Something that we rarely talk about at the clinic is the use of feminine hygiene products. I think we get so caught up in everything else that our patients are putting in their bodies, that we frequently don't talk about the possible problems with feminine hygiene products. So, lets talk about it now! :)
First of all, our skin in general is extremely absorbent and is estimated to absorb 60-80% of what we put on it. 60-80% folks! So yes, that paraben-free lotion that your spouse says is too expensive is actually totally worth it. But, guess what? That's only the skin on the rest of your body, not the skin on your vulva or in your vaginal canal. That skin is actually even more absorbent since it's composed of mucus membranes. One study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (Tourgeman) looked at the differences in blood serum levels in women that took estrogen orally versus with a vaginal suppository. When estrogen was administered vaginally the blood serum levels were 10-80 times higher than when women took the same dose orally. The digestive system is designed to break down and absorb things, but the vagina absorbed estrogen 10-80 times better (notice I said 10-80 times better, not 10-80% better).
Why is that area so absorbent? Because the vulva and the vagina are created from mucus membranes, and they are also highly vascularized. This means they deliver medicine (or toxins) directly to the blood stream. So, it makes sense why doctors may give progesterone in the form of vaginal suppositories to women, right? But this amazing delivery system is also working in full force for things that we don't want in the body - toxins.
Companies aren't required to disclose what may already be in the product you are using if it was adding during the growing process. So this means that pesticides that were added during the growing process may still be in the cotton that is used to make those tampons, pads, and liners that you use every month. Gross huh? Also, if you're using a product that is scented or perfumed, you have no idea what's in the product because companies don't have to disclose the exact ingredients used to produce a scent. When a company puts "fragrance" on an ingredient list, it can be one (or several) of hundreds of different chemicals (some sources cite it can be one of over 5,000). Either way, companies are putting things in our products that can be unsafe for us, and they don't have to disclose it if it's considered a "trade secret".
Why is this important?
Many of these chemicals have been linked to:
- Endocrine disruption
- Reproductive harm
- Rashes, itching, and discomfort
And this is only for liners, tampons, and pads. If we're talking about feminine washes, sanitary wipes, douches, or feminine creams, the list is longer and even more scary. Additionally the use of those products can disrupt the balance of good bacteria that keep our reproductive organs healthy, which can lead to more infections (yeast infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, etc.)
So what can I do?
If you are using liners, pads, or tampons, switch to a brand that uses organic cotton with nothing added (no fragrances). Brands such as Honest and NatraCare are two that I recommend, but your local Whole Foods or other health care store probably has other options too. And if your local store doesn't carry them, order them online. Another option is the DivaCup. I personally haven't tried it, but several of our patients love it.
And if this brief overview has you curious for more information, please check out the Chem Fatale Report for some great information on this topic. And as always, please let us know if you have any questions about this, or anything else fertility related!
Tourgeman D.E., Gentzchein E., Stanczyk F.Z., Paulson R.J., Serum and tissue hormone levels of vaginally and orally administered estradiol. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Volume
Issue 6, pp: 1480-1483. June 1999.
Best,Misty M. Reed, MAcOM, L.Ac. (FABORM)