A Guide to Addressing the Unique Health and Nutritional Needs of Women

Published on: Mar 4 2024

Do you know your pro-biotics, pre-biotics, botanicals and supplements, from your vitamins, macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients?  All can help women manage their physical and emotional wellbeing, but what should you consider taking and when?

Nutrition plays a role in women’s health, both in managing different life stages and in promoting long-term health, but with so many options available it can be overwhelming, says Dr. Karin Dorrepaal, Independent Non-Executive Director at Kerry.

At Kerry, we have a dedicated team of scientists and experts in women’s health, so we’ve called on them to bust some myths, navigate the science on what actually works, and tell us how nutrition can support health and quality of life throughout a woman’s life.”

Nutritional needs of women

Women’s unique nutritional needs 

When you consider the various stages of a woman’s life, adolescence, reproductive age, pregnancy, lactation, peri-menopause, menopause and post-menopause, it’s not surprising that each of these stages requires distinct nutrition to support overall wellbeing.  For example, adolescent females have an increased requirement for calcium to build life-long bone density. A deficiency in calcium at this life stage can result in increased risk of osteoporosis post-menopause, when the protective effects of estrogen decline,” said Dr. Lisa Ryan, Head of Department of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition at Atlantic Technological University in Ireland, and Scientific Advisory Council member of Kerry’s Health & Nutrition Institute (KHNI).  

By understanding the specific nutritional requirements of each life stage, women can make informed choices about their own health. This article focuses on fertility, pregnancy and breastfeeding, and menopause, and looks at how nutrition affects these life stages.  

Nutrition and fertility 

One in six women experience infertility. Hormonal imbalances can disrupt a woman’s delicate reproductive process, leading to irregular cycles, failure to ovulate (anovulation), difficulty conceiving, or infertility. 

There are some unknown causes of infertility, but one in three cases of female infertility is caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – the most common hormonal disbalance affecting women.

What is PCOS? 

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work. Polycystic ovaries are bigger than healthy ovaries and have twice the number of follicles than healthy ovaries do. In PCOS ovulation doesn’t take place each month causing women to stop having periods or have irregular periods and can also cause fertility issues.  It’s a complex, chronic condition associated with a range of endocrine and metabolic symptoms. It can have a profound impact on a woman’s health, fertility, self-esteem, and body image, leading to emotional distress. PCOS is not just a fertility issue but one affecting a woman’s overall health, including her mental wellbeing. PCOS is leading cause of female infertility (PCOS is responsible of 25-40% of cases).

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown. It’s thought to be linked to abnormal hormone levels in the body, including high levels of insulin. It is also related to a deficiency in inositol (a sugar made in the body and found in foods) and specifically a systemic deficiency in the D-chiro-inositol and ovarian deficiency in Myo-inositol. Women with PCOS need to ensure an adequate intake of inositol through their diet or consider taking a supplement,” said Dr. Monica Maria Olivares, RD&A Director for Women’s and Infant Health at Kerry. 

Monica added: “The benefits of inositol in PCOS are very well known there are more than 300 scientific publications about this topic, more than 50 clinical trials, and 20 metanalysis demonstrating the benefits of inositol on fertility, skin, cardiovascular disease, hyperandrogenism and hyperinsulinemia.”

Women's Nutrition

Nutrition in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding 

The first 1,000 days of a child’s life – beginning with conception through the first two years of childhood – critically impact development and health throughout life.  Therefore, it is essential that women have the nutrition, care, and the support they need for the healthiest possible future for themselves and for their children,” said Dr. Izaskun Monsalve, Marketing Manager for Women’s Health at Kerry. 

Vitamin and mineral needs can vary greatly between pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and lactation. A carefully chosen diet can meet recommendations for most nutrients, but the diets of pregnant and lactating women often fall short of many essential nutrients.  For example, many pregnant women under-consume: 

      • folic acid (to help protect against neural tube defects);  
      • choline (for fetal brain and nervous system development);  
      • iron (for increased maternal and fetal blood volume); and  
      • calcium (for bone growth and reduced risk of maternal hypertension). 
      • Omega-3 (for fetal brain and eye maturation) 

During lactation, the mother is able to provide all of a child’s nutrient needs via breastfeeding. For optimal health of the infant, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. For the mother, this means that the required intake of many nutrients becomes even greater than during pregnancy – after all, the baby is still totally dependent on the mother for nutrition, but it is now bigger than it has ever been. As a result, it is essential for the mother to eat a balanced diet during this time to ensure both she and her baby are healthy. For some nutrients, the mother’s body will ensure the breast milk contains enough for the baby even at the risk of depleting her own body’s reserves. These are mostly nutrients that are absolutely essential for proper growth and development of the baby, such as protein, calcium, and zinc. Inadequate intake by the mother could lead to higher risk of iron deficiency, anemia, or loss of bone mineral density. 

Some mothers don’t get the support they need to sustain breastfeeding. Mastitis is the leading medical cause of women ceasing breastfeeding with ~15% of women experiencing mastitis during breastfeeding. The main symptom is pain.

Many women are told that pain is normal during breastfeeding. It’s not true,” according to Izaskun. “Pain is not normal in breastfeeding.  Pain is often caused by mastitis, it is a problem, and in most cases it can be easily managed by treating the cause of the mastitis with a natural probiotic.” 

She continued: “We were the pioneers in investigating probiotics in human breast milk and after extensive research our R&D team isolated the first strain from women’s breast milk and it has been shown to be effective in reducing mastitis and significantly reducing the pain symptoms of mastitis in three clinical trials, involving more than 1,000 women.”

