Toxic Feminine Hygiene Products

November 28, 2014

Here is an informative post about a report released by the Women’s Voices for the Environment called “Chem Fatale” that examined the toxicity of various feminine hygiene products. They found that tampons, pads and other feminine hygiene products contain unwanted chemicals and pesticides, and can be detrimental to women’s health.

Below is the full discussion. Products applied vaginally can enter the circulation quickly, making it especially important for women to be aware of this.

In health,

Dr. Gina

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The Dirty Secrets of Feminine Hygiene Products

The Gerson Institute

I know menstruation—and the vagina, generally—is a conversational topic that often prompts expressions of disgust, mockery, gross-out jokes or pleas for ignorance, particularly from men. But let’s all agree to be mature adults here, and talk seriously about a health issue that affects nearly every woman on the planet, and is too often ignored out of misguided politeness or squeamishness.

The average woman will have about 350 menses in her lifetime, which, given an estimated average period length of 6 days, means she will spend a total of nearly 6 years of her life menstruating. It’s estimated that the average woman uses up to 11,800 tampons in her lifetime. So that’s a lot of sustained exposure to menstrual products. And in addition to menstrual products, an estimated 10-40% of women use other feminine hygiene products such as douches, wipes, deodorants and creams

The female genitalia is the home to a very delicate balance of bacteria and yeast. If that balance is disturbed, one can end up with painful conditions such as urinary tract infections (UTIs), vaginitis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and yeast infections. Some of these infections, particularly UTIs, can become quite acutely severe.

The best way to safeguard against these common, but potentially serious, infections is to prevent them altogether, and to keep the bacteria and yeast levels in balance. While there are many things you can do to avoid UTIs, yeast infections and other problems—such as urinating before and after sexual intercourse, avoiding over-washing the area with harsh soaps, wiping front-to-back, avoiding bubble baths, and wearing cotton underwear—another is to be very cautious about what types of materials and items you put “down there.”

6 Nasty Substances Found in Feminine Hygiene Products

  • Chlorine: Used to bleach cotton menstrual products, particularly tampons and menstrual pads
  • Dioxins and furans: Known carcinogens that can cause reproductive, developmental and hormonal problems, and can have a detrimental effect on the immune system. These are by-products of the chlorine used for the bleaching process.
  • Pesticide residue: Most cotton used for tampons and pads is made from conventionally-grown cotton, which is treated with heavy pesticides. While the FDA “recommends” that tampons be free of pesticide residue, testing on the popular brand o.b. detects the presence of pesticides like pyrethrum, procymidone, mecarbam and fensulfothion—which are possible carcinogens and linked to endocrine disruption. And, while the Chem Fatale report does not mention this specifically, I would also like to mention that some brands use genetically-modified cotton. If you’re avoiding eating GMO foods, you’ll probably want to reconsider putting GMO products in other parts of your body as well.
  • Fragrance: This one simple word can contain multitudes of harmful chemicals—none of which are required to be listed or disclosed on labels. “Fragrances” can include chemicals known to be carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, irritants and allergens. While these fragrances are most commonly found in douches and sanitary wipes (more on that topic later), it’s also common for pads and tampons to come with “scented” versions. Feminine deodorants and perfumes are also well-known to cause irritation and allergic reactions, in large part due to the fragrances used.
  • Parabens: Found in vaginal anti-itch creams, feminine wipes and feminine washes, typically as a preservative. Parabens are skin irritants and allergens, and may have damaging estrogenic properties.
  • Synthetic materials: Most tampons and pads are not 100% cotton these days, they are made from synthetic fabrics like rayon, or Super Absorbent Powders (SAPs). Some of these substances, along with the other chemicals and fragrances, can cause rashes and skin irritation, particularly when used in menstrual pads.

In addition to the toxicity of these various chemicals found in feminine hygiene products, I would also like to note that there are also certain types of products that are harmful to vaginal health not only due to their ingredients, but because their actual functions and purposes are inherently problematic.

Why “Douchebag” Deserves to be a Bad Word

There’s a good reason that the words “douche” and “douchebag” have become popular pejorative insults. Douches are well-deserving of the negative publicity its common usage in the modern lexicon has granted it. Douches are linked to a host of problems: vaginitis, chronic yeast infections, pregnancy complications, infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Studies have shown a correlation between regular douching and cervical cancer. They may also cause women to be more vulnerable to sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). So, why are they so harmful? And why do they remain so popular?

