The statistics surrounding women’s health are worrying to say the least.
A recent study from the University of Copenhagen found that women are on average diagnosed 2.5 years later than men for cancer, 4.5 years later for diabetes, and later in a total of 700 different diseases.
That’s why Christina Ioannidis, a transformation consultant, health coach and founder of the GCC-based women empowerment platform Top Of Her Game, has taken matters into her own hands and launched the region’s first women’s health festival.
Featuring talks from female healthcare professionals and inspiring women who have overcome their own severe health issues, the Top Of Her Game Women’s Health Festival will cover taboo and rarely talked about subjects such as perimenopause, menopause, the cortisol (stress hormone) crisis, the need for sleep, the problem of pre-diabetes, our increased risks for dementia as well as body dysmorphia. All of which are core health issues for women throughout the Middle East.
Bringing women’s health to the forefront
The idea for the festival was prompted by Ioannidis’ own personal struggles.
Her mother faced substantial health issues after she hit menopause, including hemorrhages, osteoporosis and diabetes. Sadly, she then passed away after contracting COVID-19. Ionnidis believes this could have been prevented if the complexities of women’s health were better understood, and if women were better informed about how to take care of their bodies and minds.
“No one teaches us how to look after ourselves in the right way. We are just told we should exercise more and try to reduce stress,” says Ioannidis.
“My mother always said: “look after yourself, Christina”. But she didn’t know what that meant. She died in her mid 80s after suffering terrible health for 30 years. That shouldn’t have happened. As women we put everybody else ahead of ourselves. Things must change, and we need to educate ourselves.”
Ioannidis faced her own issues as well. By the time she got to her 40s she found herself overweight and suffering from insulin resistance and prediabetes.
She had a tough transition into perimenopause, too. After being misdiagnosed several times, she eventually found out she had endometriosis, an autoimmune condition that affects 10 percent of the population, but is very hard to diagnose.
“My health problems were all caused because when I thought I was doing the right things to look after myself, I was actually doing the wrong things,” she explains.
“I realized I needed to totally reeducate myself. I read so many books and trained to become a health coach. A friend also recommended intermittent fasting, and it changed my life. I lost 15 kilos and became a completely different person. I had to reprogram myself and eventually all my inflammations went down.”
A skewed medical sector
Ioannidis believes that the complexities of women’s health are largely overlooked by the medical sector.
For instance, in the UK, NHS training for doctors includes only two-and-a-half hours on menopause. Medical data is also skewed towards men. Tests are often conducted on male rats because the fluctuating hormones of female specimens makes them too difficult and complicated to monitor.
“This lack of training and understanding means we often get misdiagnosed and pulled onto drugs that are not right for us. After all, the symptoms of menopause or perimenopause can be incredibly complex… Along with depression, sleepless nights, anxiety and hot sweats, there are things like heart palpitations and gastric problems that are less talked about,” Ionnidis continues.
“So, rather than depend on medical professionals, we need to educate ourselves, learn what our rights are, and what we can ask for. I’ve managed to get the best out of my body by learning to work with it rather than fighting it.”
The power of hormones
Another big focus of the Women’s Health Festival is hormones, including estrogen, cortisol and oxytocin.
“Mental health and metabolic health are closely interlinked. We need to recognize how our hormone levels go up and down throughout our lives,” adds Ioannidis.
For example, body dysmorphia is a big issue in this region, but it’s rarely talked about. A lot of eating disorders and other issues are underlined by hormonal shifts, and they can be addressed. We just need to talk about these problems more.”
The Top Of Her Game Women’s Health Festival will take place at Abu Dhabi Youth Hub from March 3 to 4.
Registration is free. Visit https://topofhergame.biz/healthfestival/.