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

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Banned Pesticide Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease

February 13, 2014

DementiaWomanI was discussing the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease with a colleague today, while at RoxSpa Newport Beach, and came across this article, also posted today, making the association between the pesticide DDT and the production of amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s patients.  Though DDT was banned from use in the US in 1972, other countries continue to use it and consequently the chemical still finds its way into our cells. I’ve taught physicians about the association between DDT and breast cancer in  continuing medical education lectures through the American College for Advancement in Medicine and the American Nutraceutical Association over the years but this is the first reference I’ve seen  making a possible connection to this pesticide’s detrimental effects on the brain.  Read more here.

In health,

Dr. Gina


How to Avoid the 12 Known Chemicals that Cause Hormone Imbalance

November 2, 2013

pesticideThe Environmental Working Group has published an excellent article detailing the 12 most common chemicals in our environment that cause hormone disruption leading to everything from cancer to infertility to shrunken testicles…and actions you can take today to help protect yourself and your family from harm.

The first step is to remove the source of the chemicals if you can. Read here to learn more.

The second step is to support the body’s natural detoxification processes daily, and seasonally, through medically supervised detoxification programs that are customized to your specific situation, your lab test results and your metabolism.

No one can afford to ignore this issue. Chemicals in our environment can cause irreversible harm to our health, if we allow it.

In health,

Dr. Gina


Exercise as Beneficial or Better Than Drug Intervention for Common Cardiovascular Ailments

October 10, 2013

RunningNatureA structured exercise program may be as good or better than frequently prescribed drugs for some common cardiovascular ailments, a large meta-analysis has found.

Researchers evaluated 57 randomized trials testing the effect on mortality of exercise and drugs in four prevention regimens: the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease, rehabilitation from stroke, treatment of heart failure, and prevention of Type 2 diabetes. The review, published online in BMJ, involved more than 14,000 patients.

The studies used a variety of drugs – for example, statins for the prevention of coronary heart disease, blood thinners for stroke, diuretics for heart failure, and biguanides like Glucophage and Metaglip for impending diabetes.

They found no difference in mortality between exercise and drug interventions in the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease or Type 2 diabetes.

For stroke prevention, exercise programs were more effective than anticoagulants or antiplatelet medicines.

And for treating heart failure, diuretic drugs were more effective than exercise.

Click here for more.

Given the massive cost burden on our health care system for prescription medications used to treat chronic illnesses, this data will hopefully encourage doctors and patients to turn to exercise when appropriate, as an alternative option to manage heart disease, stroke or Type 2 diabetes.

In health,

Dr. Gina


Orange Juice and Cancer Prevention

September 23, 2013

OrangeSurgeonGeneralWarningIn a forthcoming review article from Nutrition and Cancer: An International Journal, a publication of Routledge, researchers review available evidence that links orange juice with cancer chemoprevention. The review article, “Orange Juice and Cancer Chemoprevention” discusses the putative mechanisms involved in the process, the potential toxicity of orange juice, and the available data in terms of evidence-based medicine.

Orange juice has many potential positive effects when it comes to cancer, particularly because it is high in antioxidants from flavonoids such as hesperitin and naringinin. Evidence from previous in vitro studies has indicated that orange juice can reduce the risk of leukemia in children, as well as aid in chemoprevention against mammary, hepatic, and colon cancers. Biological effects of orange juice in vitro are largely influenced by the juice’s composition, which is dependent on physiological conditions of the oranges such as climate, soil, fruit maturation, and storage methods post-harvest.  Read more by clicking here.

Oranges grown organically have higher levels of antioxidants and nutrients that help the body to fight off cancer.  The more the oranges are processed (e.g. pasteurized, “10% juice”), the lower the levels of cancer fighting chemicals.  Fresh squeezed orange juice or whole organic oranges are best.

In health,

Dr. Gina


Yoga Can Help Keep Kids in School

August 27, 2013

GirlYogaAn excellent discussion below published in Forbes…given the increasing stressors kids face today, yoga exercises provide a form of movement that help kids to cope, focus and thrive.

 

In health,

Dr. Gina

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Forbes (forbes.com) – How Yoga Could Help Keep Kids In School – By Alice G. Walton

Scientific evidence is mounting daily for what many have long sensed: that practices like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can help us address certain intractable individual and societal problems. Prominent companies – Google, General Mills, Target, Apple, Nike, AOL, and Procter & Gamble among them – and prominent individuals have already embraced this possibility. Tim Ryan, the Ohio congressman who wrote the book A Mindful Nation, has been a big proponent of bringing mindfulness to the masses. He, along with others, believes that mindfulness should be a part of everyone’s day, to help wire our brains to deal with our many modern stressors.

And, perhaps more importantly for our global health, for kids dealing with extreme stressors, traumas and abuse, putting these practices into schools could be the difference between failure and success.

