SECAUCUS, NJ. — More studies are needed to improve product claims and quality in the women’s health category, speakers said in an April 18 session during SupplySide East at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus. The studies will require funding, which speakers said is lacking in women’s health. Researchers will need to listen to women who have health concerns that vary based on traits such as age and ethnicity.

“Testing itself is complicated and very enlightening, like women,” said Sandra Lee, chief executive officer for NJ Labs, New Brunswick, NJ. “If you take shortcuts, there are going to be repercussions.”

Since hormone changes take place over a long period of time, rushing through studies that last only a few weeks may not be productive.

“It’s just a waste of products, a waste of raw materials,” Ms. Lee said.

Women in the past were excluded from research studies, said Karen Hecht, PhD, scientific affairs manager for AstaReal, Inc., which produces astaxanthin at a manufacturing facility in Moses Lake, Wash.

“Nobody wanted to put women at risk,” she said. “It was considered a vulnerable population because of the potential for getting pregnant. This was not serving women at all because we learned zilch about women by not doing any research studies. We were not really protecting women. We were just excluding them.”

She said some women’s health categories receive attention: reproductive health, PMS (premenstrual cycle), pregnancy, nursing babies and menopause. Other general health issues in women, like mood and cognitive health, cardiovascular health, and immune health, do not get enough attention.

The speakers talked about how health concerns may differ based on the ethnicity, age and height of women. One question dealt with health products for men transitioning to women or vice versa.

Dr. Hecht said industry needs to understand the needs of different women.

Women' s health panelFrom left: moderator Cassie Smith of Informa, Sandra Lee of NJ Labs, Salma Fathalla of JDS Therapeutics, LLC, Karen Hecht, PhD, of AstaReal, Inc. and Abbie Smith-Ryan, PhD, of the University of North Carolina. Photo: Sosland Publishing Co.

“We can try and design these products and studies, but we can’t do it in a vacuum,” she said.

Women tend to go to their doctor for advice, said Salma Fathalla, senior director, quality and regulatory for JDS Therapeutics, LLC, Harrison, NY. Industry and doctors could communicate better to discover unmet needs in women’s health.

Abbie Smith-Ryan, a professor of exercise physiology and nutrition at the University of North Carolina, said she struggles to find funding for women’s health studies.

“I have women coming out of the woodwork to participate (in studies),” she said.

Companies instead want studies on men.

“I’ll say, ‘Can we include women?’” Dr. Smith-Ryan said. “And they’ll say, ‘Oh, we’re not there yet.’ Or, ‘You can if you would like.’”

Conversations on the need for more women’s health studies have increased over the last couple years, she said.

“Yet there is still not a lot of money,” Dr. Smith-Ryan said. “I will put that not just on industry but even on the federal government.”