Women’s health hot spots for dietary supplements: healthy muscles, brain support, vaginal health, maternal health, and beauty from within

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 23 No. 8
Volume 23
Issue 8

Dietary supplements are empowering women to take charge of their wellness.

Women’s health hot spots for dietary supplements: healthy muscles, brain support, vaginal health, maternal health, and beauty from within

Photo Credit © Elena - Stock.adobe.com

Trends are transient. In practical terms, they reflect movement, and they swing back and forth over time. Smart product developers catch trends like surfers catch waves: getting on board at just the right time and riding them through to success. Innovative companies watch for signs and listen for clues; they do market research and support scientific research to keep them on the right path, moving forward. Some trends are revolutionary, but most are evolutionary.

When it comes to the women’s health nutritional market, empowerment is one of those key evolutionary trends.

Say Goodbye to Skinny; Hello, Lean Muscle Mass

Part of that empowerment, says Mariko Hill, product development executive, Gencor Pacific (Irvine, CA), is a shift in the perception of the ideal body type. Skinny is out. Lean muscle mass is in. Hill advises there’s more emphasis on strength and athleticism and confidence.

Says Hill, “It’s the epitome of beauty that’s shifting. There’s a whole range of just really independent, strong female leaders” that she believes correlates, albeit indirectly, into today’s product trends for women.

What does this mean for the nutrition/dietary supplement market?

For one thing, Hill thinks “fat-burning pills are definitely a trend that’s dying, or certainly has gained a bad reputation.” Also facing extinction? Detox teas, which dehydrate by flushing out everything—and “then there’s the laxative effect, [which] is detrimental to health,” says Hill.

What’s on the rise? Protein products or other ingredients that can increase muscle mass, says Hill. “When I look at products now in the market, there is a blend between the active, healthy lifestyles of females and then the sports nutrition area, and now we call that active nutrition,” she says. Women are “understanding the importance of muscle mass in reducing the risk of injuries as well as age-related diseases,” she states.

That understanding combined with the reinforcement of strength-focused athletes and other influencers has helped move the “strong, not skinny” trend and the nutritional products that support that trend into the limelight, Hill adds.

This ties into Gencor’s interest in determining whether Libifem, the company’s standardized fenugreek extract, may be beneficial in increasing lean muscle mass and improving exercise performance in the female population, as the same extract does for the male population.1,2 (Gencor sells the extract for men under the trade name Testofen.) Hill advises there is a gold-standard, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial in premenopausal females aged 20-45 currently underway at RDC Clinical, a clinical research organization in Brisbane, Australia.

Mental Acuity Needed for Living Longer Lives Better

Empowerment for women also means ensuring they are living their best lives, staying healthy and active as long as possible. That resonates with David Tetzlaf, director of marketing, Evolva (Reinach, Switzerland). As women’s life expectancy continues to rise, he says, “mental acuity is really critical for this demographic.”

Tetzlaf has reason to believe mental acuity products are a trend on the rise. One of the ways he tracks trends is by looking at new product launches, mining women’s health market data from market researcher Innova Market Insights. “What’s really interesting,” he notes, “is that if you look at the data of product category launches from 5 or 10 years ago, mental acuity wasn’t in the top-10 list.”

Fast-forward to the most recent data, and Tetzlaf finds that between January 2018 and July 2020, mental acuity is the category with the largest percentage increase in women’s health product launches, at an 800% increase—“which is quite significant, obviously,” he notes.3

Earlier this year, Evolva released the first in a series of anticipated publications from a two-year clinical trial in 125 postmenopausal women. The study, Resveratrol Supporting Healthy Aging in Women, or RESHAW, conducted by researchers at the University of Newcastle, Australia, is the longest-running study of its kind with resveratrol. Evolva provided both its Veri-te resveratrol ingredient and a supplemental grant for the study.

The results? According to a quote from one of the study authors in an Evolva press release announcing the first published findings4 from the study, “Our observed improvement in overall cognitive performance with resveratrol could potentially reverse cognitive ageing by up to 10 years.”5

Thomas Li, business development manager, IFF Health (New York City), believes that, with the exception of ginkgo, cognitive ingredients are on the rise due to the increase in the aging population and also their correlation with mood and stress management.

Tapping into Health and Wellness Trends

Says Li: “Much of the growth [in women’s health ingredients] comes from areas that have been untapped or are in line with growing trends in health and wellness. For example, healthy aging is becoming more popular as the senior population grows and more middle-aged consumers are expanding into that category. Women have historically lived longer than men, and their life expectancy continues to grow.”

But Li also sees a bigger trend in personalized nutrition, advising it “allows women to pick out ingredients that they don’t need and replace them with areas that have been previously lacking.” He suggests women “want to zone in on specific health benefits rather than broad-based ingredients meant to promote general health.”

