Medically reviewed

Our Co-Founder’s story: ‘It’s time we stop accepting side effects as some kind of toxic trade-off for being a woman’

MARCH 25, 2021

Meet our Co-Founder and CEO, Shardi Nahavandi, who explains how her cancer misdiagnosis led her on a journey to fix the medical gender gap

Key Takeaways

  • Shardi Nahavandi was misdiagnosed with bowel cancer and later, stress. She took on two health degrees, later realizing she had a hormone imbalance 

  • When she took her findings to a world-renowned stress professor, he said the medical industry doesn’t analyze female subjects because female hormones “pollute their data”

  • She set up Tuune to finally create a personalized healthcare system that will help every person with a cycle to feel their best

I knew I was ill, but I wasn’t expecting cancer.

I was weak, losing weight (I couldn’t eat or even keep fluids down), and then my hair started falling out. I knew the hospital corridors inside out after visiting them more times than I care to remember.

Then, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

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It wasn’t exactly part of my life plan, but I trusted my doctors and I was determined to put all my energy into fighting the disease. 

But after endless tests, scans, and sleepless nights, it turns out I’d been misdiagnosed. The doctors eventually put my symptoms down to my busy, career-driven lifestyle. They said, “You need to relax! Take some time out. Why not try yoga? Oh, and do you meditate? It’ll be good for your soul!”

Doing less sounded like a simple route, but it didn’t sound like the right one. I knew my symptoms were serious, but everyone; myself included, was baffled about what was wrong with me.

I quickly grew tired of not getting any real answers, so I quit my job and signed up to a Health Technology and Management master’s to try and get to the bottom of what was actually happening to me. 

Still thinking that stress could be affecting my body, I wrote my dissertation on the link between stress and cortisol levels (a hormone that regulates our metabolisms and helps our bodies respond to stress). When I was researching, I stumbled across the link between cortisol levels and female sex hormones. By controlling stress in the body, cortisol can also impact ovulation, leading to anovulation (when you don’t ovulate), or amenorrhea (when your periods stop). 

Realizing that hormones can influence digestion, hair loss, and our metabolism, I began to question whether my own symptoms could be put down to a hormone imbalance. 

I took my theory to a world-renowned stress professor and was warned to stop my research immediately. 

He said the medical industry doesn’t analyze female subjects because female hormones “decrease statistical power” and “pollute their data”.

Alarm bells rang. The world is, gloriously, half female—so why are our hormones cast aside? Why is medicine still based on male hormones as standard when theirs are completely different from ours? Why are ours considered lowly ‘pollutants’ when our hormones are fantastically, unapologetically, complex? 

I ramped up my research and enrolled in a master’s in Endocrinology (the field of hormone-related diseases) to finally give female hormones the attention they deserved. 

However, it didn’t exactly go to plan. I was desperately trying to understand more about how our hormones worked, so I was surprised when the reproductive module covered deadly diseases and didn’t even touch on our sex hormones. I felt a glaring disconnect between science and medicine, so decided to drop out to focus on my own research. I read thousands of research papers and finally stumbled across one that said I have a particular hormone imbalance that impacts my metabolism. 

It felt almost like an awakening. I’d always thought something was ‘wrong' with me, but I realized this is separate from me and didn’t define me. 

I discovered that a particular drug would be the answer to my problems, so I went to see my GP to explain my findings. But because the drug is usually used to treat diabetes, a condition I don’t have, they wouldn’t prescribe it to me. I’d gone to extensive lengths to find the treatment that would make me better, but because I didn’t fit in the right category—a category created without the input of our hormones—I didn’t qualify. I was frustrated, tired, and alarmed at how little understanding there seemed to be about female hormones. 

It’s time we made healthcare work for all of us

It’s quite simple. Everyone is different and our hormones are no exception. We’re all humans, we should collectively work towards a world where we have better systems so we can create healthier human beings. If we get that right, then we’ll have a healthier and happier society. 

The technology is here. The understanding is not. So, I set up Tuune (previously Pexxi) back in 2018 to document and finally understand the way female hormones work so we can create a more personalized healthcare system. 

We’re questioning the archaic medical categorizations, and aim to re-educate the world about the impact our hormones have on our body—and how we can best leverage them. It’s time we molded science towards the users, not the other way around.

Our first stop is contraception. For too long, our hormone levels haven’t been tested and we’ve been picking the best contraceptive method for us based on hearsay, our friends’ experiences, and whatever our doctor has in stock. More than half of women (52%) experience side effects from birth control—it’s time we stop accepting side effects as some kind of toxic trade-off for being a woman. We all react differently so it’s our job to personalize your contraception by calculating which methods and ingredients work best for you.

We use science and data to understand what’s happening to each person and what the risks and benefits will be for their different treatment options

Today, we’re a formidable team of experts in medicine, engineering, and science. We’re backed by many of the world’s strongest technical and scientific institutions such as The Crick Institute (the largest life science institution in Europe) as well as UCL and Cambridge University, and we’re supported by the startup initiative, Google for Startups. We have a huge challenge ahead but we’re fighters. We know what’s right and we’re not going to back down.

Written by
Shardi Nahavandi (she/her)

Tuune's CEO, Shardi was inspired to set up Tuune after she was misdiagnosed with bowel cancer in her twenties. With her symptoms eventually put down to stress, she quit her job and pursued two additional health degrees to find out what was really happening with her health. After diagnosing herself with a hormone imbalance, she embarked on her own journey to solve the troubling disconnect between medicine and female health.

Medically reviewed by
Dr. Arushee Prasad, GP, MBBS (she/her)

Dr Arushee Prasad is a GP for NHS England with an MBBS in Medicine and Surgery, and an MRCGP from the Royal College of General Practitioners. Passionate about digital health and algorithmic medicine, Arushee was previously an Algorithmic Medical Doctor for Docly.


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