Women In Wellness: Dr. Elina Berglund of Natural Cycles on the Five Lifetyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

by Charles Purdom

As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Elina Berglund.

Elina Berglund is the CEO and co-founder of Natural Cycles — the first FDA cleared birth control app. She was previously part of the team that discovered the Higgs boson at the CERN, which led to the Nobel Prize in physics in 2013. She then applied her skills from particle physics to create an algorithm that could accurately pinpoint when a woman is fertile — and so Natural Cycles was born. Today, Natural Cycles has over 2 million registered users across 162 countries.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Elina Berglund: Absolutely! The first thing you need to know is, I absolutely love science. I’ve always been curious about the world, and from the age of five, I remember asking my parent’s tricky questions. Instead of fairy tales at bedtime, I preferred to hear about the big bang. I followed my passion and ultimately ended up working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). I was actually on the team that discovered the Higgs boson, which led to the Nobel Prize in physics in 2013 — it was an incredible experience.

When I knew my time at CERN was winding down, I could see that parenthood was on the horizon but wasn’t quite ready for it yet. I went looking for a natural, alternative method of birth control and just couldn’t find one. It was this experience that really inspired Natural Cycles.

I’ve always felt that women need more options when it comes to birth control, and there are so few options out there that are non-hormonal and non-invasive. My background in particle physics means I have a good understanding of how algorithms can lead to accurate predictions, so I wanted to apply the skills I have from that to real issues I face in my life, like birth control. I discovered that the body temperature changes throughout the menstrual cycle — something that is well-known and well-researched. I started analyzing my own temperature, applying my statistical knowledge from particle physics to detect ovulation and map out my fertile days. The more entrenched I became in my fertility data, the more I was learning about my body — and so Natural Cycles was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

Elina Berglund: I think my transition from CERN to CEO is a really interesting story in itself. While Natural Cycles’ unique algorithm means the app is very much rooted in science, the startup scene was a shock to the system and was nothing like my previous jobs.

The science and startup worlds are very different. For one, scientists are very humble — there is always the belief that someone out there is smarter than you. On the other hand, startup founders will be convinced that they are the next big thing. I was unfamiliar with this mindset and didn’t realize how important it was to shout about your idea. At first, I significantly underplayed how ground-breaking Natural Cycles were but quickly learned!

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Elina Berglund: When you’re first starting a company, you have so much time and energy invested that there is an awful lot of pressure. I also embarked on this journey with my husband, meaning it was even more intense and often incredibly hard to switch off. There’s no one major blip that sticks out, but we certainly made mistakes all the time — that’s what being a startup is all about! I learned to trust the process and practiced separating my work and home life by doing things that made me feel good.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Elina Berglund: I’ve mentioned him already, but I really couldn’t have done all this without my husband and fellow co-founder and co-CEO, Raoul. We bring different qualities to the role — I’m more involved in the science side of things and he’s a natural entrepreneur so we complement each other well. I’m definitely grateful that he has been here every step of the way, offering emotional support and living and breathing this company with me.

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

Elina Berglund: When I started Natural Cycles, my overarching goal was to solve a social problem that confronted women every day — a lack of choice when it comes to contraception. When the FDA approved the pill in 1960, it was revolutionary — a win for both women and science. The fact that women who previously had no control suddenly had a pill that was effective at preventing pregnancy was astounding. However, since this breakthrough, there’s been very little innovation around birth control, especially in non-hormonal methods.

Last year, we conducted a survey that found that one in four women used hormonal contraception for at least ten years, despite suffering unwanted side effects. It highlights a distinct lack of choice in birth control options and suggests that many individuals don’t understand how their body works. Our social mission is to increase options and help them know what’s going on inside.

Despite the fact we’re transforming the lives of millions of women, there are still often a lot of misconceptions around Natural Cycles and digital birth control in general. That’s why the education piece continues to be key. Natural Cycles is proud to offer women a non-hormonal option that is backed by not only four published clinical studies that outline our 93% typical use effectiveness, but more than four years of real-world evidence that includes follow-ups with 98% of users.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

Elina Berglund: Something which I find helpful, and which keeps me grounded, is setting small and realistic goals. During stressful times this is invaluable. For example, writing a list of small things you want to get done and ticking them off can be really rewarding. That said if you’re not able to get to everything, don’t be too hard on yourself. Showing up is half the battle.

Ultimately though I think the best piece of advice I can give is, ‘listen to you’You know your own mind better than anyone. Take a minute every day to ask yourself how you are feeling, what you are grateful for and what you need from today. While I used to wish I could be the female CEO who woke up at the crack of dawn and had accomplished a million tasks before most people woke up, I’ve embraced that’s never going to be me. My body needs sleep and I’m actually not a morning person. I sleep until the last possible moment before my children wake up, make them breakfast, and spend some time with them before I get my workday started. As the CEO of a company that promotes listening to one’s body, I can’t tell you how important it was for me to stop feeling the pressure to try to be productive at a time of the day that doesn’t work for my own body.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Elina Berglund: I would love to be able to start a worldwide sex education movement. Sex is such a natural and important part of life and relationships, yet it’s still treated as a very taboo subject across the world. Even in the UK, a survey Natural Cycles carried out in 2020 found that almost a third of women never had sex education in school.

I think a lack of knowledge is why some people are reluctant to embrace digital birth control. They don’t believe that Natural Cycles is able to differentiate between individual women’s cycles because they don’t understand their own bodies, or realize that it is powered by a scientifically developed algorithm that actually confirms ovulation.

But birth control is just one small part of the problem — sex education needs to span period sex, menopause, orgasms, rape culture, and more. Last year a study found that a quarter of Americans didn’t even know where the vagina is (!) so we have an awful lot of work to do. I believe everyone should be empowered to have happy, healthy sexual relationships.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

Elina Berglund: I can actually narrow this down to three points:

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. When you spend too much time worrying about the small things, it takes your focus away from the bigger items that should be your priority.
  2. Put yourself first. This links back to my earlier point of, ‘listen to you’. I can’t stress how important it is to take care of your mind, body, and health by optimizing your schedule and carving out time for yourself. It’s so easy to get swept up in the startup world, so take a moment to breathe. You can’t do your best work if you aren’t your best self.
  3. The startup journey is never a straight road to success. There will always be ups and downs, and lots of difficult stretches. But in the end, if you follow your passion and believe in your product and your mission, things will work out in the end.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Elina Berglund: These are all such important topics but environmental changes are something I care a lot about. I think that fundamentally, it is something that we can no longer ignore. It’s remarkable the amount of sacrifice people had to make with their lifestyle as a result of COVID-19. With the specter of climate change looming, I believe we also need to rethink many other day-to-day activities in our personal lives and make the necessary sacrifices for the sake of the environment.

Mental health is another one that really hits home for me. As a business leader, I’ve learned that there really is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to helping employees to deal with mental health issues, which has become even more apparent since COVID-19. We’ve seen a lot of businesses introduce new initiatives from mental health training and meditation sessions to virtual drinks, but you have to do what’s right for you and your employees. It all comes down to listening to what others want and acting on it.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Elina Berglund: 

Instagram: @naturalcycles


Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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