Did you know that there are healthier alternatives to conventional feminine hygiene products (tampons and pads)? There are also dietary changes and supplements that can help ease menstrual discomforts such as PMS and cramping. This article will tell you everything you need to know about natural menstrual care.
Why Conventional Tampons and Pads Are Not the Best Choice
All tampons (even organic cotton ones) absorb natural moisture which can throw off the vagina’s natural balance, this can lead to chronic dryness, irritation, and even vaginal ulcers. Pesticides are a concern with conventional cotton tampons as cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops and, unless organic, is most likely genetically modified (source). Tampons are also bleached with harsh chemicals and sometimes even scented with toxic fragrance blends. Many women report having more period associated symptoms such as cramping and bloating when using tampons. Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is another concern with tampons. While it is generally assumed that you only get TSS from wearing a tampon too long, you can also get TSS simply from using them at all. TSS occurs when a certain strain of staphylococcus bacteria gets into the blood stream (Source). The symptoms of TSS are very serious and can even be fatal.
While less harmful, pads have some drawbacks as well. They are still in contact your skin with similar dry and irritating properties. They are bleached and contain chemicals similar to tampons, and are more commonly scented (toxic fragrance blends). Many girls don’t even like them to begin with because they feel like diapers. Both pads and tampons are bad for the environment. For one single period, a woman will use about 15 tampons, or 15 pads (or some combination of the two). That adds up really fast. The amount of garbage produced from menstrual products alone is pretty scary to think about.
Alternatives to Tampons and Pads
1. Menstrual cups
A menstrual cup is a silicone cup that is inserted inside the vagina (pictured above). Instead of absorbing liquid like a tampon, it collects the natural flow of menstruation into the cup. It can be left in longer than a tampon, but if the cup fills up then it will start to leak. However, the cup can hold up to 30ml which is about twice as much as many high absorbency tampons (source). Unless you have a very heavy flow, the cup only needs to be changed once every 12 hours. Because the cup is not absorbing liquid, it does not absorb natural moisture like tampons. There is also a much lower risk of TSS when using a menstrual cup compared to tampons. The best part of all? Menstrual cups are reusable! They generally cost around $30 for a product you can use for 2 years (or longer). In 2 years time, a woman will rack up over $100 from tampons and pads alone, and because menstrual cups are reusable, you are drastically reducing your amount of waste as well. I really can’t say enough good things about menstrual cups. I highly recommend them!
There are quite a few different brands of menstrual cups out there, but the main ones I am familiar with are the Diva Cup, and the Mooncup. They generally come in 2 sizes; Size 1 for before you have had children, and size 2 for after you have had children or if your over 30.
2. Sea Sponge Tampons
Sea sponge tampons are pretty much exactly what they sound like. They are a small sea sponge that you insert into your vagina to absorb menstrual flow. They are not bleached or processed the way conventional tampons are, and will not dry out the vagina. Sea sponge is a renewable resource and also biodegradable, so you will be cutting way down on the amount of menstruation-associated waste with this option as well. They are also reusable for up to 6 months simply by washing them thoroughly and air drying after use. Because sea sponges are still an absorbent material, there is still a risk of TSS, but this risk can be minimized by taking proper care of the sponge. They do not come with a string attached, which can make removal more difficult, but you can thread your own string through them to make removal easier. Your best choice of string to use would be unbleached organic cotton. When removing the sponge, even with a string attached, make sure you go slowly to avoid tearing it. You can buy them here. You can get more information on sea sponge tampons here.
3. Reusable Pads
Reusable pads are similar to regular pads except they are made out of cloth and can be washed and reused. They are more comfortable than conventional pads because cloth is softer and less irritating to the skin. Not all reusable pads are unbleached and organic, so look for these options for the best alternative. Because they are reusable, you will also be cutting way down on menstrual-associated waste! They can be purchased in a variety of sizes; you can also get reusable panty liners to use with a menstrual cup or sea sponge tampon to protect from leakage. Here are some of the common brands of reusable pads:
4. Period Panties
Period panties are absorbent cloth panties that are reusable and can be used instead of a pad or pantyliner. They are generally more comfortable than reusable pads because they aren’t as bulky. They are available in a variety of absorbencies ranging from light to heavy flow. You can buy period panties from Shethinx and Lunapads.