What is mastitis? 

Mastitis is an inflammation of breast tissue and is associated with an imbalance of the microbiota of the mammary gland. The main symptom is pain, and the pain, heat and swelling can be very intense.  Other symptoms include inflammation and obstruction of mammary ducts, and it can be associated with systemic symptoms like fever and tiredness.  Mastitis a very common problem during breastfeeding, affecting around 15% of women.  

Nutrition in Menopause 

Peri-menopause, pre-menopause, menopause, post-menopause. The menopause isn’t a single event in a woman’s life, but something women experience over the course of a couple of decades.  It’s a transformative phase, marking the end of a woman’s reproductive years. This natural transition brings about a myriad of changes, both physical and emotional.  

1 billion women worldwide will be experiencing menopause in 2025. 80% of them will have menopausal symptoms, symptoms that can severely impact their quality of life.   

I really believe that helping women achieve real understanding of how their hormonal health impacts their overall health can increase positive sentiment and have a hugely positive impact on women’s lives,” said Izaskun.  

What is the menopause? 

Menopause is the consequence of the reduction in the ovarian function as it’s a gradual decrease in the level of estrogens in a woman’s system. Estrogens regulate the growth development and physiology of the human reproductive system, but also are involved in neuroendocrine, skeletal, adipogenesis and cardiovascular system. The low level of estrogen during menopause reduces the activation of estrogen receptors and causes the symptoms associated with menopause.   

There are more than 30 different symptoms associated with the menopause.  Common symptoms include: 

        • hot flushes 
        • night sweats 
        • difficulty sleeping 
        • fatigue 
        • lack of energy 
        • low mood or anxiety 
        • problems with memory or concentration 
        • vaginal dryness and pain, itching or discomfort 
        • reduced sex drive (libido) 
        • discomfort during sex 
        • irregular periods 
        • headaches 
        • heart palpitations  
        • recurring UTIs 
        • loss of muscle 
        • weight gain, and 
        • joint aches and pains.

Women choose to manage their symptoms and look ahead to healthy ageing in many different ways – pharmaceutical treatments, herbal remedies, life-style changes and increasingly nutritional changes, like adding more phytoestrogens to their diet. 

Monica said: “Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. They occur in different botanicals, for example in red clover, soybeans and hops, and have been shown in clinical studies to reduce the frequency and intensity of menopause symptoms without serious side effects, which is very important. In fact, there are more than 1,500 scientific publications, 300 clinical trials, and 30 metanalysis demonstrating how phytoestrogens can help to address symptoms in menopause.” 

Lisa added: “There are also specific nutritional considerations for post-menopausal women. For instance, many experience changes in taste perception and suffer from severe dry mouth. Their food preferences may shift, and they may require different supplements or novel botanicals to support these changes. This presents opportunities for food and nutrition innovation specifically tailored to women’s health.” 


There is a growing recognition of the unique health needs of women and a shift toward prioritising women’s wellbeing. This increased awareness and advocacy have created a demand for more comprehensive research and solutions. With women’s health spanning from adolescence to old age, innovative technologies, treatments and products are being developed to address various aspects of women’s health, saidKarin. 

That said, every woman is different, and their needs are distinct and unique throughout various stages of life. Nutrition therefore needs to be personalised. Izaskun illustrates the point: “If we take menopause for an example, we’re talking about 30 different symptoms that affect women in greater or lesser extent. So, for each woman its a different experience. Women need specific solutions for the symptoms they are experiencing. 

New technology is making personalisation easier.  By tracking what happening in their bodies, women can better understand the symptoms they are experiencing, allowing them to make decisions about taking a specific diet or ingredient to meet their individual needs.  

There is wealth of information available about how women can use nutrition to manage their physical and emotional wellbeing throughout their lives. What’s important is to seek out science-based information and products that have been tried and tested in clinical studies,” concluded Lisa.     

 For more scienced-based information about the nutritional needs of women subscribe to KHNI.

  • Dr. Karin Dorrepaal

    Dr. Karin Dorrepaal, Independent Non-Executive Director​ on Kerry’s Board of Directors​Karin is an experienced business leader who also brings extensive pharmaceutical market knowledgeKarin, who has an interest in promoting women’s health, holds a PhD in medicine and an MBA. She joined the Kerry Board in January 2015. 

  • Dr. Lisa Ryan

    Dr. Lisa Ryan, Head of Department of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition at Atlantic Technological University and Scientific Advisory Council member of Kerry’s Health & Nutrition Institute (KHNI). KHNI was established by Kerry to advance ‘Science for Healthier Food’. It brings the voice of science to some of the most challenging questions facing the food and beverage industry daytoday through a network of over 1,000 Kerry scientists, external collaborators, and the Scientific Advisory Council. 

  • Dr. Izaskun Monsalve

    Dr. Izaskun Monsalve, Marketing Manager for Women’s Health at Kerry. Izaskun has over 20 years of experience and currently leads Kerry’s Global Marketing for women’s and infant health. She has a degree in pharmacy from the Complutense University of Madrid with a PhD in biotechnology and an MBA.  

  • Dr. Monica Maria Olivares

    Dr. Monica Maria Olivares, Research, Development & Application (RDA) Director for Women’s and Infant Health at Kerry. Monica has over 20 years of experience in R&D in functional ingredients such as probiotic strains isolated from human milk, botanicals and omega-3s and has authored 80 scientific publications. She has a degree in pharmacy from University of Granada and a PhD in molecular biology from Spanish National Research Council.  

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