Women athletes and technologies for women in sports are going to be a new major focus for us at Upside in 2023. So as part of that, this week we have the honor to interview Laura Matthes, the head of sports and research at VivoSensMedical, a German small innovation and female health company producing and distributing OvulaRing.
Founded in 2011, VivoSensMedical is a med-tech company with the vision to provide individual medical diagnostics for better therapies. Based on the biomarker body-core temperature, they have developed a low-effort, high-precision medical diagnostic platform, combining measuring device with evaluation software based on medical algorithms to detect and analyze individual biomarker patterns in the indications autoimmune diseases, chronobiology and women’s health. With OvulaRing they have successfully introduced their first product in the indication women’s health. The product maps and analyzes the complete female cycle, precisely detects fertility patterns, ovulation and the fertile window and therefore enables profound medical cycle diagnostics for more successful fertility treatments.
So how does the menstrual cycle impact a woman’s potential risk of injuries?
As shown in the picture below, during female athletes’ ovulation phase, some studies have shown that female athletes are more injury prone, with:
Five times higher rates of ACL tears in late follicular phase.
50% more injuries in late folliculate phase.
Overtraining while being low in energy can also cause other problems with female athletes such as the RED-S syndrome, an energy deficit syndrome, and FAT, known as Female Athlete Triad, which is caused by a long energy deficit, which then causes menstrual cycle abnormalities and then also causes osteoporosis.
And as shown in the picture below, some studies have also shown that more than 50% of female ball players are at risk for the FAT syndrome.
So how does the OvulaRing work?
Concretely, the OvulaRing continuously measures Core Body Temperature. This is important as the ovulation induces a temperature rise. With female athletes, the injury prone phase starts a few days before ovulation. The OvulaRing is currently the only device in the world capable of measuring the injury prone phase of women athletes without using urine or saliva samples.
Picture: Ovularing wearable and mobile app
So how is that possible? OvulaRing uses a pattern analysis, which has been used for years for women who want to become pregnant. It enables women to find out those days before ovulation.
Here are some pictures of the OvulaRing mobile app allowing trainers and athletes to measure menstrual cycles:
As shown in the picture below, the OvulaRing also has a trainer account which is a dashboard that allows trainers and coaches to keep track of their athletes and group them by the cycle phase that they are in. The OvulaRing app and dashboard give recommendations on how to adjust training according to the data and allow easier communication about the topic between the trainer and the athletes.
Here are some pictures of the OvulaRing trainer account dashboard:
Here is a video showcasing OvulaRing Sports solution:
📝Show Notes: Through this interview with Laura Matthes, we touched on her background, her company, product, and competitive advantages. We also touched on some studies around female athletes that she has come across. We also talked about the benefits for the teams to use the OvulaRing and how the OvulaRing is a unique product. We also discussed their business model and the pro teams using the OvulaRing today. Lastly we discussed her plans for the next 12 months.
Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Laura:
On her background, her company and her product called OvulaRing:
“My background is in biology and interdisciplinary research. I work for a German company called VivoSensMedical, which offers the OvulaRing. The OvulaRing is a biosensor that continuously measures the core body temperature and the data is evaluated in real time with patent analysis”.
“It is worth pointing out that the OvulaRing was initially invented to detect the fertile days during the menstrual cycle to help women become pregnant. So it’s been on the market for the past 10 years and the cost of the product is covered by several health insurance companies”.
On how she got the idea of tailoring the OvulaRing for sports and female athletes to help teams optimize training:
“Back in 2021 the relevance of the menstrual cycle for training started becoming such a thing in the media, at least in Germany. At that point I thought, Hey, we can use it for sports. And we have a device that is unique worldwide as it allows real time tracking with actual data, and it was not based on a calendar method”.
“So at that point I thought that we had to do something with it to enable athletes, clubs and trainers to profit from this in a big way. We have so much knowledge about how those biomarkers of the female reproductive system can help improve the training”.
On the much higher rates (5x times) of ACL tears during female athletes’ ovulation period:
“What was found in some studies is that there are much higher injury rates in women on particular days of the cycle. And when a normal cycle might be 25 to 35, with athletes it is often longer, but there are just five to six days during which women athletes are particularly injury prone, where there are five times higher rates of ACL tears”.
“So one explanation is that on these five to six days, which are around the ovulation, the measured laxity increases and the body stability is lower”.
“And during that period we also know that the women’s willingness to take risk is increased during their fertile days. So it's probably a combination of higher laxity in the body with a higher willingness to take risks”.
On the higher rates of injuries (e.g. muscle or tendon problems) in the lower extremities during the women athletes’ ovulation period:
“And it is not just about ACL tears that are higher during the ovulation period, there are also higher rates of injuries in the lower extremities. Women athletes tend to have more muscle or tendon problems during that same timeframe”.
“But there are other things that are quite important. We also know that when there's an energy deficit problem with women, then at some point there's not enough energy to produce an ovulation”.
On the fact that overtraining while being low in energy can cause problems such as RED-S syndrome and FAT:
“We know that overtraining while being low in energy can cause problems with female athletes such as the RED-S syndrome, an energy deficit syndrome, and FAT, known as Female Athlete Triad, which is caused by a long energy deficit, which then causes menstrual cycle abnormalities and then also causes osteoporosis”.
