The Science Behind the Latest Product Aimed at Women’s Wellness (No, I’m not impressed)

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Publish date

25th July 2022

Author

Dr. Kate McCann

My phone – through its covert constant surveillance – has determined that, due to my age and gender, I would appreciate being bombarded with Women’s Wellness ads.

The wellness industry – includes books, influencers, supplements, devices, products, services –  is worth over €4.2 trillion globally (in perspective, almost 3 times more than the tightly regulated “Big Pharma”) , and operates almost entirely outside of regulation or in regulatory loopholes.  Women’s wellness alone is worth more than €35 billion. Fertility and menopause are among the biggest targets.

Let’s just take on one ad in my feed from the weekend:  Fertility assistance product “Hertility”. What is it?  Prick your finger, send them a tiny bit of blood, they will tell you about your fertility for €199.  Lots of extra services available for more €.

Facts First

So, let’s break this particular one down:  Who needs this product?   What’s the evidence?  Where is your money best spent?  I’ll stick to the facts first, and at the end, I’ll give you my experienced opinion and recommendations at the end.

  1. #Hertility is not a novel product. It is simply yet another version of at-home hormone testing (just like Modern Fertility, Let’s Get Checked), but the marketing is much more women-focused.  Whether you use them or another company, does it work?  Maybe – but only certain people.  Why?…

  • Because Fertility is complex – much, much more complex than women’s hormone levels! “Hormones rule your life” is their slogan on the website landing page.  While it may feel that way sometimes – especially for teens – women are more complex than that.

  • What can’t these tests do: infertility may be due to a problem with your Fallopian tubes, endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids – and that’s just that woman’s side (remember fertility needs male health as well!)   For patients experiencing fertility problems, doctors usually suggest tests that look beyond hormones, including an ultrasound and semen analysis.  These tests also tell you nothing about the rest of your overall health – your health and fertility is more than just your uterus!

  • The validation studies for the finger-prick blood-testing method were published in 2019 – it was only 130 patients and the study was paid for by Modern Fertility (a similar company to Hertility). The accuracy of the results are not 100%.

  • What does better evidence say? JAMA published an independent study in 2017 that included results from 750 women.  They found that for women aged 30 to 44 years who did not have a history of infertility and had been trying for 3 months or less, these hormone biomarkers indicating “diminished ovarian reserve” were not associated with reduced fertility.  The tests said these women had fertility problems and they didn’t!] The experts recommended AGAINST use of these tests/products for women in this category.   Bottom line:  Hertility marketing it to those who are “Just Curious” may cause anxiety for no reason.

  • Here are some reassuring stats:  If woman is less than 40 years old and has sex on a regular basis without contraception, 80% will conceive within 12 months and 90% within 24 months.  

  • This product costs €199 – without any consultation (personal advice is extra.

  • Take-away: This product 1) may can make you think there is a problem when there isn’t one or 2) is likely unable to actually help you with your cause of infertility.

Hertility is promoted the same week as Dr. Hazel Wallace’s “The Female Factor” book.  Again, covered in pink packaging.  It is marketed as bold and new.  Is it shocking and new?   No.  In fact, it follows just months after the publication of “Living PCOS Free**  And is just the latest in a saturated market on women’s wellness.

Ok, opinion time.

So far, this women’s wellness industry isn’t making women healthier.  Unnecessary supplements or devices don’t make a huge difference to health. And the narrative that women have specific health risks or worse outcome is true – BUT we would also need to talk about the so many other reasons for that, for example money (income disparity between men and women),  stressors including childcare, being able to take a paid maternity leave, opportunities for education and healthcare access (depending on country)…  It is over-simplified to look at the health disparity of women as a single group.   And it isn’t necessarily empowering women:  under the guise of “natural is better”,  women are targeted with large amounts of #nutribabble and medical misinformation.

Misogyny is misogyny – even if they wrap it in a pink bow, charge €, and tell you it’s all natural.

Both of these products (Hertility testing and “The Female Factor” book) are marketed by NHS doctors directly to women in Ireland. What we have is a doctor-shortage, not a wellness-product shortage.  The market is saturated with home-testing kits, “Dial a Doctor” services, and wellness books — and most patients are no healthier for them.   It doesn’t work.   Doctors would be better off putting their efforts into creative ways to help patients access in-person, qualified, evidence-based healthcare.  Women deserve a trusted doctor-patient relationship without exploitation.

My expert recommendations of where to spend your money:

  1. Worried about fertility? Start with your GP.   Really.  More than half the GPs in Ireland are women.  Many GPs have additional diplomas in women’s health.  Your money is much, much better spent on a GP visit who can give you good personal advice and far cheaper and more accurate tests — if they are even needed!  If a specialist is needed after a consultation, then referral in-person to a experienced REI or Gynaecology consultant.
  2. No problems but want to take an active and evidence-informed approach to looking after your fertility? Find the experts. There are no end of products, supplements, apps, device, trackers, test,  and services marketed to you.  If you are spending your money, get the best help.  Expert, evidence-based advice – specific to you – on supporting fertility through the basics such as diet, sleep, etc. is available from 1) your GP 2) INDI-registered dietitians who specialise in fertility (like our own local What2Eat4fertility https://www.instagram.com/what2eat4fertility/ – highly recommend a follow on IG) 3) look for a certified lifestyle medicine physician (yes, I work on this with my patients).
  3. I do love a good book. My top picks for reading for Women’s Health:  Jen Gunter’s “The Vagina Bible” and “The Menopause Manifesto”. https://vajenda.substack.com/  Follow her online or her blog at “The Vajenda” substack.  She brings decades of clinical experience as a  Ob-Gyn.   For making dietary changes related to hormones and PCOS, I highly recommend:  Living PCOS Free : How to regain your hormonal health with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome by Dr.  Nitu Bajekal  and Rohini Bajekal.    This is an amazing mother (Consultant Gynaecologist) and daughter (registered nutritionist) team.  You can also follow Dr. Nitu Bajekal on IG.

Citations:  https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2656811  and https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31348210/

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