The future of women's health is tailored solutions that assist women throughout multiple life stages.
There is a growing openness about menopause and the needs related to that stage of women’s lives, but women also have needs across multiple life stages that the dietary supplement industry can help with. While a number of products already exist that target the specific needs of women, the category will only become more sophisticated as the body of scientific literature grows and manufacturers invest more in new product development to meet demand.
An important place to start is motherhood, because there has been a lot of innovation when it comes to infant nutrition, with supplements expecting mothers can take to support the healthy development of their fetus as well as fortify the nutritional value of their breast milk when nursing their babies during infancy. A probiotic strain called LC40 (Lactobacillus fermentum CECT5716) from Kerry Group (Tralee, Ireland), can offer support to both the mother and infant. Specifically, LC40, a probiotic strain isolated from human breast milk of healthy mothers, has been shown to reduce the incidence of mastitis, which is the inflammation of the breast tissue.
“If you reduce [mastitis], then parents can manage to breastfeed longer because mastitis, of course, is very painful and mothers stop breastfeeding,” explained Alexandra Boelrijk, global senior director of RDA, ProActive Health for Kerry Group. “The same strain is actually also used in infant formula, for immune and digestive benefits. You see probiotics in infant formula coming up more and more because in mother's milk there's also probiotics, so [manufacturers are] trying to be as close to human milk as possible.”
“All [our] research…about probiotics in women during breastfeeding is related with microbiota in [the] mammary glands. But it's not just about the women, it's also about the benefits for the infants,” added Monica Maria Olivares, RDA director for women and infant health, with Kerry. “We have observed that women consuming a probiotic strain during breastfeeding period obtain benefits for the infant, so everything is connected.”
So, strains like LC40 not only improve the quality of life of mothers by reducing discomfort, but also extend breastfeeding so that the infants can receive the benefits of mother’s milk associated with the strain. At the same time, if a mother chose to bottle feed, infant formula manufacturers can leverage these kinds of strains to make their products as similar to mother’s milk as possible.
Other strains such as IFF Health’s (Londerzeel, Belgium) Lactobacillus acidophilus La-14 and Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 have been shown to impart immune health benefits to infants when consumed by the mother during pregnancy, as well as a lower prevalence of eczema. Mothers benefited by having a reduced prevalence of gestational diabetes, as well as supporting a healthy vaginal microbiome.
Of course, before women can become mothers, they must first get pregnant. Fertility is something many women might struggle with, which creates opportunity for products touting fertility benefits, but it’s also controversial for this reason as dietary supplement cannot and should not make irresponsible treatment claims. That said, innovations in herbal formulas may help women in specific situations. For example, Caronositol from Kerry, which is a combination of Myo-inositol from the phytin of corn, and D-chiroinositol from carob fruit that may support hormonal balance in women of reproductive age. Hormonal problems such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may affect women’s ability to conceive. One 2019 study found that women with PCOS undergoing Intracytoplasmic sperm injection saw a significantly higher rate of pregnancy and live birth after being given a higher ratio of myo-inositol and d-chiroinositol.
Credibility is crucial in this area because fertility is a such a sensitive and personal problem for so many women. Good quality clinical data provides this credibility while honest marketing instills trust. “It's important to explain the mechanisms [of action] to handle [consumer] expectations,” said Olivares. “If your problems are not related, in the case Caronositol, with the hormonal disbalance, this [ingredient] is not going to help.”
Urinary tract health
When it comes to urinary tract health, cranberry has always been the star ingredient. However, these ingredients are becoming increasingly more sophisticated as the body of research about proanthocyanidins (PACs) grows. For example, Symrise (Holzminden, Germany) offers a standardized cranberry extract called Urophenol that has been found in research to reduce the incidence of symptomatic urinary tract infections by 43% in women who experienced fewer than five urinary tract infection in the year prior to enrollment. According to Nathalie Richer, global health business leader, naturals food and beverage, taste, nutrition, and health at Symrise, the company investigated the ingredient’s mode of action and discovered something surprising.
“We realized that everything was happening in the gut and not in the urinary tract,” said Richer. “So, it was very closely linked to the microbiota. The prevention of the development of the bacteria was realized in the gut by inhibiting the colonization of the bacteria and also supported the production of some metabolites.”
After observing these effects, Symrise launched a five-year research program in 2018 in partnership with the Laval University (Québec) and co-funded by the National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). The result is the launch of Prebiocran, a cranberry extract standardized to 30% total polyphenols. A number of interesting studies informed the development of this product. For example, an unpublished human clinical trial of 39 health subjects found that daily consumption of 480 mg of Prebiocran influenced the basal human gut microbiota beta-diversity after four days, particularly inducing a blood of Bifidobacterium.
As knowledge of the prebiotic effects of cranberry grows, probiotics can be a great complement to cranberry products. For example, AB-Biotics (Barcelona, Spain) offers AB-Cyscare, which is the combination of L. plantarum KABP 062 and L. plantarum KABP 063 strains that can be used alone or in combination with cranberry to support urinary tract health. In vitro research shows evidence that the strains can significantly decrease the growth of pathogens associated with urinary tract infections.
Menopause is experiencing a big push because there has been such a taboo about this stage of women’s lives that there are often misconceptions and poor understanding about menopause. Women are becoming more vocal about their experiences with menopause in order to improve their quality of life, and this presents an opportunity for dietary supplement manufacturers.
According to Gen M, an organization based in the UK whose mission to help make menopause a positive experience, an estimated 1 billion globally will experience menopause by 2025, and because this natural transition in life can have 48 different symptoms and last up to 12 years for 10% of women, the experience can be confusing and difficult to navigate. A white paper published by Gen M found that 94% of perimenopausal and menopausal women believed they “would benefit from brands being more inclusive and catering better to menopausal women.”
Read more about opportunities in menopause support here.
A great deal of dietary supplement marketed toward women are simply that, marketed toward women. For example, beauty products for the support of hair, skin, or nails are often marketed toward women but can be used just the same by men. What women want are products that help them deal with specific aspects of feminine health. The pool of products that fit this description is growing, but continue to keep an eye on clinically validated ingredients that help women across various life stages and the many need states that can manifest for women when their bodies change with age.