As age changes the health issues women face, many are adopting natural approaches to see them through their life stages.
While eating healthily and exercising is important for everyone, women face a number of health issues throughout their lives. From premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menopause to pregnancy and breast health, as women age, the health concerns they are focused on varies.
According to Donna Noonan, senior vice president of New Jersey-based Mushroom Wisdom, women go through cycles throughout their lives where their nutrient and health priorities shift. “In their early years (20s and 30s), it’s all about fertility and healthy reproductive systems (including healthy menses),” she explained. “In their late 30s, preserving bone mass comes more to the forefront as women are educated by their doctors that after age 35, peak bone mass slowly begins to decline. In their late 30s and 40s, fertility health remains high, as more women are enjoying expanding their families into older age. Then come their late 40s and 50s, where peri-menopause often begins with the start of irregular cycles, hormone fluctuations and symptoms occurring from those fluctuations (weight gain, moodiness, insomnia, hot flashes). And post-menopausal women place preserving bone and preventing cardiac issues as health priorities.”
Many women also do their homework, whether by watching The Dr. Oz Show, researching the effects of medications on the internet or simply by talking to friends. By taking the initiative to see “what’s out there,” a number of women are choosing to go natural.In fact, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 54 percent of women use dietary supplements as part of their health routines.
“This is a large audience eager for information on the best supplements to take and why. Research also shows that the nutraceuticals business in general is growing, indicating an opportunity,” said Angela Butler, director of Erba Vita USA in New York. “As more consumers seek natural remedies, women in particular are becoming more interested in products free of artificial ingredient and dyes. Also, concerns over chemicals in OTC medicines are prompting women to seek natural alternatives.”
Ramona Billingslea, marketing manager for Betsy’s Health Foods in Houston, TX, said that she has noticed a rise in women looking for natural alternatives for their health issues. “If we define a woman’s health as specifically those issues related to hormonal shifts in a woman’s body during different times of the month and a different stages in the life cycle, then I would say that women have increasingly been turning to nutritional support ever since the safety of long-term use of prescription hormone replacement therapy has come into question,” she said.
Bone, skin and breast health are concerns for women of any age. Young women with developing bodies want to ensure that their bones develop and stay strong as they age, while skin health remains a concern of women both young and old. “One thing a woman always tend to care about is skin health,” said Noonan. “Putting one’s most beautiful, glowing best face forward makes us all feel terrific.”
For bone health, California-based Doctor’s Best offers Calcium Bonemaker Complex, a complete calcium formula utilizing a highly absorbable form of calcium with all of the relevant co-factors to ensure absorption. “The specific category of ‘women’s health’ is very broad and encompasses many categories including bone health (calcium, magnesium, vitamins D and K), menopause and the myriad issues associated with it that fall into the ‘beauty from within’ category, which is gaining more attention,” explained Kevin Cobb, director of sales and marketing for the company.
Breast health should be a top priority for all women, as the National Breast Cancer Foundation reports that breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among women. Further, breast cancer is also the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, as one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Keeping track of family history, doing self-exams, as well as making appointments for regular check-ups with the doctor and scheduling mammogram appointments are steps that women can take to avoid becoming another statistic.
Research has shown that medicinal mushrooms have a positive effect on the immune system for those battling cancer. According to Mushroom Wisdom’s Noonan, the company found that the meshima mushroom and a specific extract called PL-fraction also supports breast tissue. “Research has shown that meshima’s immune-related actions show promise and specificity for maintaining healthy breast cells,” she explained.
Mushroom Wisdom offers two breast tissue support products, Super Meshima and Breast•Mate. Super Meshima provides 800 mg of PL-Fraction extracted from meshima mushroom, plus 100 mg of maitake TD-Fraction (an immune health ingredient), while Breast•Mate contains 1,000 mg of meshima-derived PL-Fraction, plus synergistic immunesupport ingredients SX-Fraction (160 mg), vitamin D (800 IU), green tea extract (100 mg) and broccoli sprouts extract (100 mg).