The reason douches cause so many problems is that they disrupt the natural self-cleaning function of the vagina, wiping out the beneficial bacteria in the vagina and leaving it vulnerable to yeast overgrowth and “bad” bacteria. The vagina is a self-cleaning organ; the mucous that lubricates it also eliminates any harmful substances that enter it, such as bad bacteria or viruses than can cause infections. A healthy vagina needs no cleansing agents; it does just fine on its own, thanks. It certainly doesn’t need the host of disinfectants, “fragrances” or other chemicals that douches, wipes and washes contain. Yet there is still a great deal of stigma and shame regarding the vagina in regards to perceived uncleanliness, or fear of odors, so some women feel compelled to clean it or “freshen” it. And yet, because douching can disrupt the all-important flora-yeast balance in the vagina, douches can actually cause the very odor issues they purported to eliminate.

Teen girls are particularly susceptible to these fears, given the multitude of anxieties surrounding puberty and the onset of menstruation, but douches are also all-too-commonly—and somewhat disproportionately—used by low-income and minority women.

Despite the near-universal condemnation of the practice by the medical and gynecological communities, the belief that douching is “an expected and necessary part of feminine hygiene” likely persists due to advertisements that perpetuate these beliefs by preying on women’s insecurities, but also by well-intentioned but poorly-informed friends and family members.

In the 1950s, a now-notorious series of manipulative ad campaigns aimed at housewives informed them that their vaginas were dirty and smelly, and made them repulsive to their husbands. The solution to their marital woes? To “freshen up” by douching with Lysol (shudder!).

Lysol ad

There’s also the persistent myth that douching prevents pregnancy. This is because archaic contraceptive methods involving douching date back practically to prehistory, and remained popular through much of the 20th century, thanks to the aforementioned Lysol ad campaigns, which were subtly angled at selling Lysol douches as a contraceptive. You may notice that, in the ad above, the tag-line refers to Lysol as a “germ-killer,” which just happens to rhyme with “sperm-killer,” and others described Lysol as a “germicide.” Lysol was, frighteningly, the most popular contraceptive in America from the 1920s until the early 1960s. Of course, it didn’t really work; a 1933 study showed that half the women surveyed who used Lysol as a contraceptive became pregnant. In some cases, douching can increase risk of pregnancy by pushing sperm up into the cervix, rather than washing it out!

So please, if you spot a bottle of Summer’s Eve under your friend, wife, daughter or partner’s bathroom sink, share this information with them, and help stop the—if you’ll pardon the bad pun—“flow” of bad information about women’s health. And, use this information to make conscious and informed choices about the products you choose to put in your body—especially in such a sensitive area!

Check back here next week, we’ll list the top natural, chemical-free alternatives to Tampax and common drugstore menstrual products!


About the Author: Ally Bacaj is the Gerson Institute’s Communications Specialist. She joined the Institute after graduating from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2010. Ally manages the design and content of our website and our blog. She also shares news from the Gerson Institute on our Facebook page, Pinterest and Twitter.

In her spare time, you can find Ally unearthing vintage treasures at the swap meet, with her nose stuck in a book or snuggling with her pet bunny, Dennis Hopper.


Photo credits: Whispered Between Women, Smithsonian Magazine


Weight Loss and Toxic Exposure

September 16, 2010

A new study (1) published  in the International Journal of Obesity found that those individuals who lost a significant amount of weight had an average of 50% higher levels of six of the most toxic organic environmental pollutants in their blood, as compared to those who gained weight! This is based on data collected from among 1,099 adult participants age ≥40 in the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Toxins are stored in fat cells and once fat cells purge their contents, those toxins will begin to circulate in your blood stream.  There is an association between the increased level of toxins in our environment beginning with the industrial age, and the increased incidence of obesity in our country. This new research provides further evidence that undergoing a 21 Day Purification Program can be a wise step to take on your weight loss journey. This program is clinically researched and includes custom formulas that are proven to bind to environmental toxins and remove them from your body so that they do not cause DNA damage and disease.

