Are your menstrual products making your period worse?
Women in the U.S spend about $3 billion per year on sanitary products and the average women uses over 10,000 products in their lifetime.
Your period represents big business!
Whether it be tampons or pads, we usually don’t think about how they could be affecting our health. I know I didn’t for a very long time. It never even crossed my mind, even after cleaning up my beauty, body care, & cleaning products.
Tampons in particular should be evaluated because of their higher likelihood to be absorbed into the body, since they are literally inside of you. The vaginal environment is comprised of mucus and porous membranes made up of fatty tissue that may be more permeable which means it can absorb toxins which gain access to the bloodstream (1). This exposure is not just localized to the vagina but also to the rest of the body, which means local and systemic effects. So yes your vagina is another route for chemicals to make it into your body and create havoc.
86% of women use tampons to some extent, and on a monthly basis during our reproductive years this adds up! Many additives are persistent and stored in fat tissue making it more difficult to eliminate especially with repeated doses.
So what are these chemicals that may be hiding in your conventional menstrual products?
Manufacturers are not required to disclose or list ingredients on their packaging, but studies show that ingredients commonly found in pads or tampons may include: chlorine bleached rayon, dioxins, pesticides, GMO cotton, metals, and fragrances - a fancy word for chemical soup of synthetic toxins.
Glyphosate, also known as Monsanto’s roundup, is the most widely used herbicide in the world and is only increasing with the rise of GMO crops. Cotton is one of the most highly sprayed crops as about 96% of it is now GMO.
Though we are unsure of the long-term effects of Roundup we do know that it is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it messes up your hormones and interferes with fertility. It can be linked to tumors, dysbiosis, neurological damage, immune dysfunction, liver and kidney damage, estrogenic activity, and breast cancer, to know but a few.
I dunno about you but I ain’t keen about this touching my hoo-ha!
Dioxins are a group of chemicals that are highly toxic and linked to cancers, hormonal imbalances, infertility, developmental problems, and immune system dysfunction (2).
Dioxins appear in tampons as they are by products of the bleaching process. The low levels found in tampons are considered safe however the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) states that dioxins are considered a “known human carcinogen” and “highly toxic” and that there are no known safety levels (7).
Also known as POPs (persistent organic pollutants), dioxins accumulate in the environment over time and take a long time to break down. And with repeated exposure they start to accumulate in the body. In addition to their affinity to fatty tissue where dioxin gets stored for safe keeping in the body, dioxin has a half life of 7-11 years which means it takes that long to eliminate just 50% of the toxin in your body! (3).
Because of this exposure via the vagina, there may be an increased risk for infertility and hormonal conditions, as well as compromising the health of unborn children from exposure in the bloodstream and through breastmilk. Again, we are not certain of the implications for long-term health but as we see an increase in toxins showing up in the umbilical chord of infants, there is definitely concern to be had (4).
Dioxin poses significant health threats, many of which we are still learning of but even with low levels we need to be cautious as repeated exposure only increases risk of health conditions, which is a problem because women tend to use tampons repeatedly….
The link between dioxins and endometriosis is mainly based on increased inflammation and estrogen levels.
“Studies suggest dioxin may be a contributing factor to the development of endometriosis via stimulation of chronic inflammation, immunosuppressive effects and their interference with the oestrogen signalling pathway, potentially leading to enhanced estrogen synthesis and disruption of progesterone.” (5)
Another study found that 18% of endometriosis patients showed positive dioxin results compared to only 3% of their controls (6).
Though dioxins have not be confirmed as a causative factor for endometriosis there is enough evidence to suggest it may worsen or certainly contribute to the condition.
What else should we be worried about?
Other chemicals that may be problematic and that have also been associated with conventional tampons and pads :
Malaoxon & Malathion
What does this mean for your health?
While many argue that chemicals found in feminine hygiene products are insignificant and do not pose a threat to human health, studies suggest otherwise. The reality is that we are unaware of the long-term effects that they represent for women’s health but also their offspring. Research indicates that menstrual products may contribute to increased inflammatory levels in women’s bodies as well as toxins and this should not be ignored. These effects are correlated with numerous conditions such as thyroid imbalances, infertility, menstrual irregularity, anovulation, and even conditions like PCOS and endometriosis. When it comes to cleaning up our environment, our menstrual products should definitely be a part of the list!
What can you do?
I know this sounds quite dreary but there are things that you can do to reduce your exposure to these chemicals. First off, buy organic. If you choose to buy disposable products always choose organic so you are avoiding GMO products as well as these toxins. Fortunately it has become easy to find options in most stores nowadays! Some good brands include Veeda, Seventh Generation, Natracare, & the Honest Company.
You can also opt for reusable pads which are better than organic pads because you can reuse them (duh) which means you save money and also reduce your waste!
Reusable menstrual cups are also a great option, and have become very popular. The most common one being the Diva Cup.
It can take some time to adjust to a cup but with practice many women rave about how much they love using them and how convenient they are. I have found Intimina provides different shapes and sizes with a material that is a little softer, so that may be a good option if you are feeling nervous about inserting a cup. It will take some trial and error but I highly recommend giving these a go!