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Female Focus: Ingredients and Products for Women

Women's Health Women's Health

The women’s health category isn’t just about calcium and iron: a broader focus on ingredient application emerges.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 292,188 women in 2009—that’s one in every four female deaths.

Although heart disease was previously thought of as a “man’s disease,” about the same number of women and men die each year of heart disease in the U.S. Despite increases in awareness over the past decade, only 54 percent of women recognize that heart disease is their No. 1 killer.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for African American and white women in the U.S. Among Hispanic women, heart disease and cancer cause roughly the same number of deaths each year. For American Indian or Alaska Native and Asian or Pacific Islander women, heart disease is second only to cancer.

After heart disease and cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease is the third-leading cause of death for women, overall.

Regarding heart disease, about 5.8 percent of all white women, 7.6 percent of black women, and 5.6 percent of Mexican American women have coronary heart disease. In fact, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previously reported symptoms.

High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease.

Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including: diabetes; obesity; poor diet; physical inactivity; and excessive alcohol use.

Bone health is another area of great concern for women. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), poor bone metabolism currently impacts about 200 million people globally.

Approximately 54 million Americans—of whom 68 percent are women—have low bone mass, putting them at risk for osteoporosis. Studies suggest that about one in two women and up to one in four men age 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

While one in three men are expected to experience a bone fracture at some point, the lifetime risk of bone fracture for women is nearly one in two.

“Women are more vulnerable due to two factors,” noted Eric Anderson, senior vice president of global sales and marketing for New Jersey-based supplier NattoPharma. “First, women in general have less bone mass than men and, secondly, the annual loss of bone mass in women accelerates after menopause.”

Public health stats are one thing, but what health issues women care about the most is arguably more important. According to research firm Mintel in an August 2015 report titled “Marketing Health to Women U.S. 2015,” the top 13 health concerns of women over age 18 are:

1. Stress
2. Arthritis
3. Anxiety
4. Obesity
5. Diabetes
6. Heart disease
7. Depression
8. Breast cancer
9. Chronic pain
10. Alzheimer’s disease/dementia
11. Osteoporosis
12. Skin cancer
13. Menopause

In the same report, barriers to women achieving what they consider ideal health include a number of factors, such as cost, lack of results, and confusing health information. It would seem that natural product suppliers and marketers are uniquely positioned to tackle those obstacles head on.

Boning Up on Mineral Health

It is becoming increasingly clear that optimal consumption of macro-minerals (such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium) and micro-minerals (such as iron and zinc) is critical to heart health and bone health.

Magnesium, alone, is needed in more than 300 functions in the body, including blood pressure, energy production, muscle health, heart rhythm and sleep.

“Given the proper nutrients, the body can repair bone damage at any age,” noted Todd Johnson, director of marketing for Albion Minerals, a supplier based in Utah.

“It is never too late, but the earlier women recognize the essential need for adequate nutrient consumption, particularly calcium and magnesium, the more osteoporosis can be prevented.”

Albion’s Johnson pointed out that, “Magnesium deficiency is a frequently occurring disorder that leads to loss of bone mass, abnormal bone growth and skeletal weakness.”

A 2013 study by M.M. Bellucci et al. aimed to learn more about whether low levels of magnesium affects the formation or activity of osteoclasts, which are large bone cells instrumental in controlling the amount of bone tissue.

“Bone marrow cells were studied in medium containing different concentrations of magnesium,” Johnson explained. “Magnesium deficiency resulted in increased numbers of osteoclast-like cells and increased development of osteoclasts due to magnesium deficiency was reflected in higher expression of osteoclast-related genes.”

The data suggest, said Johnson, that altered osteoclast numbers and activity may contribute to the unhealthy skeletal characteristics seen in people who are magnesium-deficient.

“The Albion TRAACS brand of magnesium chelates have demonstrated high bioavailability,’ noted Johnson, and are offered for dietary supplement, food fortification and pharma applications.

Albion also offers Calcium Bisglycinate Chelate and DimaCal for supplement formulations and Calcium Citrate Malate (CCM) and Calci-K food and beverage applications.