Another area where Li sees potential growth is maternal health, an area he says was stagnant until about five years ago when supplements made up 50% of maternal health product launches.6 Referencing SPINS data7 that cites prenatal health as the top focus in the women’s supplement category, he advises, “There is a more targeted approach to what expecting mothers need, both in terms of timing, such as looking at individual trimesters as well as postnatal nutrition, but also the types of nutrients needed. Key nutrients include iron, iodine, choline, calcium, and folic acid.”

According to Li, “Iron has been especially difficult to supplement due to increased stomach sensitivities during pregnancy and iron’s reputation of being unappealing both from a taste and discomfort standpoint.” But pregnant women and new moms, especially those breastfeeding, generally need extra iron. IFF Health offers a tastier and highly bioavailable solution with its iron ingredient AB-Fortis.

Beauty from Within

Skin health nutrition products enjoyed an 87% growth in product launches from July 2018 to July 20203, says Tetzlaf—a big jump from five and 10 years ago.

Women have been trained to moisturize their skin and pay extra homage to their faces. But as Tetzlaf points out, the skin is our largest organ, and beyond the face, it’s possible other parts of the skin are not getting the same amount of attention.

Moisturizers and sun blocks are an important part of many women’s routines. But maybe that’s not enough. Says Tetzlaf, “We realize that skin protection can also be influenced by what we consume, and part of a healthy diet can come from dietary supplements.”

As women are living longer, they want to protect themselves from all aspects of aging, Tetzlaf says, from a healthy mind to healthy skin. He sees nutritional skincare supplements as a category primed for further growth as younger women increasingly realize skincare health should begin before they see signs of visible aging.

When it comes to beauty from within, Hill says she’s seeing increased interest for ingredients like curcumin and turmeric moving from Asia to the U.S. market. Beginning in 2017, she noticed that curcumin, the active constituent in turmeric, has been one of the biggest botanical ingredient searches through Google. Hill recalls being on a trip to the U.S. a few years ago, and during a stop at a local coffee shop, she noticed turmeric lattes were on the menu—another indication that turmeric had arrived.

For the beauty-from-within market, it’s the protection against free radicals and the anti-inflammatory properties of antioxidants like turmeric and curcumin, resveratrol, and vitamins E and C that make these ingredients important.

Particularly in Asia, Hill advises that focus on skin elasticity has been a longtime beauty trend, one that she now sees making its way to western society.

Li agrees. “Beauty from within, led by collagen, has been another trending hot area” in the nutritional beauty space, he says.

Probiotics Expand Their Appeal

Elodie Aragon, product manager, Lallemand Health Solutions (Montreal), points to research from Lumina Intelligence8 that confirms probiotic products have diversified from their initial core usage for gastrointestinal health and immunity to a much broader range of benefits, including for skin health and sports performance, and to more-female-focused areas like pregnancy, vaginal health, and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

“We are constantly in tune with the latest consumer insights and scientific innovation pertaining to women’s health,” states Jennifer Montgomery, marketing lead, probiotics, DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences (Brabrand, Denmark). (DuPont supplies probiotic ingredients through its Howaru line of products.) “Over the past five years,” Montgomery adds, “we have been able to isolate and study strains that specifically support the female microbiome. As a result, we see a lot of growth opportunity for continually developing high-quality probiotic products for women of all ages.”

Bringing the Vajayjay Out of the Closet

“Grey’s Anatomy” fans, especially women, will remember fondly when character Miranda Bailey introduced the word “vajayjay” into the cultural lexicon. A euphemism for the vagina, it’s relevant because as Carol A. Livioti, an author of Vaginas: An Owner’s Manual, explained to The New York Times in 2007,9 “…vajayjay and other euphemisms can render women incapable of explaining their symptoms to health professionals.”

Despite the trend of empowerment that women seem to be enjoying, there’s also a shyness about a topic that ingredient suppliers believe represents an important growth segment, both for the women’s supplement market and for women’s wellness: vaginal health.

Yes, we’re going there.

One might think that our culture has turned the corner of embarrassment about female-specific health conditions. After all, there’s award-winning actress-turned-successful-entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow offering fanciful (but not always factual) advice on the vagina—jade eggs, anyone? Rapper-turned-actress Akwafina first became famous for her song “My Vag.”

But have we really turned the corner?

“Women are not finding adequate solutions to their unique health needs in the prescription or over-the-counter options available today,” Montgomery attests. “Therefore, they are continuously seeking out new, more natural solutions to common feminine health issues such as yeast infections, UTIs, and menopause.” The Howaru branded ingredient Howaru Feminine Health is a pre-formulated blend comprising the strain combination of Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 and Lactobacillus acidophilus La-14.

Sexual health, menopause, and other intimate health–related products for women appear to be a growth area for many companies. Li states that “In the U.S., a recent poll showed 43%-51% of older women experience bladder leakage.”10 IFF Health has seen increased interest for Go-Less, its branded natural ingredient for urinary incontinence, says Li.