Last month, a group of American and Canadian scholars, researchers, businesspeople, and yoga teachers came together for a weekend at Omega Institute to discuss how this group of practices that helps us self-regulate as individuals could, quite possibly, help us regulate on a society level. The issues the country is facing – the massive dropout rate of school kids, substance abuse among all age groups, PTSD among veterans, the staggeringly high incarceration and recidivism rates – cost the country volumes in human potential, not to mention trillions in dollars.


Mammography…A Perspective Worth Reviewing

August 26, 2013

mature_healthy_womanOur female patients over 40 often ask whether or not they should receive  mammograms.  It can be confusing for women to make a decision because the information available through their doctors and elsewhere is conflicting. Below is an article published by Dr. Johnnie Ham on  Mercola.com that discusses his research on the mammography industry…valuable information for women to consider when making their own decision on whether or not to receive routine “preventive” mammograms.

In health,

Dr. Gina

By Johnnie Ham, MD, MBA

Many women are completely unaware that the science backing the use of mammograms is sketchy at best. As was revealed in a 2011 meta-analysis by the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews, mammography breast cancer screening led to 30 percent overdiagnosis and overtreatment, which equates to an absolute risk increase of 0.5 percent.

There’s also the risk of getting a false negative, meaning that a life-threatening cancer is missed.

Unfortunately, even though some high-profile people agree that mammography has limitations as well as dangers, others prefer to ignore the science and continue to campaign for annual screenings without so much as a hint at the risks involved.

Now, they’ve unrolled “new and improved” 3D TOMOSYNTHESIS mammogram, which still requiring mechanical compression, and delivers 30 percent more radiation!

In order to make better informed decisions, I provide my patients with all of their screening options, their strengths and weaknesses, and I reinforce that they have a right to utilize those options. Some of the options may include; self and clinical breast exams, thermography, ultrasound and/or MRI. My role as a doctor is to diagnose and treat, but I am also an educator. I want my patients’ focus to be on prevention to improve their health and well-being.

The Industry of Cancer

Breast cancer has become big business, starting with the multi-billion dollar goliath, mammography. No other medical screening has been as aggressively promoted. My passion is providing integrative primary care as an MD for hundreds of patients. I also have over 23 combined years of military experience as an OB/GYN, trauma surgeon, experimental test pilot, and master army aviator.

My training prepared me to navigate through challenging, and sometimes life threatening situations. Unfortunately, most women do not have the training I received, yet they could certainly use some of it to help navigate through the fear based methods of the breast cancer industry.

The tide of thought on mammography’s benefits is rapidly changing as evidenced by recently published studies in the Archives of Internal Medicine,1 the Lancet Review,2 the British Medical Journal3 and the Nordic Cochrane Center;4 and the fact that the US Preventative Services Task Force5 and the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care.6

Why are Nearly All Health Care Professionals Not Following Current Mammogram Recommendations?

Nearly every woman age 40 and older continues to be told by their primary care physician, their gynecologist, the media, self-proclaimed advocacy groups, and even their medical insurance carrier, “get your annual mammogram!” despite the fact that nearly every recent authoritative study concludes that women should know all of the facts before agreeing to a mammogram screening. Yet nearly all health care professionals insist on mammograms. If a woman dare refuse, she may be chastised or worse, threatened. These efforts have gone beyond persuasion to guilt and even coercion, “I can’t be your doctor if you don’t get a mammogram.” Women need to stop this runaway train, not only for their sake, but for the sake of their daughters.

In November 2012, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study by Dr Archie Bleyer, MD from The Oregon Health Sciences Center, and his co-author, Dr H. Gilbert Welch, M.D., M.P.H., from Dartmouth, challenging the validity of mammogram screenings and concluded that mammograms have little to no influence in the reduction of the number of women who ultimately die of breast cancer.7

Thirty years of US government data studied found that as many as 1/3 of cancers detected by mammography may not have been life threatening, and that over 1 million women have been over-diagnosed; leading to unnecessary treatments involving disfiguring surgeries; radiation and chemotherapy. They also showed that mammogram screenings have increased from about 30 percent of women 40 and older in 1985, to about 70 percent of women screened, proving how effective we have been at convincing women they need to get a mammogram.

I have witnessed this strategy for decades and I have seen the profound psychological effect it has had on many of my patients. This paradigm has seriously misled women regarding the actual effectiveness, and the benefits vs. potential dangers of mammograms. They also have women confused about the erroneous belief that mammography is their only tool. Some women actually believe mammograms can prevent cancer, or do not realize they have the right to say, no!

Most women comply with the current “gold standard” in fear of the ravages of breast cancer, convinced their annual mammogram will save their life through early detection. It is nearly impossible for them to negate decades of slick marketing, annual reminders from radiology imaging centers and the exploitation of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness month blitz. All of these efforts beautifully packaged, tied up with a pretty pink ribbon.

I take my oath to do no harm very seriously. After many years of research, clinical practice; and due to my wife’s personal experience with mammography, I cannot in good conscience recommend mammograms. I inform my patients that mammograms are considered the current “gold standard”, but I also make certain they know the facts about the screening and that there are other screen tools available.

