The risks associated with conventional menstrual products

It is surprising that the majority of women continue to suffer the consequences of using conventional tampons and pads without questioning what is happening and why.

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)

TSS is a rare but potentially fatal disease caused by a bacterial toxin. It has been associated with tampon use. TSS continues to cause serious illness, sometimes fatal, with symptoms including high fever, sunburn-like rash, nausea, diarrhoea, headache, sore throat, and achy muscles. Studies have shown that almost 99 percent of all TSS cases are found in women wearing rayon-blend tampons. The exact connection between the bacteria, TSS, and synthetic tampons remains unclear. There are a number of factors involved, including hygiene practices and the length of time a tampon is left in place. Another factor is greater absorbency, as there are more cases reported among women who use high absorbency tampons. Tampons do not cause TSS, and the disease is not limited to menstruating women. Men, children and non-menstruating women can also get TSS. Younger women are at greater risk because they haven’t developed the antibodies to the bacteria or toxin that causes TSS. Commercial tampons are typically manufactured from rayon fibres and viscose. The bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, that is responsible for toxic shock syndrome, breeds easily on synthetic fibres such as rayon and viscose. Rayon is a synthetic product made from cellulose, which is derived from wood pulp. The use of 100 percent cotton tampons may reduce the risk of TSS compared with tampons that contain rayon. Studies have shown that all-cotton tampons as opposed to cotton blend tampons do not produce the dangerous TSS toxins from the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus.

Toxins in conventional pads and tampons

Women’s genital tissue is highly sensitive, and chemicals are easily absorbed into their bodies, causing irritation, discomfort, and serious health problems. We already live in a toxic, polluted environment. Wherever we can we need to reduce our exposure to toxins. It is very easy to reduce our exposure to the toxins in menstrual products.

Dioxins and Furans

Dioxins and furans is the abbreviated or short name for a family of toxic substances that all share a similar chemical structure. Most dioxins and furans are not produced intentionally, but are created when other chemicals or products are made. Dioxins are toxic by-products of the chlorine bleaching process. Non-organic fibre production such as cotton, is sprayed with pesticides that release toxins, including dioxin, into the environment, leaving chemical residue in the fibre eg. cotton. Dioxins have been found in tampons and pads. Once it is in the environment it cannot be removed. It accumulates in the fatty tissue of humans and animals. We are all susceptible to dioxin contamination through our diet and the environment, but there is no logical reason why women should be subject to the additional exposure from their menstrual products. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies dioxins as a ‘known human carcinogen’. Furans are also considered as possibly carcinogenic. Action by the Women’s Environmental Network has led to most major manufacturers using alternative bleaching processes to chlorine bleaches. Despite this there is evidence to suggest that these alternative processes merely reduce possible dioxin contamination – they do not eliminate it. Low levels of dioxins are linked to cancer, endometriosis, low sperm counts in men, immune system suppression, pelvic inflammatory disease, reduced fertility, and changes in hormone levels.


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