NutraWomen Wednesday: Jessica ter Haar, Scientific Director, IPA

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags nutrawomen wednesday Ipa

Microbiology expert Jessica ter Haar, PhD, is the scientific director at the International Probiotics Association (IPA). She focuses a lot on helping women achieve their best possible microbial health during every stage of life—a topic that she’s helping to make more mainstream.

“When I started, which is not that long ago, but sort of in the last decade, women's health wasn't as popularized. It wasn't as spoken about and sort of really taboo. You see that also in some parts of the world now, but I'm so happy, I'm so proud that people are giving more of a voice to women's topics. It's really important,”​ said ter Haar.

Ter Haar said the vaginal microbiome plays an essential role not only in health and dysbiosis, but may also make a difference in successful fertilization and healthy pregnancies.

“I just had two babies, sometimes I call them ‘little parasites’ that are half you and half not you.  That means that your body has to simultaneously nourish, nurture, but not reject this thing that's not completely you. And obviously, then we grow more mammary tissue and we are able to lactate. So we're actually producing new organs in our body’s new systems. But not a lot of people talk about it and you really don't see that in the research.”

One major challenge in women’s health is having actual women studied. In the past, men were often used because they are an easier population and lack the hormonal fluctuations that women experience. 

“Research tends to be done on easy populations, cheap populations and target populations, but often healthy women don't always make the cut. So men will be studied more often than not—whether it's for a drug or a supplement or or a medical device or whatever it is—they’ll add women in as an afterthought because we're complicated, right? We have all of those wonderful things that go into making us women, but that's a complicating factor in research,”​ said ter Haar. “Maybe you're trying to study IBS, which actually has a higher propensity in women...But if you're studying a female problem in a male cell model, that doesn't always add up. You might not find the correct outcomes or your study might be slightly biased.”

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