Facts and Persisting Concerns: Mammograms

More women are refusing mammograms. This is reflected in the dramatic decline of 4.3 percent in 2010. Previously, mammography use had increased annually by 1 percent between 2005 and 2009. Mammograms:

  1. Are incorrect 80 percent of the time (providing a false negative or false positive)
  2. Require repeated ionized radiation that can cause cancer
  3. Use compression, which can damage breast tissue or potentially spread cancer
  4. Are not effective for up to 50 percent of women (women with dense breasts or implants)
  5. Can lead to over-diagnosis and over-treatment of non-invasive cancers
  6. Can lead to the disturbing practice of “preventative” double mastectomies

What is Mammography Industries Solution?

The “new and improved” 3D TOMOSYNTHESIS mammogram, still requiring mechanical compression, and 30 percent more radiation! We know all levels of ionizing radiation can cause cancer but, astonishingly, radiologists still want you to have your traditional mammogram screening first, followed by tomosynthesis mammogram for those with dense breasts or an area of suspicion. When my local Radiology Community approached me in an effort to disprove my concerns, I posed one simple question: Can you show me, one well-designed study that proves screening mammography has improved ultimate survival rates? I am still waiting for their answer.

We cannot prove that screening mammography improves the ultimate survival rate. A quick look at the SEER data would suggest treatment has improved, by a decline in the death rate since 1998 of 1.9 percent.8 For every 1,000 women in this country, today 125 will ultimately be diagnosed with breast cancer. Of those 125, over 40 will be over-diagnosed, and receive treatment they never needed, and suffer the potential psychological consequences of a cancer diagnosis. That leaves about 80, of which 28 will die of breast cancer. The decline since 1998 in the death rate means that for our 28 women who would have otherwise died from breast cancer, 2 more out of 1000 women diagnosed with breast cancer survived due to over a decade of treatment advances.

But, we really don’t know what actually saved those 2 women, of the 125 diagnosed with breast cancer for every 1,000 women in our group. If we attribute anything to lifestyle changes we have emphasized recently (which has been shown repeatedly to work), then either we wipe out any improved survival rate from decades of treatment advances, or worse, we cause death to some of those 40 women who were over-diagnosed!

If You Have Dense Breasts it is Even Worse

Breast density laws have now been passed in California,9 Connecticut, New York, Virginia and Texas making it mandatory for radiologists to inform their patients, who have dense breast tissue (40 to 50 percent of women) that mammograms are basically useless for them. Dense breast tissue and cancer both appear white on an X-ray, making it nearly impossible for a radiologist to detect cancer in these women. It’s like trying to find a snowflake in a blizzard. A law is now being considered at a Federal level as well.

Some radiologists already provide density information to their patients, and encourage them to utilize other options like thermography, ultrasound and/or MRI. I believe it reasonable for a woman to trust that her radiologist is not withholding vital density information. Unfortunately, many have kept this potentially lifesaving data from women for decades, and our government agencies have failed to protect them from this unethical practice.

I know it is extremely difficult to navigate through all of the contradicting information and study findings. It would better serve women if efforts, money and resources were utilized on educating women on cancer prevention, being that 95 percent of disease is lifestyle related. Yet 40,000 women continue to die of breast cancer each year. The only way to reduce this number is through utilizing preventative therapies.

Basic Cancer Prevention Strategies

As mentioned above, many women are completely unaware that the science backing the use of mammograms is sorely lacking, and that more women are being harmed by regular mammograms than are saved by them. Many also do not realize that the “new and improved” 3D tomosynthesis mammogram actually delivers even MORE ionizing radiation than the older version. This is not a step forward…

Please understand that there are other screening options, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and you have a right to utilize those options. Also remember that in order to truly avoid breast cancer, you need to focus your attention on prevention.

A few simple, yet great options to assist in your efforts to avoid breast cancer are: making sure you are getting enough vitamin D, K2 and iodine; that you utilize lymphatic massage; use stress management techniques, exercise often, and balance your hormones naturally. It is also wise to eat a Mediterranean diet consisting of organic foods. Avoid processed and GMO foods; and toxic environments.

In my practice, I recommend breast thermography, even for young women to get a baseline, but also combine the imaging not only with a review of the findings, but more importantly, as a venue to educate women on breast health. It is far more effective to prevent breast cancer, than it is to wait until it is there and then treat it. We are all different so make sure you consult with your doctor and do your own research before utilizing any of these suggestions.

The advice I give all of my patients is to be your own health advocate, do your own research and always ask questions before agreeing to any therapy or treatment, screening and/or procedure.

About the Author:

Dr. Johnnie Ham, MD, former Lieutenant Colonel of the US Army Medical Corps, is the Medical Director of Coastal Prestige Medical Services, Pismo Beach, CA. Coastal Prestige Physicians offer top-notch comprehensive healthcare, with an emphasis on evidence-based primary care and preventive health for all ages.


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