Hitting Start & Pause
Puberty begins the female changes that develop the body into womanhood. As the body changes, a woman experiences a wide range of development that includes growing breasts, body hair and the start of the menstrual period.Some women also experience PMS, which occurs the days leading up the start of the period. Typical symptoms include abdominal cramping, bloating, headache, backache, insomnia, breast tenderness and cravings, among others.
At the other end of the spectrum is menopause, the point in a woman’s life when her menstrual period stops and she is no longer fertile. Much like puberty, during menopause the body undergoes changes, which can result in a number of symptoms. While a number of menopausal women experience a variety of symptoms including hot flashes and night sweats, low libido, moods swing, weight gain, etc., other women may not experience any symptoms at all.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is used to supplement the body with estrogen or estrogen and progesterone during and after menopause, was once widely recommended, but views changed due to research showing the negative impact HRT can have on the body. This led many menopausal women to natural products retailers in search of a natural alternative.
Erba Vita offers Menstrual and MenoGuide products that are designed for women dealing with ailments associated with these life stages, explained Butler. “Women face many unique challenges when it comes to health including menstruation and menopause. Our MenoGuide and Menstrual products are produced with ingredients such as flaxseed extract, raspberry and sage that women feel comfortable taking and are already a part of their health lexicon, along with other clinically studied ingredients like kudzu, dong quai, caigua and black cohosh,” she said.
EstroG-100 is the newest product from Doctor’s Best that is formulated specifically for women and is quickly becoming one of the company’s top items, according to Cobb. “EstroG-100 has been clinically proven to provide healthy management of hot flashes, night sweats, nervous irritability, dizzy spells, vaginal dryness, numbness and tingling, occasional emotional discontent and occasional fatigue and sleeplessness,” he said.
Pregnancy, breastfeeding and infertility are also important issues in the women’s health category, as many pregnant and breastfeeding women do not want to endanger their children with harmful chemicals some traditional products may contain. Additionally, for a plethora of reasons, 1.5 million women had issues with infertility in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control andPrevention (CDC).
“Unfortunately, infertility impacts about one in six couples and these rates appear to be rising year by year,” explained Ethan Lynette, partner with Fairhaven Health, LLC in Washington. “There are a variety of factors that may be influencing these numbers: Women (and men) are waiting longer in life to conceive, which makes it that more difficult to achieve pregnancy given declining egg health, sperm counts, etc. Environmental contaminates in the air we breathe and food we eat are likely contributing factors as well.
“What is particularly disturbing is that couples are being prematurely pushed toward expensive infertility treatments and medications before exploring natural alternatives—many of which have been clinically proven to enhance fertility,” Lynette added. “Fortunately, more medical practitioners are now recommending these natural alternatives and the overall market for such products has grown exponentially.”
Fairhaven Health has formulated a number of products to meet both broad and specific needs. The company’s best-selling products are FertilAid for Women and Men. Both provide optimal vitamin and mineral support along with antioxidants and herbal ingredients clinically shown to enhance fertility.FertileCM is designed to increase the quantity and quality of cervical mucus, the medium in which sperm travel in order to fertilize the egg, while OvaBoost is designed to improve egg quality and ovarian function.
The company also offers a supplement to relieve morning sickness as well as NursingBlend for breastfeeding women. All of Fairhaven’s products are formulated in partnership with OB/GYNs, lactation consultants, etc., and are manufactured in U.S. GMP-certified facilities to ensure efficacy and quality, according to the company.
Delivery & Support
Retailer Billingslea noted that most women come in to the store looking for supplements in capsule form.Meanwhile, Mark Stayton, sales manager and supplement buyer for Martindale’s Natural Market in Springfield, PA, agreed that capsules are the most popular choice for women, but said his customers are asking for all different types of delivery options. According Zoe Kissam, herbalist and associate brand manager for California-based Traditional Medicinals, the company has seen a more than 15 percent growth in the company’s women’s teas sales over a recent 52 weeks.1
Traditional Medicinals’ women’s teas support the natural cycles in a woman’s body to promote balanced, everyday wellness. “Drinking tea is a gentle and convenient way to incorporate herbs into your day-to-day routine. This is especially true when that tea is specifically formulated by knowledgeable herbalists and made with pharmacopoeial- quality herbs to support the natural cycles in a woman’s body,” explained Kissam.