Says DuPont’s Montgomery, “As the demand for natural, efficacious solutions for feminine health continues to grow, we have seen the number of targeted dietary supplement and probiotic products rise as a result. These newer products support the specific needs of the female microbiome and provide support in areas unique to that of women.”

Lallemand’s Aragon is in agreement about increased consumer interest in probiotics. She says, “Specific probiotics are gaining attraction, as they are seen as a natural alternative to the conventional over-the-counter solutions for vaginal health. Women are willing to try them out, especially when vaginal health conditions are recurrent, which alters general quality of life.”

In September, Lallemand announced a new product strain, Lactobacillus plantarum Rosella, licensed from Proge Farm (Italy), to address recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis, commonly known as vaginal yeast infection. In a Lallemand press release, Aragon is quoted: “Probiotics are relatively recent ingredients for women seeking to take care of their intimate health. They are an interesting, natural alternative to address specific vaginal health issues with specific probiotic strains, scientifically backed for their efficacy, without causing side effects.”11-13

And yet, despite the growth for these women’s intimate-health ingredients, the discussion by women is still (at least partially) in the closet, under the covers. Certainly sexual libido, menopause, and the symptoms that go along with menopause do not constitute polite conversation at the dinner table, especially when both sexes are present.

As Gencor’s Hill explains, these topics are still taboo in some circles; however, she is encouraged that more people than before are speaking freely, and she urges more women to speak out.

Hill finds that products that help address symptoms of menopause, like hot flashes and night sweats, continue to be of interest. So much so, in fact, that Gencor is looking to conduct a study with its palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) ingredient, Levagen, on the pain associated with menstrual cramps and migraines.

Delivery Formats

If you’re tired of hearing about pill fatigue, you’re not alone. But whether the trend of innovation in delivery methods is coming from consumer demand, requests from finished-product manufacturers looking to differentiate their product offerings, or just having the words pill fatigue repeated over and over hoping the phrase will stick, the fact is ingredients suppliers are on top of it.

When it comes to what women want, capsules are still the dominant category overall, says Tetzlaf.3

And the latest annual Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements from the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, DC) reinforces that fact. When it comes to delivery form preferences, according to the survey, 34% of female supplement users prefer a tablet/caplet when taking a dietary supplement, followed by 20% who say they prefer a capsule.However, the number-three delivery form preference in that CRN survey is gummies, coming in at 18%.14

Tetzlaf is not surprised that gummies are gaining in popularity, because he believes that women may be looking for something that’s a little more fun, a bit of a treat, when taking their supplements.

IFF’s Li sees pill fatigue as one of the reasons why there’s a large growth trend in the area of functional foods. “Last year was the first year in the supplement space where the sales of non-pill-format products surpassed the sales of pill products,” he says, quoting Nutrition Business Journal data.15 In response, IFF Health created its Health Concepts Lab to “incorporate our health ingredients into functional prototypes in line with customer needs and trending formats, such as iron gummies and cognitive yogurts,” says Li.

Hill advises that when it comes to delivery methods, effervescents are very popular now and a trend “we’ve been getting a lot of buzz from.” Hill agrees that “People have moved on or moved away from capsules and tablets, and now they want to feel like they’re consuming something. It’s about a sensory feeling as well as convenience.”


  1. Wankhede S et al. “Beneficial effects of fenugreek glycoside supplementation in male subjects during resistance training: a randomized controlled pilot study.” Journal of Sport and Health Science, vol. 5, no. 2 (June 2016): 176-182
  2. Rao AJ et al. “Testofen® (fenugreek extract) increases strength and muscle mass compared to placebo in response to calisthenics. A randomized control trial.” Translational Sports Medicine, vol. 3, no. 4 (July 2020): 374-380
  3. Innova Market Insights data, North America
  4. Thaung Zaw JJ et al. “Sustained cerebrovascular and cognitive benefits of resveratrol in postmenopausal women.” Nutrients, vol. 12, no. 3 (March 20, 2020): 828
  5. Evolva press release. “First Findings of Long-Term Resveratrol Study Show Potential Reversal of Cognitive Aging by Up to 10 Years.” Published April 3, 2020.
  6. Mintel GNPD data. “Global: Share of Maternal Health Product Launches* by Top 10 Sub-Category, Oct 2014-Sep 2019.”
  7. Decker KJ. “Female Shoppers Remain a Powerful Audience for Dietary Supplements. But How Can Manufacturers Reach Them?” Nutritional Outlook. Published December 12, 2018.
  8. Lumina Intelligence data. “Probiotics July 2020.”
  9. Rosenbloom S. “What Did You Call It?” The New York Times. Published October 28, 2007.
  10. Preidt R. “Poll: Women Don’t Talk to Docs about Incontinence.” WebMD. Published November 1, 2018.
  11. Lallemand Health Solutions press release. “Meet Rosella: A Convenient Orally Administered Probiotic Shown to Support Women’s Intimate Health.” Published September 1, 2020.
  12. Montella R et al. “Vaginal adhesion of Lactobacillus plantarum P17630 after probiotic food supplement oral administration: a preliminary in vivo study.” Nutrafoods, vol. 12 (2013): 35-42
  13. Vladareanu R et al. “New evidence on oral L. plantarum P17630 product in women with history of recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis (RVVC): a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study.” European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, vol. 22, no. 1 (January 2018): 262-267
  14. 2020 CRN Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements data. Council for Responsible Nutrition.
  15. Juntti M. “Chews Wisely: Gummies and Other Alternative Formats Overtake Pills in Supplement Sales.” Nutrition Business Journal. April 2020 issue