As a complement to calcium, vitamin K2 has come to the fore in recent years for its ability to activate K-dependent proteins, which helps the body to properly use calcium.

NattoPharma’s Anderson pointed to a three-year study of MenaQ7 and 244 healthy postmenopausal women, which was said to show statistically significant protection of the vertebrae and hip against bone loss with 180 mcg daily.

As mentioned, iron is also vital for women’s health, in general, and bone health as one example. Sufficient, although not excessive, levels of dietary iron intake are now believed to be associated with proper bone mineralization.

A recognition of this—along with known benefits in the areas of immunity, cardiovascular health and cognition—has led to widespread proliferation of supplements featuring iron, which does not always yield the intended benefits.

In fact, “inorganic iron supplements such as ferrous sulfate still have low bioavailability and typically produce undesirable side effects such as gastric upset and nausea,” observed Albion’s Johnson, who pointed to clinical research comparing inorganic iron to Ferrochel [Ferrous Bisglycinate Chelate], a significant number of study participants [. . . ] reported fewer instances of gastrointestinal (GI) upset than with ferrous sulfate, which is typically associated with side effects such as constipation and nausea.”

Johnson added that Ferrochel has been the subject of approximately 70 clinical studies that are said to support its superior efficacy and tolerability as compared to iron salt ingredients, like ferrous sulfate.

The Heart of the Matter

A number of nutrients are vital for health health, including L-carnitine, vitamin K2, and magnesium.

Aouatef Bellamine, PhD, scientific manager for ingredient supplier, Lonza in New Jersey, said that, “By breaking down fatty acids to smaller molecules used by the Krebs cycle, L-carnitine promotes energy production in the form of ATP [adenosine triphosphate].”

“Carnipure L-Carnitine is the nutrient needed to help support conversion of fat into metabolic energy,” she added, which is important for consumers’ weight-management and healthy heart goals. While it used to be believed that arterial calcification—hardening of the arteries—was an inevitable consequence of aging, recent research has made it clear that there are many things we can do to fend off this process.

For example, noted NattoPharma’s Anderson, “Healthy arterial tissues have been shown to contain 100 times more vitamin K2 than calcified arteries, meaning that simply supplementing with K2 can actively protect the cardiovascular system.”

While observational data have suggested a connection between vitamin K2 intake and heart health, intervention trials with cardiovascular endpoints had been lacking, until recently, added Anderson.

Researchers at the R&D Group VitaK of Maastricht University in the Netherlands monitored 244 healthy post-menopausal women for three years using pulse-wave velocity and ultrasound techniques. The participants, who ranged in age from 55 to 65 years, were randomly assigned to receive a nutritional dose (180 mcg) of vitamin K2 as MK-7 (as MenaQ7) daily for three years, or placebo capsules.

After three years of supplementation, an important measurement of arterial stiffness in the MK-7 group, the Stiffness Index Beta, had decreased significantly after compared to the slight increase in the placebo group. Results confirmed that vitamin K2 as MK-7 not only inhibited age-related stiffening of the artery walls, but also yielded a statistically significant improvement in vascular elasticity, Anderson explained.

“This study, published in Thrombosis and Haemostasis in 2015, is a breakthrough because it is the first intervention trial whose results confirm the association made by previous population-based studies: that low vitamin K2 intake is linked to cardiovascular risk,” said Anderson. “According to the researchers, the data demonstrated that a nutritional dose of vitamin K2 in fact promotes cardiovascular health.”

As mentioned earlier, magnesium is needed by the body in cardiovascular health, including healthy blood pressure and healthy cholesterol levels. The mechanisms by which magnesium asserts its effect in these areas are quite varied, noted Albion’s Johnson.

“Magnesium has been seen to have a major positive influence on cardiac arrhythmias,” Johnson added.

The mechanisms of action through which magnesium can promote healthy heart rhythm, explained Johnson, include: maintaining the heart’s muscle electrolyte balance; complementing calcium’s effects; and supporting a healthy (lower) release of neurotransmitters and stimulating mediators (e.g. noradrenaline, adrenaline).