5. Organic Pads
If you can’t get behind those first 4 options, this one might be for you. Organic pads are just like normal pads except they are made from organic cotton. Organic means they will have less pesticides on them, and also the cotton will not be GMO. This is important because cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops. The downside to this option is that they can still irritate the vagina and they are disposable so you aren’t reducing waste, but if reusable products make you squeamish, this is your best bet! Check out the brands ORGANYC and/or Natracare.
Supplements for Period Related Symptoms
Note: Prostaglandins are thought to be responsible for menstrual cramps. They are hormone-like substances that trigger the uterine contractions that help expel blood during menses. There are different types of prostaglandins, some of which promote inflammation, while others are anti-inflammatory. Having higher amounts of inflammatory prostaglandins is associated with more severe menstrual cramps (source).
Ginger can reduce pain caused by cramps by inhibiting pro-inflammatory prostaglandin synthesis (source). It is anti-inflammatory and can help sooth the digestive tract from any menstrual-associated digestive issues. Ginger can be taken in capsule form or drank as a medicinal tea (3 cups or more per day).
Can be used for PMS, cramping, digestive issues associated with menstruation, and heavy/irregular periods. Although there have not been many studies done on the effectiveness of red raspberry, it has been used for fertility and menstrual problems for thousands of years (source). Red raspberry can be taken in capsule form or drank as a medicinal tea (3 cups or more per day). For best results, supplement daily, not just when you have your period.
Borage oil is high in GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) which is often used to help hormonal issues in women. GLA deficiency is a common cause of PMS, cramps, and other menstrual issues. It is important for the body to have adequate amounts of GLA to convert into anti-inflammatory prostaglandins as needed. These anti-inflammatory prostaglandins need to balance with the pro-inflammatory ones to avoid excess inflammation. In women this often presents itself as menstrual and fertility issues, but can lead to more serious issues such as cardiovascular or breast disease (source). You can supplement borage oil in liquid or capsules.
Magnesium can help menstrual cramps by helping to relax the uterus muscles. It can also help with other muscle aches such as lower back pain, and headaches, both of which are common during menses. Supplementing a magnesium chelate such as bis-glycinate is the best as it is one of the easiest forms to absorb. Magnesium can be supplemented as a liquid or capsule.
Supplementing fish oil regularly can also help reduce PMS and cramps. Fish oil is anti-inflammatory which will help reduce pro-inflammatory prostaglandins during that time of the month. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA also support mental health and can help minimize mood swings and other PMS symptoms (source). Fish oil can be supplemented as a liquid or in capsules.
Eating a whole food diet is also important for maintaining a healthy menstrual cycle. A healthy menstrual cycle means that your cycle is regular and mostly free of pain and discomfort. If you have a healthy cycle, having your period should not stop you from your normal daily routine (going to work, exercising, chores, etc.). While the paleo diet is a good choice of diet, you don’t necessarily have to follow a specific diet.
Here are some general guidelines to follow:
- Avoid processed and refined foods (white sugar/flour)
- Avoid stimulants (coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, etc)
- Include adequate protein from meats, eggs, and nuts
- Eat lots of healthy fats
- Eat organ meat, especially liver. They are a source of iron, zinc, copper, and vitamin B12 (important during menstruation). Read here for more information on organ meat.
- Include starchy vegetables such as sweet potato and yam
- If you choose to include grains, make sure they are soaked, sprouted, or fermented (more information here)
- Include as many vegetables as you can
- Eat high-quality food as much as possible (organic, pastured/grass-fed, etc)
If you are already eating generally healthy and still experiencing menstrual issues, adding in supplements could give your body the extra support it needs. In more severe cases, following the autoimmune protocol can help manage underlying hormonal issues.
Thank you for reading! I hope you found this article useful.
Which menstrual products and supplements work best for you?