“And studies show that more than 50% of female ball players are at risk for the FAT syndrome. And you need about a year to recover from such syndrome”.
On a new German study showing that due to hormonal changes it is important to adjust the training of female athletes depending on the phase of the menstrual cycles:
“There's a brand new German study, not yet published, that I came across. And I'm in contact with those researchers and it's a really interesting study. As you may already know, hormones change during the menstrual cycle, so there are more anabolic phases or catabolic phases”.
“With that in mind it is important for women to adjust the type of training to the phase in which they are in. And this new study shows that if one group trains perfectly based on the menstrual cycle and another group trains completely against the menstrual cycle, after two months, the female athletes in the second group will show an increase in inflammation markers, and hormonal imbalances, some lost their menstruation, and mental wellbeing decreased. Performance markers increased slightly more in the first group. So these are amazing findings”.
On how the OvulaRing works:
“OvulaRing continuously measures the Core Body Temperature. The Ovulation induces a temperature rise. This rise is visible after ovulation when you look on that curve. But the injury prone phase starts a few days before the ovulation. You can't track the start of that phase with LH tests and of course not with the calendar method or anything like that, and not with the temperature method with just one data point a day”.
“But in our case the OvulaRing uses a pattern analysis, which has been used for years for women who want to become pregnant. It enables women to find out those days before the ovulation”.
On how the OvulaRing mobile app and dashboard work:
“We built an OvulaRing mobile app for the athletes themselves, but we also developed a trainer account so women can allow trainers to see their data. So concretely trainers have a dashboard so they can keep track of their athletes and can group them by the cycle phase that they are in”.
“So for example during the training we could imagine two groups. You don't make a training plan for every woman. You make two groups, one in the anabolic phase, one in the catabolic phase, and you additionally have an analysis of the cycle health of the woman athlete”.
“So it gives you in a very easy way an overview of which women are at risk to be in a high energy deficit. And it works as a scale and you can see if there is an improvement or not with each athlete”.
On how the OvulaRing app and dashboard can recommend training plans to women athletes and allow better communication between the trainer and the athletes:
“You get individual suggestions for each athlete to stop or prevent energy deficits with the coming training session. It is also a platform that eases communication for trainers to their athletes, which is an issue right now for most teams. With our platform, trainers have access to objective data. So, they can talk about the menstrual cycle and it's not awkward”.
On the fact that the OvulaRing is the only device in the world capable of measuring the injury prone phase of women athletes without using urine or saliva samples:
“The OvulaRing is the only device in the world that can detect the start of the injury prone phase for women athletes. The only other way you can do it is with urine or salvia samples, which of course are more expensive and you don't get the data in real time”.
On the fact that the OvulaRing is also unique as it can be worn by athletes during training, uses truly continuous data and pattern analysis:
“Female athletes can wear OvulaRing during training and competition , which is different from any other products I have seen. OvulaRing also collects data continuously. There are some other trackers which collect continuous data for some hours of the day, but they just use one data point, which is the lowest during the night to detect the ovulation phase”.
“To my knowledge, there is no other product in the market doing pattern analysis on those continuous data. The OvulaRing has been in the market for a while and we have been working on this for years”.
On how to best contact the OvulaRing team:
“One way to contact us is to go on our website at ovularing.com. Or you can just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and mention that you heard of us through the podcast and that you're interested in using OvulaRing in sports, and this will reach me in a very short way”.
On their business model and the price of the OvulaRing:
“The price varies depending on the amount of units ordered. If it's just for one unit or 10 units the price will vary. Now to give you an idea the price is about 50 euros per month per athlete, which also includes the trainer account and some level of customer support to help teams check on the menstrual cycles of athletes”.
“You are looking at 600 euros per year per athlete. And of course if a customer buys it for the whole team, we can also put together a marketing agreement and provide discounts on bigger orders”.
On the fact that they have a team of experts that can support customers (e.g. teams) and do workshops:
“We also have a team of experts that can help implement those things so it can fit into the existing structures of the clubs. They can help customers with questions on how to change things, and how to adapt our solution to the clubs’ existing infrastructure. And they also offer workshops or courses for the athletes and the trainers. And they can help adjust the training”.
On the types of teams using the OvulaRing today:
“We have a German Olympic rowing team using the OvulaRing today. They also used the OvulaRing in a bigger study. And we also have a group of water ball players who use it. There are also some Swiss and Austrian single athletes that use it, as well as some tennis players”.
“We also have a German soccer club that used the OvulaRing for some single players and now they are interested in using it at a larger scale. And I'm currently in contact with four first league football clubs in Germany”.
“And in Germany Wolfsburg and Leibzig are already partially working with their athletes on the menstrual cycle. So the OvulaRing is something that can help them as part of that”.
On their focus on the EU and UK markets at the moment and their interest in the US market:
“At the moment we are focused on the EU and UK markets. Right now we don't have the resources to open the American market by ourselves. So if anybody is interested in collaborating in that area, we are really open to that especially in terms of expansion and investments”.
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