Albion offers Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate, Magnesium Lysinate Glycinate, Magnesium Glycinate Glutamine Chelate, Magnesium Aspartate, Dimagnesium Malate, and Creatine MagnaPower, with Magnesium Lysinate Glycinate Chelate, Magnesium Glycinate Glutamine Chelate and Creatine MagnaPower geared more to exercise and recovery.

Mood, Anxiety and Stress

In the Mintel survey cited before, mood, anxiety and depression are among the top 10 health concerns that women have.

“Women are 70 percent more likely then men to experience depression in their lifetime,” offered Albion’s Todd Johnson.“Magnesium is an essential mineral, and deficiency has been linked to a range of mental health [concerns].”

In fact, pre-clinical and clinical studies have indicated a relationship between magnesium balance and fear, anxiety and depression, according to Johnson.

In a 2012 study, Johnson explained, researchers further investigated the previous evidence that magnesium had an effect on mood, emotions, and reactions to stress.

In this study, the researchers observed that magnesium deficiency caused an increase in the transcription of the corticotrophin-releasing hormone in the periventricular hypothalamic nucleus, and elevated ACTH plasma levels, which essentially indicates higher levels of stress.

Dan Lifton, president of the Proprietary Ingredients Group at the New York-based supplier, Maypro, pointed out that mood related to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is an area that has been shown particularly amenable to nutritional support.

Venetron, a patented, purified, powdered extract of Apocynum venetum, is standardized to contain at least 4 percent hyperoside and isoquercitrin, and has been shown, noted Lifton, in several placebo-controlled human clinical trials to promote a positive outlook, alleviate occasional stress and improve sleep quality, all areas that important to female consumers.

“Case studies have shown results in patients with depressive PMS disorders and in younger and older depressed patients (unpublished data),” Lifton said. “In one 29-year-old woman, 50 mg of Venetron a day for one month reduced melancholy and overeating associated with PMS; in a 39-year-old with PMS, 25 mg of Venetron taken for two weeks before menstruation over three months improved emotional symptoms such as irritability and depression; and a 55-year-old woman given 50 mg a day showed a decrease in fatigue and grief.”


Menopause is another area cited by the Mintel survey, and along with it come other health issues, including mood.

According to Michael Jeffers, president of New Mexico-based Helios Corp., which is the exclusive license-holder in North America for EstroG-100 from South Korea’s Naturalendo Tech Co., Ltd., ExtroG-100 is a patented ingredient comprised of three blended botanical root extracts that was “scientifically developed for the purpose of providing relief from the symptoms of menopause.”

EstroG-100 is derived from the roots of three botanical extracts that are endemic to South Korea: Phlomis umbrosa, Cynanchum wilfordii, and Angelica gigas Nakai (Korean angelica).

According to Helios Corp, research supports EstroG-100’s benefits in the areas of night sweats, sleeplessness, vaginal dryness, joint discomfort, mood swings, nervousness and fatigue.

According to Helios Corp’s Jeffers, the ingredient complex is supported by three double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical studies and nine supportive studies. Backed by an U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) non-objection to its new dietary ingredient (NDI) submission and approval from Health Canada.

“Women have very few choices, in terms of menopause relief options, because the products are estrogenic, are linked to liver toxicity or take six to eight weeks to work,” Jeffers observed. “EstroG-100 is the first option since the Estrogen-Plus-Progestin Study, which was stopped in 2002, found to be natural, effective, safe, non-estrogenic and fast-acting—working in as few as seven to 10 days.”


“The key to creating a successful product —in women’s health and in any category—comes down to ingredient selection,” NattoPharma’s Anderson advised. “Manufacturers need to partner with suppliers offering clinically validated ingredients; with this validation often comes patents, approved structure-function claims, and proof of efficacy that manufacturers can use to create a clear message for the consumer.” NIE

For More Information:
■ Albion Minerals, (801) 453-2406
■ American Science Products, (805) 377-4792
■ Helios Corp, (505) 982-8836
■ Lonza, (201) 316-9200
■ Maypro, (914) 251-0701
■ NattoPharma, (609) 454-2992

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