Thoughts on Health… Menstruation, Part II… natural solutions (and a Giveaway!)

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I love the moon!  I love being a girl… I find power in the moon and enjoy painting it.  I’m going to feature my moon-related paintings in this second blog post about “Moontimes”… this painting is The Castle Remains.  Giclee prints of all of these moontime paintings are availble in my shop… and one reader will win a print of my favorite moon painting of all… read on!

There are so many alternative ways of dealing with your period then using pesticide and bleach soaked conventional tampons and pads… and not only are they more environmentally friendly, they are better for your own body, too!

A good general estimate for lifetime tampon usage is roughly 12,000 tampons per woman.  That’s one woman.  Using tampons for roughly five days per cycle, for an average of 40 years of menstruation.

The cotton alone is not something we really want to put up inside our bodies to sit for long periods of time.   About 84 million POUNDS of pesticides are sprayed on the cotton grown in the US each YEAR… and typically the cotton grown here is GMO cotton.  That cotton is used in tampons and pads and is finding it’s way to direct contact with your mucosal membranes for hours and days on end.

Okay, as if that wasn’t disturbing enough, conventional tampons are not actually all cotton anyway… they add rayon fibers to increase absorption, chemical deodorants and fragrances, and other nasty synthetic compounds.

The rayon fibers are known to increase the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, as they in particular love to host the growth of bacteria.  When those fibers are sitting in your vaginal canal for hours, plastered up against your delicate porous mucosal membranes… well… literally the pesticides, chemical, and bacteria harbored on the typical tampon are throwing a disgusting little party in your body, and you are the guest of honor.  That’s why the tampon industry itself *must* recommend changing tampons at least every 8 hours… they know after 8 hours, that tampon is such a little time bomb of bacteria and chemical swamp that it need to get out of your body!  Do not wear tampons overnight, ladies!

Nighttime Frolic

Are you ready for more?  I haven’t even hit the worst part of it yet.  One of the worst parts about tampons is that the bleaching process creates dioxins, a horribly toxic substance.

To avoid this, the tampon industry developed a “non-bleach” bleaching process, called Elemental Chlorine Free (EFC) bleaching.  This process lowers, but does not eliminate, the amount of dioxins in tampons and pads.   They are still present in detectable amounts.

Given that dioxins accumulate and persist in human beings, and that their toxic side effects are disruption of enzymatic and hormone pathways, their presence leads to grave consequences.

First of all, they accumulate in fat and breast tissue, so their main modes of elimination are through breast milk and the placenta.  Yuck… dioxins are passed along to the fetus and the nursing baby.  Dioxins are a known human carcinogen, with teratogenic effects.  Meaning a known *human* (not laboratory rat) cancer causing substance proven to cause birth defects.  And we are putting our tampons where?  In our vagina, to sit pressed up against a super porous and absorptive mucosal membrane.

Pad usage is bad enough, as these cancer causing chemicals are pressed up against our mucosal membranes day after day after day, year after year after year… but tampons are worse.

Because not only are the tampons completely surrounded by said mucosal membranes, but the fibers in the tampon itself causes microtrauma and tears to the mucosal membranes every single time a tampon is inserted or removed, often even leaving fibers behind.

So now, through these micro-tears, the chemicals are having a direct line of entry to your blood and circulation.
The truth is that women who use conventional pads and tampons have direct exposure to dioxins… albeit at very very small doses.  But those small doses, around the clock, for almost a week every month, every month out of the year, for forty years straight is no small exposure.  Especially given that these dioxins are very slow to be excreted, they accumulate for during your entire lifetime.

Why, exactly, does a product intended to absorb and dispose of menstrual fluid need to be stark white and bleached in the first place?  I have no idea.

One obvious solution to that is to use organically grown, non-bleached cotton tampons and pads.  Certainly this is a step in the right direction.  This will reduce the chemical exposure to your body… yet not reduce the micro-trauma to your vagina or reduce the amount of waste produced by using these items.

Even if they are organic and unbleached, the pads and tampons have to go somewhere.  Megan Telpner has a fabulous blog post which includes a lot of the statistics mentioned here… and she gives away a free printable expose that she wrote on the tampon industry.  In it, she finds that in 1998, the estimated amount of menstrual products that ended up in sewers and landfills was 6.5 million tampons and 13.5 BILLION pads… plus all of their packaging.  Excuse me while I throw up a little bit into my mouth.  Nice also to see a statistic from the Center for Marine Conservation who stated that they collected over 170,000 tampon applicators from the United States coastal area that year alone.  You can print out your own free copy of her report from her blog here.