If you are interested in learning more about the role toxins play in the body and how detoxification methods help, click here.

To your health,

Dr. G

(1)The authors declared they had no conflicts of interest. Lee D-H, et al “Inverse associations between long-term weight change and serum concentrations of persistent organic pollutants” Intl J Obesity 2010; DOI: 10.1038/IJO.2010.188.


Heavy Metals Increase Risk of Depression and Panic Disorder

June 10, 2010

Even at low levels generally considered to pose little or no risk, exposure to environmental lead might increase – by as much as 2.3 times – the risk of depression and panic disorder but not of generalized anxiety disorder. That was the suggestion of a Canadian study appearing in the December, 2009 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. Gender and ethnicity were also factors and the researchers stressed that lead exposure cannot be determined to be a cause of these psychological problems.

One of the main, and often overlooked, sources of heavy metals, including lead, is our water supply-both drinking water and shower water.   I recommend investing in a quality water filtration and ionization system to all of our patients.  The link between heavy metal exposure and mental illness suggested in this study and proven in many others (including practical, real life studies completed with patients at LTP Medical) is one of the reasons why we always test patients with mental health challenges for exposure to environmental toxins including heavy metals and treat them using the LTP Medical Custom Purification Program to remove the toxins from their systems.  This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to see immediate benefit in patients suffering needlessly with these challenges. Other treatments include custom amino acid therapy, fatty acid therapy, orthomolecular therapy, hormone therapy and food allergy testing and treatment.

In health,

Dr. G


Your Voice Was Heard! McCain Withdraws Support of Dangerous Supplement Bill

March 8, 2010

Supplement Safety Act Loses Senator Support

Thank you to those who took action and contacted Senator McCain to request that he reconsider supporting his new bill that threatened to block your access to natural medicines. According to Alliance for Natural Health USA, Senator McCain was embarrassed by an ad they placed, that pointed out that he was misrepresenting and did not seem to understand his own bill. McCain met with Senator Orin Hatch, who is a strong supporter of natural medicine, and shortly thereafter news came that he was withdrawing his support of the Dietary Supplement Safety Act.

A word of caution…it is likely that another, modified version of this Bill creeps up and we will be watching for this.  In the meantime, I want to extend my gratitude to those of you that were willing to take action and make your voice heard. It is the ONLY way we are going to see genuine, lasting change in our healthcare system.

Let’s start making the  healthcare needs of the people, and of  the future generations known. What I am seeing in practice is that the newest generation is suffering from unhealthy habits of at least the past two generations (e.g. poor diet, lack of exercise, more stress, exposure to industrial chemicals and pesticides, synthetic hormones, introduction of more chemicals in the food supply).

This means that genetically,  they are more vulnerable to chronic illness, which is an area of healthcare where our current system fails to provide real solutions.

These children are much more sensitive to the effects of poor diet, chemicals in the environment, and high potency medications.  They will not  benefit from access to the current system of healthcare that is heavily focused on prescription medications and the suppression of symptoms. The younger generation, and future generations will be seeking to address the root cause of their symptoms-be it mental, emotional and/or physical.

It is time to design a new healthcare bill, where the focus is on optimal health, the principles and practice of naturopathic medicine, treating the cause rather then masking the symptoms, detoxification, and working with and respecting the body’s innate ability to heal itself, given the proper support.

In health,

-Dr. G


Chemicals in your Cosmetics

July 1, 2009

cosmeticsI am always amazed when I read the fine print on the ingredient labels of cosmetics, even some of the natural ones.  The skin is our largest detoxification organ and what we put on it affects how well our body is able to remove the burden of exposure to chemicals in the environment. In that spirit, I am including an article below written about this topic that offers resources on where to go to find out what chemicals are in your cosmetics and where to turn for cosmetics that are safe and nourishing to your skin.

In health,

Dr. G


Chemicals in your Cosmetics
by Dr. Gina Nick

It’s 7 AM, and time to get ready for your workday. First, touch up your nails with ethyl methacrylate and then line your lids with chromium hydroxide green. Brush some titanium dioxide across your cheekbones, pizzazz your pucker with some D&C Red No. 27 (the pearly effect courtesy of bismuth oxychloride) and you’re good to go!