The Traditional Medicinals Women’s Tea line consists of eight teas including:
• Organic Mother’s Milk: herbs like fennel, anise, coriander and fenugreek support the production of breast milk and healthy lactation.*
• Organic Pregnancy Tea: a blend of raspberry and nettle leaf, as well as other herbs like alfalfa, combined in a mild, minty taste to gently support a healthy pregnancy.*
• PMS Tea: a blend of slightly bitter, sweet and earthy herbs like dandelion, chicory roots, parsley and nettle that helps relieve premenstrual symptoms like water retention.*
When it comes to women’s health, retailers have a number of bases to cover, so it is essential that they have a well-educated staff that can assist customers and answer their questions. “We rely on literature, both company supplied and third-party, and have two or three staff trainings per month, which really helps,” said Stayton, who also noted that Martindale’s has a number of women on staff of varying ages who have dealt with the issues that customers are facing.
Manufacturers can support their retail partners by offering product literature, samples, displays, staff trainings and instore demos. For instance, Fairhaven Health also offers access to clinical data behind all of the ingredients the company uses in its products on its website.As for retailers, creating eye-catching displays, special end caps and holding “women’s only” events are strategies to enhance sales.
“Women are intuitive as well as assertive—they are quite willing to ask questions and educational materials,” concluded Noonan. “Many do not like to be sold on hype and will be both skeptical and turned off when they encounter it. Excitement comes from relationship building and using creative means to capture and hold their attention.
“Women enjoy networking and are highly communicative. So why not form a women’s club or women’s circles—one for young mothers, one for those in their 40s and 50s, etc.,” she added. “If your store has a café area, host talks, provide product samples, encourage dialogue and, of course, serve foods and beverages from your store.”
Immune Cells Essential to Establishing Pregnancy
New research from the University of Adelaide in Australia shows for the first time that immune cells known as macrophages are critical to fertility by creating a healthy hormone environment in the uterus.
Laboratory studies led by researchers in the University’s Robinson Institute have shown that macrophages play an essential role in production of the hormone progesterone, which is crucial for embryo implantation and the initiation of pregnancy.
Results of the study, which will be published online by the Journal of Clinical Investigation, could lead to new insights into how to treat infertility in women.
“Previous research has demonstrated that macrophages are prevalent in reproductive tissues, but this is the first time that their absolute necessity for pregnancy has been demonstrated,” said project team leader, Professor Sarah Robertson, NHMRC principal research fellow and member of the University’s Robinson Institute. “Macrophages organize the development of blood vessel networks in the ovary required for production of progesterone, which is the major hormone for initiating pregnancy.”
The researchers found that insufficient numbers of macrophages leads to reduced production of progesterone, which results in embryos implanting poorly or not at all, and can manifest later as miscarriage.
“The contribution of macrophages to the healthy vascular structure of the corpus luteum, which must develop rapidly in a matter of days to produce high levels of progesterone, was a surprise,” said Robertson. “This is the first time that we have understood how pivotal macrophages are for conception and establishing pregnancy. Environmental factors such as infection, obesity and stress all contribute to inflammatory responses and affect the generation and function of macrophages in women. This could therefore impact on the macrophages’ ability to support pregnancy.”
However, the laboratory studies showed that treatment with progesterone could reverse the effects caused by reduced levels of macrophages. “Insufficient progesterone is one reason for infertility in some women,” Robertson said.“Infertile women are now routinely provided with progesterone supplements as part of their assisted reproductive treatments, and this is also a promising therapy for recurring miscarriage.”
But ultimately the researchers hope to improve fertility by more natural means. “If macrophages are shown to play the same role in women as we’ve seen in our laboratory studies, this gives us potential new avenues for targeting them with lifestyle and nutritional intervention, improving fertility by advancing the quality of the conception environment,” said Robertson.
For more information, visit www.adelaide.edu.au.
1 SPINS/Nielsen 52 weeks ending June 8, 2013
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.