Hmmm… time to rethink things a bit.  Filling our bodies with chemicals and our oceans with refuse is a bit scary to me, especially when there are other options.

First Snowfall

The first option is cloth pads.  GladRags is probably one of the most popular brands… and they are awesome.  I have a stack of these waiting for my daughter to use the moment she gets her first period.

They feel like the softest, most comfy worn in t-shirt, warm and gentle, snapped onto your underwear.  They are colorful (hurray for no more stark white bleached things!) and washable and reusable.  Best of all, there is no tell-tale diaper sound of plastic and paper rustling around when you walk.  Nope, this is as soft (actually softer) then your underwear.  You can add extra inserts and get larger pads for overnight use.

I wish I had known about these as a teen.  Even when I started using tampons, I would have LOVED these for overnights.  Just rinse in the sink, hang up to dry, and reuse by night.  Once the entire period is done, at the end of the menstrual cycle, toss in the washing machine and you’ll be all set for next month.

There are lots of handmade versions of GladRags on Etsy… super soft and made from recycled fabrics and much more inexpensive… check them out!

But my personal favorite option is the Diva Cup.   I simply can not sing their praises enough.  I have been using mine for about three years straight now and love it more and more.  I have not purchased a single tampon or pad for three years… not one.  I have not had to throw away plastic wrappers, tampon applicators, or expose myself to cotton fibers, micro-trauma, or dioxins.

My favorite thing about the Diva cup is that it makes periods odor-free.  Since the menstrual fluid sits in the cup until you empty it out into the toilet, it does not come into contact with air, so there is no bacterial odor at all.  There is no messy blood soaked string, no gooey pad, nothing.  I literally forget I have my period except for the two times a day that I wash it out and reinsert it.  No odor and no risk whatsoever of Toxic Shock Syndrome makes this method an instant winner in my book.

A Diva Cup is a cup made out of super soft and smooth (read: no more micro-trauma to your mucosa) cup made out of medical grade silicone… you simply fold it up, slide it into your vagina, it will open up and sit collecting your menstrual fluid until you are ready to remove it.  You just flush away the menses, wash the Diva Cup in the sink, dry it, and reinsert.

My second favorite thing about the cup is that you can use it over night.  Because there is no risk at all of TSS, you can leave it safely in place for 12 hours.  Just empty it at whatever frequency you need to accommodate your flow.

Again, I literally forget I have my period, especially over night.  No pads, no leaking, no mess, no smell.  You use the same cup over and over and over… just wash and reinsert, no need to purchase more then one.  I simply boil the cup for a few minutes in between each period for my own peace of mind… this is optional.

Not only does the Diva Cup make my periods more comfortable, not only is it incredibly environmentally friendly, but it is the cheapest way to have a period.  One upfront cost (I’ve seen it cost anywhere from $19.99 to $30 at stores and on-line) saves you from purchasing LITERALLY thousands of tampons and pads.

The Diva Cup comes in two sizes, pre and post childbirth.  Because it is a bit wider when you pull it out, I don’t think I’d recommend a Diva Cup to someone who has never had sexual intercourse.  Certainly I’m recommending GladRags first to my own daughter, until she is ready to use a Diva Cup herself.

Because I love the Diva Cup sooooo much, I can’t recommend it highly enough.  If you have any questions about it at all, leave them for me in the comments section and I will be thrilled to answer them.

My very favorite… Nighttime Reunion!  Free giveaway open to anyone who leaves a comment below!

My last advice is to use an Everwoman Menstrual Calander to become more familiar with your cycle.  It is indispensable knowledge that is very empowering.  I first started tracking my period to figure out if I was having increase variation in my cycle… I thought perhaps I was heading into peri-menopause because I perceived my cycles to be irregular.  Nope.

Once I tracked them on the Calendar, I could see that they were very regular, and I also learned quite a bit more about myself then I had known before.  I found that I was wildly creative the week after my period, and that I had insomnia right before my period.  You see, the calendar has symbols for you to use to track your moods, creativity, sleep patterns, breast tenderness, energy level… anything you want to track, on top of your period.  It even lets you know when there is a full moon each month, which I loved.  I truly had my most creative times when my period fell on a week there was a full moon.  Awesome!

Thank you so much for reading this super long post.  As a thank you, I’d like to give-a-way a free print of my favorite moon inspired painting… Nighttime Reunion. Leave a comment below to be automatically entered to win!

The winner will be announced next Monday, on my last installment of the menstruation series.  Come back then to find out lots of useful info as I interview my hubby, Dr. Craig Koniver of Organic Medicine Now, about natural hormones and nutritional support for PMS and menopause.  xoxo