Or are you? While your appearance may be great, behind the scenes there is a chemical war being waged on your body, courtesy of all the health and beauty aids you sprayed, rubbed, brushed and rolled on. Choosing makeup involves more than selecting the right shade and formulations for your skin color and type. You also want cosmetics that won’t have a negative impact on your body.

What’s in your makeup?
According to the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), (established in 1976 by the Cosmetic, Toiletry & Fragrance Association with support of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and the Consumer Federation of America.), chemicals used in cosmetics fall into four main categories[i]: ingredients found safe , ingredients found safe with qualifications, ingredients for which there are insufficient data and ingredients found unsafe.

However, critics of the findings have pointed out that there may be flaws in some of the research. For example, the decision to categorize phthalates (which, according to research mimics estrogen in the body-which is implicated in hormone-specific cancers and conditions such as PMS, premature menopause and infertility) as safe for cosmetic formulations overlooks information gaps, according to the Environmental Working Group. These include[ii]:

• The failure to establish a NOEL [No Observed Effects Level] for the male-specific reproductive side effects of the phthalate DBP.

• The failure to determine the amounts of DBP that are absorbed in people’s bodies from cosmetics.

• The failure to determine the full range of products that include DBP (among them, deodorant, hair spray, and fragrances)

Phthalates aren’t the only chemicals that are under fire. Breast tumor tissue has shown estrogenic industrial chemicals called parabens, and, noted the Environmental Working Group (EWG), even the hormone systems in wildlife have been disrupted thanks to common water pollutants such as personal care products that enter the water system by way of your bathroom drain.[iii]

Surprising enough, except for cosmetics containing color additives, cosmetic manufacturers do not need to gain FDA premarket approval before putting their product on the shelves. Instead, they are expected to authenticate “the safety of their products and ingredients before marketing,” says Safe Cosmetics[v] — rather like asking the fox to check the performance of the lock on the hen house door.

With at least 25 percent of women and one out of every 100 men using at least 15 products daily (according to the EWG 2004 product use survey), this adds up to quite a lot of chemicals being applied to our skin (and possibly ingested into our body) in a 24-hour time period![vi]

What you can do
So what is the solution? Do you cross your fingers and hope for the best each time you apply blush or nail polish, roll on deodorant, highlight your hair or chemically de-fuzz your legs? Or do you avoid the risk and go au naturel?
Strike a balance between the two extremes by following these tips:

1. Read the labels. While the multi-syllabic chemical recipe might look overwhelming at first glance, reviewing the components at a database such as http://www.deancoleman.com/cosmetics.htm or http://www.smartskincare.com/ingredients/glossary is the first stage of your “Cosmetic Chemical Class.” Also check for a “Warning Label” that would indicate any health hazards associated with the product.[vii] The label (or packaging) will also alert you to products that are “past their prime.” At Aubrey Organics you can find a list of 10 synthetic cosmetic ingredients to avoid. Your local health food store is another great place to check out labels of “better for you” cosmetics and body products.

2. Review product ratings. Don’t buy products based on advertisements, recommendations or out of habit. Sites such as The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ Skin Deep (a searchable product guide covering 14,838 products and the 7,084 ingredients that form them) will help you choose safer products for you and your family. [viii]

3. Understand “Cosmeceuticals.” Multi-tasking has entered the cosmetics industry with a myriad of products that purportedly not only make you look better but actually improve your skin by virtue of addition of active ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins. Some research, particularly on topical vitamin C, certainly demonstrates benefit with regard to cell regeneration and cancer prevention. However, some experts have voiced concern that there has been a lack of clinical trials measuring their effectiveness and overall safety. [ix]

4. Support your body’s natural detoxification mechanisms. On a daily basis, your system is exposed to a variety of toxins and environmental attacks. Give it a boost by eating broccoli, radishes, and green vegetables and drinking fresh vegetable juice or wheatgrass juice. Focus on exercises that encourage deep breathing (such as yoga) and consider a trip to an infrared sauna to “sweat out” the toxins.