Sidebar: What Women Want: Science

Ingredient suppliers report their customers are increasingly expecting them to conduct scientific research to back potential claims for their ingredients, which can translate to finished-product label claims for consumers. And that seems to be just fine with ingredient suppliers who understand the need for science.

“We love to support clinical trials because we believe in science-backed ingredients that can improve the health and well-being of individuals,” states David Tetzlaf, director of marketing, Evolva (Reinach, Switzerland).” So that’s where we do like to put our funding. We like to work with high-quality academics, or third-party research firms, too, to bring science to the market to support health benefits.”

Mariko Hill, product development executive, Gencor Pacific (Irvine, CA), is also on board with the need for strong research. “At Gencor, we do the whole shebang of in vivo, in vitro, and then clinical studies.” From a marketing perspective, she believes you need the clinical studies in order to make claims. “Not only that,” she says, “but as a supplier, you want to do your due diligence and conduct gold-standard studies for that case for the target that you’re selling to.”

For IFF Health (New York City), supporting customers is imperative. Thomas Li, IFF business development manager, explains “as a forward-thinking organization, we have both a reactive and a proactive approach. Internally, we make sure to do our due diligence in looking at what’s trending through trade shows, research, and partnerships with publications. Externally, we always want to support our customers in the direction they are going as well, as it is important for us to partner beyond just one or two product launches.”

Lallemand Health Solutions (Montreal) has its own research and development center, The Rosell Institute for Microbiome and Probiotics, located at the National Research Council of Canada in Montreal. The Institute partners with key scientists to research the human microbiome to discover how probiotic supplements can help improve health.

Jennifer Montgomery, marketing lead, probiotics, DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences (Brabrand, Denmark), puts it simply: “We strive to be a leader in science in all our health platforms and lead the way when it comes to developing innovative probiotic products that bring about real health benefits.”

Sidebar: Probiotic Yeast Supports Vaginal Health, Study Shows

A recently published clinical study1 demonstrated the ability of the probiotic yeast strain Saccharomyces cerevisiae CNCM I-3856 from Gnosis by Lesaffre (Milan, Italy), branded Quatreflora, to support vaginal health in women.

In the study, 60 healthy women of childbearing age, with regular menstrual cycles, normal vaginal flora, normal vaginal pH, and the same efficient contraception method for at least three months, were given either 500 mg/day (2.5x109 CFU), 1000 mg/day (5x109 CFU), or placebo. After four weeks of daily oral supplementation, vaginal samples showed that the migration of probiotics from the intestine to the vagina occurred in 21% of subjects taking 500 mg daily, 16% of subjects taking 1000 mg daily, and in zero subjects from the placebo group. This proportion is comparable to what was observed in previous studies with Lactobacilli probiotics, in which 25% of women had the probiotic in vaginal microbiota after four weeks of supplementation.2 The study also shows that the probiotic survives through the gastrointestinal tract, finding its way into the stool of 80% of subjects taking 500 mg daily and in 100% of subjects taking 1000 mg daily.

“As far as we know, the migration of a probiotic yeast from rectum to vagina has never been described before our pilot clinical study,” said Silvia Pisoni, senior marketing manager at Gnosis by Lesaffre, in a statement. “Probiotics are very promising candidates in preventing or restoring the imbalance of the vaginal microbiota. According to the findings of the trial, we really believe Quatreflora may contribute to the delicate women’s health.”


  1. Decherf A et al. “Recovery of Saccharomyces cerevisiae CNCM I-3856 in vaginal samples of healthy women after oral administration.” Nutrients, vol. 12, no. 8 (July 24, 2020)
  2. Kovachev S et al. “Effect of Lactobacillus casei var. rhamnosus (Gynophilus) in restoring the vaginal flora by female patients with bacterial vaginosis—randomized, open clinical trial.” Akusherstvo Ginekologiia (Sofiia), vol. 52, no. 1 (2013): 48–53
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