Navigating women’s health issues demands taking a holistic approach.
Although some women’s health concerns mirror those of men, there are many issues that are unique to women, particularly as they age. Women often seek natural remedies for such matters as hormonal imbalance, menopause and stress, and natural practitioners can help by taking a comprehensive approach, while keeping abreast of current research as well as the supplements market that address specific issues.
Common Health Concerns
Concerns pertaining to women’s health vary by age, said Sara Gottfried, MD. For example, in their 30s, hormonal issues become more common, while in the 40s, progesterone declines, signifying perimenopause. By the 50s and 60s, women are concerning about preventing breast cancer and preserving cognitive function.
Still, hormonal issues are of vital importance throughout life, regardless of age.
“Hormone fluctuation is a primary concern for women, starting from the time they start menstruating until post menopause, so that really covers the entire span of their reproductive cycle,” said Margie Adelman, vice president of sales and marketing for Greens First Female, a manufacturer based in Florida. As women age, these fluctuating hormone levels contribute to a shift in energy levels, bone health, digestive health and more.
“Unfortunately, hormone imbalances are on the rise,” said Dr. Gottfried. “This is due to several factors: first, our fast-paced, digital culture which drives us to live ‘on’ more often then ‘off.’ Second, it’s due to toxic overload with endocrine disruptors. Third, we have a broken health care system that treats conditions with the latest pharmaceutical rather than assessing root cause,” she said. For example, a patient may end up on an antidepressant for her high cortisol and low thyroid function, often without having her hormones checked.
Another hormone-related concern is pre-menstrual syndrome—PMS—experienced by millions of women in the days leading up to menstruation. These symptoms vary from women to women, but include mood swings, irritability and anxiety. “This emotional PMS can affect their relationships with their loved ones and co-workers. The resulting trauma can then stretch past the emotional PMS time as these women deal with the fall-out from their emotional rollercoaster ride,” said Alan Cash, CEO and founder of the manufacturing company Terra Biological LLC in California.
Stress is a part of life, and women often shoulder a great deal of stress due to family and work expectations, and undue stress can negatively impact health. “In addition to this mental stress, women are also exposed to high levels of environmental stress. Not only is our environment full of toxins, but also our beauty products,” said Sylvie Beljanski, president of Natural Source International, Ltd., headquartered in New York.
Other concerns for women as they age include their cardiovascular health and lowering their cholesterol, as well as staving off obesity, diabetes and cancer. “These largely lifestyle-based diseases are therefore an ever-present element to consider and manage when considering women’s health,” said Keegan Sheridan, ND, contributor at Klaire Labs, a manufacturer headquartered in Nevada.
Amy McKelvey, integrative herbalist, natural products consultant and chief energizing officer (CEO) of the California-based her vital way, agreed, noting that heart health is a major issue, with women concerned about lowering cholesterol and managing stress and anxiety, which are contributing factors to heart disease.
While conventional treatments for menopause and other female hormone-related issues have included chemicals or pharmaceutical drugs, such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), some women are backtracking from these methods due to potential side effects.
For the side effects of severe PMS, for example, some doctors have prescribed anti-depressants or birth control pills. “Unfortunately, these treatments can have many side effects including an increase in suicidal ideation, jitteriness, weird dreams, dry mouth, diarrhea, decreased sexual desire, feeling agitated, shaky or anxious, felling and being sick, indigestion, stomach aches, constipation, loss of appetite, dizziness, insomnia, headaches,” said Cash.
As some of these traditional treatments are beginning to fall out of favor, lifestyle-based therapies are an increasingly more common go-to advice offered by practitioners—a healthy diet, sufficient exercise, adequate sleep and stress management, all of which inarguably are the foundations of good health.
For example, the importance of a clean, plant-based diet in maintaining hormone levels has been underestimated until recently, said Adelman, but it is a key factor in addressing this issue, along with an overall holistic approach that includes stress management and detoxifying the environment.
Of late, natural products and solutions for women’s health issues are being utilized alongside conventional medicine. “By combining natural products and mind/body practices with mainstream medical therapies, practitioners can use an integrative approach that is gentler and more effective than conventional medicine alone,” said Beljanski.
“More and more women and health care practitioners are seeing the link between ‘toxic body, toxic mind,’ including environmental toxins, heavy metals, stress, and toxic people and their link to cancer. They are turning to a holistic approach that combines the best conventional medicine combined with the best alternative medicine to treat the individual as a whole—with great success,” she added.