Here are a list of companies that offer safer options for your skin:

Product Recommendations

Aubrey Organics (http://www.aubrey-organics.com/)

Aztec Secret

Certain Dri

Chandrika

Crystal Body Deodorant

Jurlique (http://www.jurlique.com)

Longview Farms

Natra Bio

Simplers Botanical Company

Valhalla Essences

Weleda (a personal favorite)

References:

[i] http://www.cir-safety.org/findings.shtml

[ii] http://www.ewg.org/issues/cosmetics/20021119_panelmtg.php

[iii] http://www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep2/info_why.php

[v] http://www.safecosmetics.org/about/policies.cfm

[vi] http://www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep2/info_why.php

[vii] http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/%7Elrd/cfr740.html

[viii] http://www.safecosmetics.org/your_health/skindeep.cfm

[ix] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmeceutical


Your Body Has the Ability to Heal Itself

January 26, 2009

painLast week I was interviewed for an upcoming PBS Series on Naturopathic Medicine. The topic was chronic pain. Throughout the interview I found myself repeating the notion that “the body has the ability to heal itself,” provided you give it what it needs and you remove the barriers to cure.  What the body needs can range from a particular combination of nutrients, herbs, and natural hormones, to more positive emotions.  Some of the most prevalent “barriers to cure” that I see in my  practice are stress, food allergies, and toxin overload.

Most people suffering with chronic pain are handed a prescription for pain killers and muscle relaxants and/or advised to get psychological help.  The Naturopathic approach to chronic pain involves identifying the cause of the pain; be it emotional, physical, stress-related, toxin-related or hormone-related. Then treatment is individualized to suit the patients’ unique situation. No two treatment protocols are the same.  My experience has been that by addressing the cause of the chronic pain at the emotional, mental and physical levels brings about the most successful long term results and allows for freedom of movement and a pain-free life.

The most important message here is that if you are experiencing chronic pain, you do not need to suffer.  There is a way to find relief. One of the best ways to find that relief is by addressing the underlying cause(s) of the pain rather then chronically masking the symptoms with medication…and allowing your own body, in its innate wisdom, to heal itself.

In health,

Dr. Gina


Toxic Chemicals in our Hospitals

November 14, 2008

A hopeful new report entitled “Taking Toxics out of Maryland’s Health Care Sector: transition to Green Pest Management Practices to Protect Health and the Environment” was recently published by the Maryland Pesticide Network and Beyond Pesticides, in collaboration with Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment.

The report discusses the results of a statewide survey that revealed a general reliance on toxic pesticides at Maryland Hospitals and elder care facilities.  There were 25 pesticides identified by the survey that are used at these facilities. And of these, 11 the cockroachare linked to cancer, 12 are associated with neurological effects, 10 are associated reproductive harm, 5 cause birth or developmental defects, 10 cause liver and kidney damage, and 6 are suspected endocrine disruptors.

Pesticides are extremely toxic to the body and it does not make sense that they are being used in healthcare facilities. Even though they are classified as “safe” by the federal government, there is a compounding effect.  This means that if you were only exposed to a “safe” dose of a single pesticide, and you were otherwise a healthy individual, then you may not see immediate effects. However, these toxins accumulate in fat cells and, over time, lead to cellular damage.  Also, you are never only exposed to one toxin at a time.  Your body is exposed to many different toxins at one time, and the added exposure to a known toxic pesticide will lead to a combined damaging effect on the body, regardless of its classification as being “generally recognized as safe.”

The Human Detoxification System is equipped to remove toxins from your body on a minute by minute bases. And it is a brilliant system.  However, it is not designed to handle the sheer volume of toxins that we are exposed to in our society today- through our food, water, air and the mental and emotional stresses of our time.  So eventually, your body’s ability to remove toxins slows down, and the toxins get stored near your cellular DNA, causing damage.

To learn more about toxins, and their impact on the body click here. Eight years ago I published a medical textbook on the effects of toxins on the human body and the use of herbal and nutritional medicines to support the Human Detoxification System, and protect the body from harm. My intention with writing the book was to bring scientific evidence to the timeless health tradition of cleansing the body and to inspire physicians and medical students to employ this simple health program to prevent and treat many diseases of the human body, mind and spirit.

Equally important to taking steps to detoxify your body, you must also remove sources of toxins from the environment as much as is possible.  To learn about natural alternatives to toxic pesticides click here and here for some straightforward advice.

In health,

- Dr. G


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