Resolving women-specific health issues and making society more comfortable for women
Society is becoming more comfortable for women in many ways. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015 commit to achieving gender equality and promoting the empowerment of all women and girls (Goal 5).1
Gender mainstreaming is progressing in the international community and women are gradually speaking more openly about their physical and health issues, which is helping to resolve such issues and create a society where women can work in a more comfortable and healthy manner.
The global market for femtech (female technology) also keeps expanding and is expected to surpass 50 billion US dollars in 2025, according to a survey by U.S. consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.2
In Japan, products and services made from the perspective of women are widely accepted and many companies have already entered the femtech market. Teijin, for example, provides various solutions to women’s issues. How does Teijin approach health challenges unique to women?
Food ingredients that provide more than nutrition
Maintaining good health throughout the golden years in Japan is becoming more challenging as more people live to 100 years of age. To help older people enjoy good health every day, Teijin is conducting research and development in the treatment and prevention of disease.
“In 2016, we created the Functional Food Ingredients Business Promotion Group to launch a new healthcare business that supports intestinal health, which affects the health of your entire body,” says Katsuki Yamada, Probiotics Product Manager of the Biolier Business Department in the Healthcare New Business Division.
The term “Functional food ingredients” refers to food ingredients and nutrients that benefit health. The Biolier Business Department mainly handles prebiotics (such as dietary fiber) and probiotics (such as lactobacilli) that help adjust the intestinal microbiome – a key to promoting health and preventing disease.
“Everyone knows that eating good food promotes good health,” notes Rui Ugomori, a dietitian in the Biolier Business Department of the Healthcare New Business Division. “But we also think it’s important to eat ingredients with various functions. Guided by the theme ‘Be happy from your day of birth to the day you pass away’, our department uses Teijin knowledge and technology gained from material and medicine development to maximize food’s potential and improve quality of life. We are trying to achieve a society where delicious natural meals help everyone lead a healthy life.”
Lactic acid bacteria developed exclusively for vaginal flora
“Women often face conflicting challenges regarding life events and careers that limit their options and prevent their pursuit of career goals,” says Ugomori. “At the Biolier Business Department, we focus on the vagina, which plays a major role in three life stages unique to women: the onset of menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.”
“Since the vagina connects to the uterus, an infection in the vagina can lead to premature birth, miscarriage during pregnancy or endometritis after pregnancy. All of these can prevent women from developing their capabilities and expanding their potential.”
Ugomori adds, “Many women, like myself in the beginning, don’t understand why the vagina is so important. Moreover, it’s a delicate topic that women find difficult to talk about even when they have worries, as confirmed by our survey that revealed the hidden problem.”
“We released Lactobacillus UREX in 2020 to help resolve these problems. While Lactobacillus and bifidobacterial are well known bacteria that live in the intestines, Lactobacillus UREX is a unique lactobacilli that lives in the vagina,” Ugomori explains.
Indigenous bacteria live in various places throughout the body including the intestines, mouth and skin. In women, they also live in the vagina. As in the intestines, the vaginal flora includes both good and bad bacteria, which are normally kept in balance by the woman’s own cleansing function.
However, fatigue, stress, the menstrual cycle and other factors can disrupt the balance and cause conditions that require treatment. Lactobacillus UREX helps maintain a healthy balance by delivering lactobacilli to the vagina.
Take lactobacilli before losing a healthy balance
Lactobacillus UREX includes two strains of carefully selected bacteria that live in the vagina. Unlike the intestines, few types of bacteria live in the vagina in very few layers. The bacteria from Lactobacillus UREX easily settle in the vagina, produce acid that shifts alkalinity for a better flora balance, and stay longer in the vagina than other lactobacilli,” Ugomori assures us.
In a clinical trial, 59 women judged healthy by physicians were randomly divided into two groups (mean age 35). The group that consumed one billion units of Lactobacillus UREX daily for 60 consecutive days had a healthier balance of vaginal flora than the control group.3 In another study, 48 women with a low risk of bacterial vaginosis were randomly divided into a control group and another group that consumed two billion units of Lactobacillus UREX daily for 60 consecutive days. The second group enjoyed a healthier balance of vaginal flora.3
Lactobacillus UREX received a Semi-Grand Prize in the Materials and Ingredients Division at the 2022 Food and Health Award sponsored by Japan Association of Chain Drug Stores (JACDS). It was highly evaluated for its ability to contribute to women’s health, the novelty of its intravaginal flora, and its potential for launching a healthy femcare market in the future.
Providing solutions that help women resolve their concerns
Lactobacillus UREX was launched in Canada in 2004 and is now used in more than 50 countries worldwide. It was only released in Japan in 2020, but Teijin is working with food companies eager to promote women’s health.
“There is still little awareness of lactobacillus in the vagina and the market is still in its infancy. However, many women are interested in vaginal flora and many food manufacturers are providing positive feedback,” Yamada smiles.
“I want to continue promoting Lactobacilli UREX by further raising awareness of the importance of vaginas. Through this product, we hope to help women resolve their issues and transform a topic that was previously taboo even among women into an open and growing market,” says Ugomori.
“With the help of medical doctors involved in women’s health, we plan to present solid and reassuring evidence that it is safe and functional,” Yamada adds.
Both Yamada and Ugomori enthusiastically agreed that the mission of femtech companies is to provide materials and products that help and encourage women to resolve their unique issues.
Teijin exhibited Lactobacillus UREX at Tokyo Big Site during the first Femtech Tokyo trade show (October 20 – 22, 2022).4
Note: Lactobacillus UREX is a registered trademark of Christian Hansen. Teijin signed an agreement with Chr. Hansen (Denmark), a global bioscience company, to use its probiotic raw materials in health food and infant formula in the Japanese market.
- Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Japanese Efforts
- FEMTECH Digital Revolution in Women’s Health
- Lactobacillus UREX Probiotic Ingredients (Japanese)
- FemTech Tokyo