medicine startup. Its main product is an at-home test that tracks hormone levels, assesses genetic risk for specific side effects, and then gives recommendations for which birth control methods best suits the customer with the fewest side effects.
By Ruzzo’s estimates, 98% of sexually active women use birth control for 30 years of their life. That sort of lifetime value proposition made the company look like a sweet deal to founders, and Adyn raised a $2.5 million seed in April 2021 in a round co-led by Lux Capital and M13.
The moonshot, though, is using that as a way to become a trusted partner in a woman’s life, helping understand baseline hormone levels throughout those 30 years.
“My hope is that we can use precision medicine approaches, including looking at genetic markers to identify reliable diagnostic criteria, that can remove that uncertainty and pain and diagnostic odyssey that people have to go through,” Ruzzo said.
If Adyn becomes a trusted partner with teenage women, it could reach a point where it can detect changes in hormone levels over time.
“The hormone reference ranges that are used [in labs] are too broad to be personalized, let alone prescriptive,” she said. “And so what we’re hoping to do is correct for things that we know affect hormone levels like age, weight, ethnicity, and compare you to your own expectations.”
If the first wave of digital health was a company like Ro, which answers consumers when they have a condition such as erectile dysfunction or hair loss, the second wave will look more like Adyn, which helps consumers navigate their health before getting diagnosed with a condition or experiencing issues.
The industry standard is still to wait for consumers to realize they have a condition, and then go to the doctor to manage their symptoms or look for a cure. And a new startup that recently graduated from Y Combinator is finding its way into hormonal health through that angle.
One-tenth of all women are impacted by a hormonal condition
Veera Health is a startup that wants to help women in India manage polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. The hormonal condition can cause irregular periods, infertility or gestational diabetes in women, as well as acne, weight gain and excessive hair growth. Plus, PCOS is far from rare, impacting one in 10 women.