Now, in my last post, I warned friends and family that we would be talking about my lady bits and that they should not read any further if they thought it would lead to awkward moments when they saw me next time.
This time you do not need to worry about it. Minimal lady bits discussion here today, mostly sharing the scary information I have learned since I switched to a menstrual cup. So stick around and learn. Like how the materials used to produce disposable tampons and pads leave you exposed to dioxin and other toxic chemicals and carcinogens.
Side Effects You Are Probably Not Aware Of
First, let's discuss the side effects that these products can cause. The most common complaints that I've heard over the years from other women about their cycles and lady bits include cramps, dryness, yeast infections, odors, bacterial infections, and pain.
Now, what most women do not realize is that the products they are using can actually CAUSE these issues or magnify them.
Tampons are made to be super absorbent and wick away all moisture out of your vagina. It is common sense that having all moisture wicked away from your lady bits can cause a woman to experience dryness. The chemicals in the tampons and the material the tampon is made with can also cause vaginal irritation, causing itching.
Now, think about this for a moment. When you use a tampon, you are putting synthetic materials in your vagina that will suck all the natural moisture out and subject your vagina to chemicals leaching into your body and the material causing irritation to the tissue. Is it any wonder that your body responds by cramping? I mean, cramps are normal for some women, but the products we use can magnify and increase the cramps.
Then there is the fact that the tampons can make small lacerations in the skin and tissue, opening your body to infections. Top that off with the synthetic materials that limit air circulation and it is no wonder that tampons can contribute to bacterial infections, yeast infections, and even Toxic Shock Syndrome.
Now, let's look at the side effects of the disposable pads. They also limit air circulation because of the synthetic material, increasing the likelihood of the infections listed above. The synthetic material also rests against the labia and can cause irritation and itching.
Another concern is the sodium polyacrylate, which is the material used to in pads to absorb the menstrual flow. It can cause skin irritations and allergic reactions. Sodium polyacrylate was actually used in tampons until a few decades ago, when it was found to be a contributing factor in Toxic Shock Syndrome. The industry took the polymer out of tampons, but left it in pads. How kind of them, right?
Now, many women that I have known over the years said that they hated to wear pads because it created a lingering odor that they could smell during their cycle when they used the pads. This does not surprise me at all now. The more noticeable odor could be a combination of the menstrual flow and the synthetic materials and chemicals used in the disposable pads, but it could also be the fact that the pads leave the vaginal area more susceptible to odor-causing bacteria.
Dioxin and Phthalates and Petrochemicals...OH MY!!
Now that we've went over all the feminine side effects that most people do not realize can be caused and/or worsened by the use of disposable feminine products, let's move on to the toxins contained in these products.
Most tampons are made of rayon, which is bleached wood pulp, or viscose, a form of wood cellulose acetate. So many women think that they are made of cotton (I was among them!), but that is not the case at all. The tampons might be advertised as "cotton-soft," but they are actually made out of rayon or viscose, which is made to have a cotton-like feel.
The process of bleaching wood pulp to produce rayon creates dioxin as a by-product of the process. Did you know that dioxin is a carcinogen in the same class as Agent Orange? So every time you use a tampon you are potentially introducing dioxin into your vaginal tissue, which will absorb the toxin. Think about this for a moment. There is a large movement in recent years to remove BPA from plastics that come into contact with foods so that the toxin does not leach into your food or beverage and then be introduced to your body through your digestion system. Yet so many women introduce dioxin into their vagina, allowing the toxin to be absorbed and go straight into their bloodstream.
Scary thought, right? Since dioxin is a carcinogen, the first scary thought that everyone jumps to is cancer. And it is frightening to think of the rates of cervical, uterine, and other cancers when women are introducing a carcinogen directly into that area repeatedly for decades.
But it just gets scarier. Dioxin has been shown to increase risks for endometriosis and reduce fertility, among other scary developmental effects. But the really frightening prospect for me is the effects dioxin might have on my children. And grandchildren. And even great-grandchildren.
You read that correctly. Dioxin exposure can cause issues for several generations. According to a reproductive toxicology study published in 2010 at Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine by Bruner-Tran and Osteen (thanks to The Eco-Friendly Family for making me aware of this study!), the dioxin exposure caused fertility issues generations after the exposure. This is an except from The Eco-Friendly Family's printable guide, which summarizes the study much more concisely than I would be able to:
"The study found that even a single exposure in the womb reduced fertility - just more than half of the mice exposed once while in the womb were able to conceive when mated with normal (unexposed) males . Those that were able to get pregnant often delivered prematurely, and many of the pups died soon after birth. Those children went on to have similar fertility problems. None of the mice exposed to dioxin 3 or 4 times were able to conceive. In contrast, all of the control mice (no exposure) were able to get pregnant and deliver normally. You can read about the study in full at this link - http://t.co/SkfX6D0"I know so many mamas who struggle to conceive, subjecting themselves to large amounts of stress, tragic losses, and high doses of fertility drugs. Fertility has become a big issue for so many people in the past few decades. Sure, some women (and men too) experienced infertility before we were all subjected to all these toxins and chemicals. But it was much rarer. And the rate of fertility issues has only risen in the past few decades. Can you imagine what the infertility rates might be for our grandchildren? Or their grandchildren? Seriously scary thoughts.
And it is not just dioxin that poses a toxic risk. Tampon applicators are usually plastic or cardboard with a slick shiny finish. This shiny finish and the plastic applicators are made from phthalates, which chemical plasticizers. Phthalates are found in many products, including perfumes, hairsprays, and even children's toys. What many people do not realize is that phthalates are known as "endocrine disrupters." They interfere with normal endocrine system functions, which include hormones, metabolism, growth, and reproduction. Disruption of the normal endocrine system functions can lead to obesity, hormonal disorders, reproductive issues, and birth defects.
What about pads? The sodium polyacrylate and other materials used in pads are petrochemicals, chemicals made from petroleum. These toxic chemicals can cause burning and soreness in the delicate area exposed to them.
Taking the Plunge into Non-Toxic Products
I've already discussed in my last post about how much easier a menstrual cup is compared to my experience with tampons. I've now been using it for months and have had no real cramps. I'll have a few twinges of a dull ache the day before my cycle starts and maybe a small twinge or two of what is cramp-like during my cycle. But not the debilitating cramps of my past. They are gone and I love it.
I have also made the decision that when the time comes for Sassy and Diva, I will be presenting them with organic cotton "mama cloth" pads. I know very little of the practical side of these pads, but I will hopefully have some time before I cross that bridge. But I've enjoyed reading about the DIY pads in the posts HERE from The Eco-Friendly Family and HERE from Esali Birth.
Obviously the 19ish years of subjecting my body to these toxins does not seem to have reduced my fertility. But I can't help but wonder what the future spells for my children. And if I can start a practice now that will increase their chances of not experiencing those side effects, reducing their exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, and reduce their risk of infections, I am all for it.
What about you? Are you ready to take the plunge? Looking for resources? Let me know and I'll point you in the right direction.