Hormonal Health & the Issue of Feminine Hygiene

Close-up of young woman with a menstrual compress and a tampon on blue background.

Puberty is starting earlier and earlier – whether because of environmental factors or dietary or both, no-one is certain (but perhaps we have a suspicious inkling…).  Nonetheless, when it comes specifically to female puberty starting earlier, this is quite something to have to deal with – both on an individual, personal level and given its resultant effect on the planet.  Set aside any societally appropriated period stigma you might have: when children who have not even reached double digits are having to use feminine hygiene products (“Precocious Puberty”, as it’s termed), questions over why need to be loudly asked and very much answered.  Furthermore, logic dictates that those products should be as natural as possible, with as few hormonal effects as possible – right?

 

Firstly, some facts.  It takes a tampon longer to break down than the average lifespan of the woman using it.  Given that each female uses approximately 11,000 tampons and/or pads in her reproductive lifetime (each of which consists of 90% plastic), that is a phenomenal amount of menstrual products that are building up as waste, be it in landfills, in the ocean, or by being incinerated and polluting the air.  That’s not even taking into account the plastic applicators of many tampons.  According to Women’s Environmental Network, on UK beaches alone there are some nine plastic applicators for each kilometre of sand.  Indeed, around one fifth of the plastic waste found on beaches is from period products.  These can take up to 500 years to begin to decompose.  Consider here that some 10 billion are used across the globe every month…

…yet, consider also the physical health effects of such material on a girl or woman’s skin and inside her.  Shockingly, manufacturers of menstrual products are not obliged to reveal ingredients as they would in the food, drugs, or cosmetics industries, ingredients which include dioxins from the cotton bleaching process, synthetic fibres, petrochemical additives, and even insecticides like glyphosate.  A few years back, polyacrylate rayon and carboxymehtylcellulose were made illegal in tampons due to their association with Toxic Shock Syndrome.

In this way, one can start to see that it is not simply a case of an omnivorous diet and the hormones pumped into livestock for meat and dairy that filter through to our daughters and sisters, our wives and mothers: it is what they have to use inside and outside their bodies each month due to a biological fact of nature.

So, what are the alternatives?  Certified organic sanitary wear is one step, with their lack of synthetic materials such as rayon, plastics like polyester, and artificial absorbents (all of which are non-biodegradable).  Certified organic sanitary products have none of that.  However, the pandemic saw a step into history with a huge surge in sales of washable reusable sanitary wear.  It also saw an increase in demand for the menstrual cup.  Perhaps this was because disposable feminine hygiene products had emptied from off the shelves shortly behind the mythological toilet roll during spring’s panic buying, but just like reusable nappies, washable sanitary pads were suddenly a hot product. 

 

What of the menstrual cup, though?  You might think it a new creation, but in fact the first ever menstrual cup was invented by American actress Leona Chambers in the 1930s.  Today’s cup has come a long way since then, however, and has been declared safe to use by medical journal The Lancet

The reusable menstrual cup is made from medical grade silicone and can last up to 10 years, with 12-hours of leak-free protection per insertion (in a lifetime, a woman would need approximately four cups).  Yet, the cup divides women into two camps: those who are for them and those who shudder and turn away.  While those with endometriosis are advised against using the cup, other concerns include “pain, difficulty with insertion or removal, leakage and chafing”.  These occurrences are minimal, however (and the risk of leakage in fact the same as – if not less than – regular tampons).  It is also comforting to discover that vaginal flora is not adversely affected by cup use, either.  Furthermore, there are recycling schemes in place for old cups now, too.

Though necessity might have increased purchase of reusables this year, nevertheless, making these and natural alternatives more affordable in the future could only help to reduce one-use, chemical laden sanitary wear most women are financially obliged to purchase and help the planet in the process.  Our future children woman was designed to birth into life deserve no less.

Hormone-Balancing Foods

Eggs – Effective in balancing our insulin (blood sugar) and ghrelin (appetite) hormones, their high protein content means feeling fuller for longer, too.

Oily Fish – Of a similar satiation quality to eggs, oily fish such as sustainability fished mackerel and wild-caught salmon are also high in vitamin D (thereby controlling female testosterone levels).

Cruciferous Veggies – Broccoli and cauliflower, cabbage and kale… All these remove excess oestrogen from the body, while broccoli is especially beneficial for PMS sufferers due to its high calcium content.

Dark Green Leafy Veggies – Lessening inflammation, the darker shaded verdant veg like spinach and collard greens have been shown to lessen cortisol levels and thereby lower oestrogen as well. Their high fibre content also plays a key factor in oestrogen maintenance.

Avocados – Replete in beta-sitosterol, which keeps in check blood cholesterol levels and so balances the stress hormone cortisol, avocados are great as well due to the plant sterols acting as regulators of both oestrogen and progesterone (shaped like a woman, these green babies seem to have been made for women!).

Cherries – The high melatonin content aids sleep, as does their considerable magnesium levels, and sleep of course keeps our hormones nicely balanced.

Brazil Nuts – Selenium-rich, not only are these tropical nuts anticarcinogenic, they are absolute stars in maintaining overall thyroid health.

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