Category Archives: Women’s Health

Menstrual Myths

How to Induce a Period: 13 Natural Methods and Myths

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Prachi Shah

It’s a story passed from word of mouth, across households, generations and countries. Young people, often young women with an important event coming up, are told to eat certain foods to induce or delay their menstrual period in order to make sure that it doesn’t coincide with a birthday, religious occasion, or other event. Plants and herbs such as turmeric, mangoes, pineapple, and papaya have been touted for centuries as natural ways to encourage the early onset of a menstrual period. However, the evidence regarding these herbal treatments, known as emmenagogues, is often strictly anecdotal, and is often contradictory. 

A menstrual period is the culmination of the body’s roughly 28 day reproductive cycle. The cycle begins with the maturation of an ovum, or egg, which is then released into the body. Over the next few weeks, the endometrium (thick lining of the uterus) thickens. The cycle culminates with the shedding of this lining through the vagina, which is known as the menstrual period. The menstrual period is regulated largely by hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, among others. When these hormones are not present in the correct ratios, it can result in irregular periods, which may lead someone to seek out natural remedies to induce it. 

Anecdotes claim that foods such as citrus, berries, spinach, and tomatoes bring on a period through the increased intake of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), based on the rationale that this will have a hormone-like action that induces uterine contraction and a subsequent shedding of uterine lining. There are several hypotheses that need testing in theories like this. Other foods such as turmeric or pineapple supposedly induce periods by affecting levels of estrogen and progesterone (hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle) in the body. Unfortunately, there is little scientific evidence to support these concepts. Additionally, a few of these recommended herbal remedies, such as dong quai and parsley, can be toxic in high quantities or when children are exposed; therefore, they should be used in moderation. 

Aside from eating particular foods, there are some other suggested methods to help relieve irregular or painful periods. Exercise has been proved to help relieve menstrual pain. However, excessive exercise can delay or temporarily stop one’s menstrual cycle as can eating disorders or prolonged stress. People who seek regular periods may choose to participate in light/moderate exercise and relaxation techniques.

At the end of the day, the only reliable, scientifically proven method to fully control one’s period is hormonal birth control, which needs to be prescribed by a medical professional.

The Feminine Cotton Controversy

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Madison McGuire

While we often associate the word “organic” with our produce and dairy options at the supermarket, this label has become increasingly attached to an intimate product used by millions of Americans each month: tampons. Although they’ve been around since the ‘80s, organic tampons have recently risen in popularity, and several brands frequently advertised on social media can be delivered to your door. Some women claim that these tampons have reduced their menstrual cramps or irritation, but has science found actual health benefits to switching to these more expensive products marketed as more “natural”?

Regular tampons are made from cotton and rayon (a substance derived from wood pulp), but they may also contain plastic components in the string or applicator and chemicals used for fragrance. On the other hand, organic tampons are one-hundred percent cotton and free from dyes, plastics, bleach, fragrances, and pesticide-treated cotton. Even though larger tampon companies aren’t as transparent about their complete ingredient list, the FDA considers all tampons a Class II Medical Device, and the industry is highly regulated. 

Dioxin, an environmental pollutant that has been linked to cancer and hormone disruption, was once found in trace amounts in conventional tampons when the wood pulp used to make rayon was bleached using chlorine gas. This chemical is still a source of concern for many women, but the FDA has stated that tampons are no longer bleached using elemental chlorine, so dioxin levels are negligible in every type of tampon. In fact, 90% of human exposure to dioxins is actually through food. One study showed dioxin concentration in tampons was “13,000-240,000 times less than dietary exposures.”

Research also found that non-organic cotton in regular tampons may contain trace amounts of the pesticide glyphosate, an herbicide used to kill weeds and rumored to be carcinogenic. The EPA, however, says it’s “not likely” to be carcinogenic, and the main risk of glyphosate exposure is through food or drinking water. 

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a rare but potentially fatal condition caused by a toxin produced by an overgrowth of bacteria. Cases of TSS spiked in 1980, which led super high-absorbency tampons to be pulled from the market. Many still have the misconception that regular tampons put women at a higher risk of contracting TSS than organic tampons, but a study comparing toxin growth in 11 types of tampons actually found higher levels of the dangerous toxin in cotton-only tampons versus regular tampons that included rayon and/or viscose as ingredients. Researchers hypothesized this is because cotton-only tampons are less structured with more air between fibers, which can help the bacteria to grow. Whether you opt for organic tampons or not, TSS is extremely rare and mostly depends on the absorbability and the length of use of a single tampon. 

Overall, there is not much scientific evidence to suggest that non-organic tampons are harmful to women’s health or that organic tampons are less harmful. Organic tampon manufacturers have put out warnings claiming that the ingredients used in conventional tampons can cause health problems, including period cramps, birth defects, infertility, and even cancer, but many doctors say there is simply not enough scientific evidence at this time to substantiate those claims or connect any health condition to any one ingredient in tampons. Many people make the switch to organic tampons based on the environmental benefits, but there are actually alternative products, such as menstrual cups or reusable menstrual underwear, that are more eco-friendly. No matter which feminine hygiene product is the new fad, it all comes down to personal preference and having the agency to decide what’s right for your own body.


Do bras cause breast cancer?

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Andrea Hernandez

You might have heard on social media that wired bras and sleeping in bras can cause breast cancer. Negative ideas are more compelling to the human mind.  Let’s think twice and look at the evidence.  

The source of this idea came from the book, Dressed to Kill, and internet rumors. The authors of the book believed the confining nature of bras constrained lymphatic circulation and would result in fluid build up in breast tissue. Many medical organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Cancer Society noted there is no evidence that wearing bras increases the risk of breast cancer. 

One study countered the book and Internet claims by inspecting over 1,500 postmenopausal women first diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. These women were asked a series of structured questions to find lifetime patterns of bra wearing before their breast cancer diagnosis. The researchers found no connection of invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) or invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) breast cancer with bra wearing such as bra cup size, recency, average number of hours in a day worn, underwire bras, and age at which bras were worn regularly.

Worrying is no fun. The next time you are taking a nap with your bra on, don’t stress about the risk of breast cancer!