Michelle Violi, PharmD, dispensing pharmacists manager at Women’s International Pharmacy in Wisconsin, said, “I think personalized medicine is becoming more and more common in health care today. We are different as individuals and have different needs.”
Dr. Serena Goldstein, a naturopathic doctor based in New York, added that often, natural approaches could be in place of conventional treatments, but not all the time. “Some natural treatments also need time to work, and then can work even better in conjunction with a healthful lifestyle,” she said.
State of the Market
The dietary supplements market overall has seen significant growth because of rising consumer awareness of the importance of preventive health care, said Beljanski. “Overall, women are linked to increased awareness of their health as well as a higher buying power than men, which makes them very influential in the health supplements market,” she explained. Women are becoming more educated about their own needs and empowered to do something about it. In addition, from a practical standpoint, many women do not get enough of the nutrients that they need to stay healthy and prevent disease, so supplements that aim to detox the body are in demand.
Adelman said that consumers themselves are the driving force within this product category, which she said is growing at a frantic pace, along with the support of doctors. “We hear all the time that retailers are devoting more shelf space for female health products. Women have sort of been left behind in the personal health care category and it was somewhat of a white space until now,” she said.
Products on the market geared toward women aim to support many functions. Hormones
For women of childbearing age that have painful menstrual cycles, Dr. Gottfried said that solutions include fish oil, magnesium and visiting a sauna, which activates FOXO3, one of the genes of longevity. Dietary changes can go a long way toward relieving hormonal symptoms. For example, green tea has been studied for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Greens First was the first company to launch green powdered drinks into the market for health care providers; the company’s Greens First Female line of professional grade nutritional formulas was a collaboration with some OB/Gyns to address various women’s issues and consists of 11 SKUs. “Every product in the line deals with a milestone of the female reproductive cycle like PMS, Conception, PreNatal, Menopause and so on. Every novel formula is based on clinically-proven ingredients that deliver real results and the response has been overwhelming,” said Adelman. To illustrate, the product ConceEVE contains Myo and D-Chiro inositol, which has been connected with increasing fertility, while MenoSolve targets menopausal symptoms, with such active ingredients as red clover flower and cnidium monnieri to help with hot flashes.
She added that their formulas are completely non-hormonal, meaning that they can be taken on their own or in combination with other treatments recommended by the health care provider.
Then there are bioidentical hormone treatments, which chemically replicate natural hormones and are custom-made for the individual. “Speaking as a pharmacist at a compounding pharmacy focusing on bioidentical hormones for women and men, I’ve spoken with many women who have found relief from their symptoms using bioidentical hormones,” said Violi.
To counter PMS, Terra Biological manufactures Jubilance, comprised of oxaloacetate, a metabolite that targets the side effects of anxiety, gloomy mood and perceived stress. “Oxaloacetate is an energy compound, found in the citric acid cycle in the mitochondria, and is present in every one of your cells,” said Cash. He said that oxaloacetate also has been used for anti-aging, energy support and glucose system support, which are also valuable to women as they age. “Proving enough energy for the brain is key, especially as the cerebellum has been shown to have huge glucose demand during Emotional PMS,” he explained.
For endocrine regulation linked to hormonal changes, the manufacturer Welife Naturals based in Spain and Idaho manufactures several lines of products from plant extracts, such as Holoram Endokrium, an endocrine system bio-regulator, to help with premenstrual syndrome. “Plants have phytohormones that by similarity can regulate conditions of lack or excess of hormones, and in this way support treatments relating to the pathologies of women,” said Jorge Enrique Angel, MD.
Stress/Heart Disease/Gut Health
Dr. Goldstein’s favorite natural remedies are a combination of homeopathics and flower essences, which can be helpful in times of stress. “Hawthorn is another favorite because of its grounding/heart focused quality, especially if there’s a history or current concern of heart disease,” she said. For adrenal support, Dr. Goldstein recommends a quality B complex with methylated folate magnesium, and optimizing vitamin D levels, while helpful herbs can include ashwaganda, maca and eleutherococcus.
Natural Source International manufactures four lines of products: The Beljanski Products and Beljanski Professional; Targetage; and French Secret, a skincare line.
The Beljanski products utilize two natural plant extracts: Pao pereira and Rauwolfia vomitoria. “Rauwolfia vomitoria is a regulator of hormones which can greatly diminish the effects of menopause while both the Pao pereira and Rawolfia vomitoria extracts have proven beneficial against all types of cancer by selectively targeting and shutting down cancer cells,” said Beljanski.
