Dr Doireann O'Leary talks overcoming cancer and why women must demand better healthcare

'A lot of people share their stories to help others and before I got cancer I never understood that. When you go through it, you want to tell people that this simple test can save your life'

Dr Doireann O’Leary

Denise Smith

Women all over Ireland are thanking Dr Doireann O'Leary, not just for the launch of her eponymous supplement range, more of that later - but for giving them the gift of sleep.

If you have the misfortune of living with a chronic snorer, the Cork GP has some novel advice: invest in a didgeridoo. Playing the musical instrument can reduce snoring severity, and perhaps keep your marriage intact.

This is just one little nugget that you can glean from the 34-year-old's Instagram account - a platform that is bursting with easily digestible medical information.

"I don't know whether the sound of the digeridoo would be worse than the sound of snoring so I might get backlash from that," laughs the popular medic over a call from her kitchen table.

Cork-based Dr Doireann O’Leary with her range of supplements designed to boost health

Hailed for disproving medical misinformation and quashing mass panic throughout the pandemic, the businesswoman has used her social media presence to educate and engage with her 186,000 followers.

"I try to keep a balance between being preachy and offering something a little lighter online because people do want a bit of fun and a little relief," she says.

"I don't want to be like, 'You must do this to decrease your risk of cancer', so I do try to lighten it up when I can. When you put yourself online and people feel like they know you and trust you, that comes with a certain level of responsibility.

"Sharing really good quality and up-to-date evidence-based advice and correct information is so important. The reason I started the page was because I saw so much misinformation online and it just confuses people and I wanted to empower people.

"When there are 200,000 views on a reel about folic acid, that is empowering information and it feels good. I love being a GP and I am so passionate about help but a lot of the time when I am online, I just want to see what people are wearing and all of the nice beauty stuff so I am just grateful that people are taking an interest in what I do."

Dr Doireann O’Leary

Launching her own supplement range, including folic acid capsules and a vitamin C spray, was an organic progression for the doctor, she tells: "We have been working on it for well over a year.

"I am really proud of it actually, because it is really benefitting people's health. If people are taking their folic acid, vitamin D, B12 and omegas, that is scientifically proven to benefit people's health.

"A lot of the time people are taking, say, a multivitamin and they have no idea what is in it or people are taking vitamins that they just don't need. Only 50pc of women in Ireland are taking folic acid. Taking supplemental folic acid reduces risk of neural tube defects in developing babies.

"Having people know and understand what they are taking is so important."

The health and wellness advocate also isn't above sharing her own personal health struggles to raise awareness.

Doireann was just 31 when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2019.

"A lot of people share their stories to help other people and I never understood that before I got cancer - 'why would somebody be so motivated to try caution other people?' But when you go through it, you want to tell people that this really simple test can help you and protect you and save your life.

"I was so passionate about telling people that I went for a smear test and it detected it so early that I am alive and well, and fit and healthy. I was 31, which was young for cervical cancer.

"I felt so healthy and well and I had no symptoms, I was just going for a routine smear. I was absolutely shocked when I received the results. I just didn't see it coming."

Encouraging women to advocate for their own health, the doctor continues: "There is evidence that women are less heard than male patients but I do think it is changing.

"The doctors I am surrounded by are so passionate about women's health and take women seriously and investigate their symptoms. Basically, all of my patients are women.

"There is evidence that it can take women longer to get a diagnosis, but women are now advocating for themselves. Young girls in their 20s are so good at coming in and saying, 'These are my symptoms and this is what I think it is and can we go from there'.

"Young people are so impressive and so articulate and that's the good thing about social media. People know so much more than doctors give them credit for. I find that so impressive from my followers' perspective how informed they are."

Dr Doireann O’Leary

Doireann may look impossibly chic on social media, but the stylish practitioner joked she isn't as impeccably turned out when it comes to her day job.

"I make an effort when I am going to be on TV or on camera but my patients will see me with no makeup, with my hair thrown up and that is the real me. I don't always look like that, believe me."

Having been a victim of burn-out in the past, Doireann also knows the importance of downtime, she adds: "I love switching off at the weekend. I've watched The Tinder Swindler. I watched that twice actually, I was obsessed, it is ridiculous.

"I also love property shows, like Dermot Bannon and Room to Improve - just don't expect my house to look that immaculate."

Dr Doireann O'Leary's supplements range is available from pharmacies nationwide and, priced €10.95-€15.95

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