Redefining women’s health: Sector expands to fit modern lifestyles and transgender inclusions
04 Mar 2021 --- Despite addressing demands as ancient as humanity, the women’s health space has never looked so modern. The sector is continuing to evolve in tune with busy lifestyles and a reframing of womanhood itself.
NutritionInsight speaks with industry players about how starring ingredients like probiotics can help address a range of issues throughout all women’s life stages.
The women’s health category is constantly expanding, according to Vanessa Azevedo, EMEA marketing lead at IFF Health.
“Women think proactively about the future to ensure optimal wellness – physically, mentally and emotionally. There is an eminent desire for personalized products designed to support their unique needs,” she affirms.
To develop a product targeted at women, it is critical to look beyond just traditional demographics such as age and dig deeper to fully understand their priorities, challenges and lifestyle to create a solution to help them live more in line with their values.
Women’s health should also take lifestyle, physiology, hormonal cycles and life stages into account, emphasizes Elodie Aragon, product manager responsible for the Women’s Health portfolio at Lallemand Health Solutions.
Including trans women
Additionally, the boundaries of women’s health are shifting as companies increasingly acknowledge the health needs of non-cisgender people.
“Aiming to improve health for as many people as possible, we of course consider non-cisgender individuals,” says Daniel Hovel Hansen, head of infant & women’s health, commercial development, human health at Chr. Hansen.
In light of this, Chr. Hansen has conducted a clinical study showing how its Astarte probiotic strain combination may help support the formation of a healthy neovaginal microbiota in trans women who have undergone vaginoplasty surgery.
Considerations around iron
Meanwhile, the women’s health space is ripe for greater inclusion as many products are positioned based on how the person will feel or benefit after supplementation, notes Mariko Hill, Gencor Pacific’s product development executive.
For example, products aiding increased muscle mass appeal to anyone across the gender spectrum, while iron supplementation is often paired with “more energy” claims.
However, Laetitia Petrussa, IFF Health’s product manager, notes that not all products – including some iron supplements – are safe for all sexes to use.
This is seen in iron’s recommended daily allowance (RDA), a system that does not currently make considerations for transgender people. The iron RDA for women of reproductive age is 14 mg – almost double the RDA for adult men.
“This is because iron requirements are dependent on biological functions, such as menstruation and pregnancy. Men or post-menopausal women taking too much iron are at risk of iron poisoning,” explains Petrussa.
However, IFF Health has also conducted safety studies to ensure that products like SoyLife soy isoflavones, used to combat menopause symptoms, are safe for all genders.
Notably, a clinical study showed that SoyLife supplementation in cisgender men may enhance special memory, which appears to be dependent on estrogen activation.
Support through the life stages
It is also important that the women’s health sector includes all the life stages, from young adulthood to post-menopause.
For example, Chr. Hansen focuses on age groups from approximately 16 years of age until the end of life, while Gnosis by Lesaffre supports women through adolescence, pregnancy and menopause.
“Women’s health requirements change a lot during life, and it is important to know and hear what women need. For example, women’s mindfulness of their health is different today compared to the past, with an investment in preventative health becoming a priority,” says Silvia Pisoni, senior marketing manager at Gnosis by Lesaffre.
Balancing busy lifestyles
Women’s health is gaining ground within the global dietary supplements market, with NPD featuring these claims witnessing an average annual growth of 17 percent (CAGR 2016-2020), according to Innova Market Insights.
Hansen notes that there is a strong trend toward specifically targeted solutions in new health areas. Examples are health in pregnancy, healthy female aging or solutions targeting immune, digestive and urogenital health in one package.
Innova Market Insights also observes that beyond supplements targeting various women’s related health issues – like supporting breastfeeding and pregnancy, regulating the menstrual cycle and enhancing sexual health – products that support active women, featuring energy or immunity claims, are on-trend.
“Modern women are always on the move, trying to balance private and professional life while taking care of their health and body,” adds Aragon of Lallemand Health Solutions.
“Women aged under 30 years are more independent than in the past, with more time and money to dedicate to themselves,” notes Pisoni.
However, Aragon says that women are more prone to anxiety and depression than men, and hormonal fluctuations may contribute to gender differences in anxiety disorders. Women are also more likely to have insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
The rise of probiotics
Probiotic ingredients can address a host of women’s demands, from stress and immunity to vaginal health.
“There are plenty of opportunities to offer holistic solutions to women wanting to achieve the best versions of themselves. Probiotics are valuable pieces of this puzzle, bringing efficacious and science-backed benefits to essential areas of women’s health,” explains Azevedo.
Although the women’s probiotic market used to be a niche market, it is now becoming a strong differentiation factor for product development, says Aragon.
She says this is why the past two years have seen a tranche of new probiotic products targeting women.
“Consequently, consumers’ online engagement is increasing. Between December 2017 and January 2020, the number of reviews for women’s intimate health probiotics increased by 804 percent, on average from the 20 countries studied.”
Probiotics for holistic demands
However, Azevedo of IFF Health says that probiotic supplements for women is still a niche segment, with only 13 percent of new launches in the EMEA region targeting women.
The available products focus on well-established areas such as maternal health, digestion, irritable bowel syndrome, immunity and vaginal health.
“Looking ahead, the future market for probiotics holds potential for other benefits that contribute to overall well-being like skin health, healthy aging and cognitive health,” she states.
Aragon adds that the benefits of probiotics to support women’s health are increasingly recognized, mainly due to their ability to maintain and restore digestive and vaginal microflora balance. They also have positive consequences on feminine health, digestive health, occasional stress and natural defenses.
Meanwhile, Chr. Hansen is seeing a general rise in interest for women’s health probiotics within urogenital health due to increasing awareness of the benefits of its probiotic strains.
“The trend is also driven by an increasing acceptance of urogenital health as a vital part of personal health and well-being,” says Hansen.
This conversation continues in the second part of NutritionInsight’s coverage of women’s health, which details consumer demands for naturality, scientific backing and stereotype-free packaging.
By Katherine Durrell
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