When it comes to heart health, some of the natural solutions include products containing turmeric, CoQ10, milk thistle, and L-theanine, said McKelvey. To address cardiovascular health, the new herbal practitioner brand her vital way has 13 products formulated for women. For example, their Cranberex product is an ultra-concentrated cranberry extract product containing proanthocyanidins for a healthy urinary tract.
Florida-based Protexin, Inc. (Probiotics International/Bio-Kult) manufactures a line of probiotics to help women achieve a balanced mix of gut bacteria, which Hannah Braye, the company’s technical advisor said is important “… due to the connection of the gut microbiome with a number of women’s health concerns.” Protexin’s probiotics are an alternative to anti-fungal medicines for the occasional thrush and antibiotics for the occasional urinary tract infection, for example, and to maintain overall gut health. For example, Bio-Kult is a multi-strain probiotic containing 14 strains of beneficial bacteria, which Braye said could help a more diverse range of both digestive and other disorders.
Klaire Labs has a line of seven products geared toward women’s health. For example, their Prenatal Formula provides essential vitamins and minerals, including substantial and active forms of folate. A new probiotic product, Target-b, will be launched this spring and contains lactobacillus fermentum CECT5716 that is aimed to improve breast comfort in breastfeeding and immune health in infants.
In-house Supplements and Products
Often, natural practitioners recommend supplements to their patients, and many practitioners keep samples or stock products in their office. Certain manufacturers, such as Natural Source International, make products available exclusively to health care professionals, such as their Beljanski Professional line. “Natural Source also offers wholesale opportunities for practitioners looking to carry our products,” said Beljanski.
Similarly, Greens First professional grade supplements are sold exclusively to health care providers, and this is good for business on both ends. “We believe that women looking for these products would really rather have their provider recommend a brand that they believe is safe and effective rather than choosing one off the shelf where they have no idea about manufacturing practices, sourcing of quality raw materials and overall reputation of the manufacturer etc.,” said Adelman, adding that the company has more than 20,000 health care providers that have been recommending their products for 17 years.
Additionally, by practitioners having supplements available in their offices, this adds to convenience and may counteract the tendency to purchase products over the Internet. “The overhead is eliminated and the margins are much healthier than retail,” she added.
Indeed, the relationship between manufacturers and practitioners is often viewed as a partnership. “Working with practitioners allows us to reach women in an environment where they will receive the education, product knowledge and support that the retail space cannot offer. Practitioners understand the importance of quality and purity and so it’s a natural partnership and one that we greatly value. We see practitioners as really an extension of our team since education is a big part of what we are trying to do,” said McKelvey.
Further, Klaire Labs recognizes the challenges health care professionals face in integrating nutritional recommendations into their practice, so they support them with educational materials, online webinars, patient handouts, and the like.
Other companies, such as Terra Biologicals, offers special pricing to practitioners, as does her vital way, which also shares clinical validation of its products with practitioners.
Caution must be taken when “prescribing” natural supplements to patients, said Dr. Goldstein, as some can have side effects as well as interact with other meds.
“Supplements are meant to supplement, not replace, an unhealthy lifestyle,” continued Dr. Goldstein, who also advised that practitioners should guide their patients toward healthful lifestyle habits, such as hydration, healthy diet, sleep and exercise. Nonetheless, “Depending on the case, sometimes pharmaceuticals may be needed; education becomes important in helping her understand all her options for care and how it aligns with her trajectory of health.”
Practitioners should take a thorough history and work up and address health from multiple angles, including diet, sleep, stress, lifestyle, emotions, as well as physically, suggested Dr. Goldstein. If a practitioner thinks that supplements are appropriate, she advised, “Incorporate little by little too so you have an idea of what each supplement will do, so then you can know if it’s actually doing its job.”
Communication and truly listening to female patients regarding their complaints is the first step toward helping alleviate any symptoms and addressing underlying causes. As Braye said, “There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to health.”
Looking at a patient from a holistic standpoint, one that includes prevention, nutrition and lifestyle, is key. “Dietary supplements should be used when appropriate to support integrative and holistic diet and lifestyle protocols. Some supplements may be beneficial in the short-term which imbalances are rectified, while others are beneficial to be taken long-term,” Braye continued.
Finally, education is crucial—the practitioner should not only engage in self-education but should educate patients about alternatives to conventional medicine, while making sure that the patient understands benefits and risks to all options.
Healthy Take Aways:
• Practitioners should evaluate female patients holistically, taking a comprehensive approach rather than viewing symptoms in isolation.
• Prior to recommending supplements, the practitioner should advise patients about healthy lifestyle, dietary and exercise choices.
• Primary health concerns for women are hormone fluctuations, stress and cardiac-related.