It’s March, which means is Endometriosis Awareness Month!
I will be co-hosting a live Twitter chat THIS SUNDAY (7th March 2021) at 20:00 GMT with Dr. Martin Hirsch and Dr. James Duffy in collaboration with Cochrane UK. I hope you can join us to support, I’m sure it’ll be fun and informative. The hashtag is #MyEndometriosisQuestion.
I can vividly remember being thirteen years old and sitting awkwardly across the desk from my middle aged male GP as he asked me what bothered me more about the periods I was complaining about- the pain or the heavy bleeding. ‘Errrr both?!’ I mumbled, completely mortified. I’d never really thought of it as an either/or choice before, but I was certain that both had been making me completely miserable; rendering my school life challenging and a social life impossible. I had never told this to anybody before, it was way too embarrassing, and besides- what counts as heavy bleeding anyway? I’d never exactly compared quantities with my female friends or family. Perhaps my periods were totally normal and this was just a fact of life I’d have to get used to.
Those of you who are familiar with my story from this blogwill know that it took another decade after this meeting for me to finally access the treatment I needed (for what turned out to be severe endometriosis and adenomyosis) to live a happy and healthy life. Research shows that I am not alone in this situation, as around 20% of women are believed to experienced Heavy Menstrual Bleeding (HMB) during their lifetime, with many requiring multiple visits to their healthcare providers before being correctly diagnosed and treated. HMB is also a leading cause of gynaecological admissions to hospital and hysterectomies, but you may not know that, as like my younger self many women choose not to share their experiences owing to feelings of shame and embarrassment.
The great news however is that a new report published this week by the Menstrual Health Coalition aims to change all of this and get HMB up on the political and social agenda. The Coalition (which is made up of relevant politicians, clinicians, and charities etc) has examined written and oral evidence provided on HMB to put together its ambitious report.
The main findings are that the wellbeing of women with HMB is currently negatively impacted by: 1. Societal stigma around menstrual health. 2. Poor clinical awareness of the condition and treatments. 3. Inadequate and often disjointed services.
To address these problems, the Coalition have provided a number of recommendations which include: 1. Educating school pupils about what constitutes normal and abnormal periods, and empowering them to be able to speak more openly about menstrual health.
2. Revising services to make better information available to patients and clinicians.
3. Improve commissioning.
4. Ensuring services are adequately joined up to improve the patient experience.
While these findings and calls to action seem sensible and are likely to be very familiar to anyone who has experienced HMB, it is so encouraging to see this evidence gathered in one place and being promoted to the lawmakers and health professionals who have the ability to effect so much positive change in the lives of thousands of women.
I honestly believe the stigma around menstrual health has started to be worn down over the last few years and real change is taking place, and this report is just what is needed to keep pushing the issue forward.
From my perspective the emphasis on education young women to know what constitutes a ‘normal’ period and empowering them to feel confident to speak openly about their menstrual health is going to be the game changer for future women to ensure they do not have to suffer as myself and others of my generation have. Knowledge IS power. It will be interesting to see if and how how the recommendation are enacted within schools and society over the coming years. The time for change is now and our actions must be louder than these words. The Menstrual Health Coalition means business and armed with this report has the tools it requires to suceed, so we have much cause for hope.
I’d be really interested to know your experiences with heavy menstrual bleeding, or your thoughts in the publication and content of this new report. What’s the biggest factor that you think could support women to promote their menstrual health?
If you use twitter you can follow the Menstrual Health Coalition on Twitter here.
A version of this post also appears in the Menstrual Health Coalition website here.
If you were like me until very recently, the answer to both of these questions was a resounding ‘NO!’
After being diagnosed with endometriosis and adenomyosis in August 2014, I started reading into the research surrounding the causes and management of these diseases, and discovered a link between their development and exposure to certain chemicals in our environments. For example, a well known study by Rier et al., (1993) found that female rhesus monkeys exposed to dioxins developed endometriosis in a dose dependent relationship- i.e. greater exposure to dioxins led to the development of more endometriosis inside of their bodies.
This made for some scary reading, and I was shocked to discover that our everyday environments are flooded with thousands of harmful chemicals (in the air, in our beauty and household products, and even in our food) which impact negatively on a range of bodily processes. Some of these chemicals (e.g. parabens) are known to be ‘endocrine disruptors’which directly alter the amount and balance of hormones in the body. Others (e.g. perfluorochemicals) are known to negatively impact on fertility, which is a heightened concern for many of us women endometriosis and/or adenomyosis anyway.
Since endometriosis and adenomyosis are hormone dependent diseases fed by oestrogen, I realised that the amount of endocrine disruptors present in my environment is a pretty big deal and required urgent action. I decided there and then to set about ditching many of my household and beauty products (where possible) in favour of more natural alternatives. As I have written before I also made the switch to a mostly organic diet in order to avoid chemical pesticides entering my system.
Something that I found particularly interesting (actually, horrifying) from my reading is the sheer number of chemicals are lurking in the majority of feminine hygiene products. In brief, these can include: -Dioxins -Petrochemicals (i.e. plastics) -Bleaches -Fragrances and Dyes -Pesticides
It is particularly troubling that these products come into contact with the delicate skin of the vagina and/or vulva, which is a highly vascularised area and therefore a particuarly absorbent platform for chemicals to leech into the body. As Dr Joseph Mercola explains in this informative article in The Huffington Post:
‘Chemicals on your skin may be worse than eating them. At least enzymes in your saliva and stomach help break down and flush chemicals from your body. But when they touch your skin, they’re absorbed straight into your bloodstream, going directly to your delicate organs. Once in your body, they can accumulate because you typically lack the necessary enzymes to break them down.’
Not good news right? With the average women menstruating 450 time during her life, this represents a significant chemical load on the body. My advice would be if you wouldn’t be comfortable pumping a certain chemical directly into your blood, don’t put it anywhere on your body.
One change I made was to seek out a feminine hygiene brand using natural materials. This led me to Veeda*, a company who make pads, tampons, and liners from organic unbleached cotton, and are free from any of the chemicals described above. Although keen to be proactive I was slightly anxious about making the switch, like many other women I had used Always products since puberty and did feel some brand loyalty to them. You can check out these links for their UK website and US website here.
For a great demonstration of the difference in chemical load between synthetic and natural sanitary pads I recommend watching this video:
Veeda were kind enough to send me a sample of their products to try out, and I was pleasantly surprised with how good they are. I found their pads and liners of comparable comfort, quality, absorbancy, and price to the synthetic market leaders. When I last bought them in Boots they were actually cheaper than my usual choice from Always! I’m pleased that such a simple swap can promote my health in such a positive way, without having to compromise on quality. I’m converted for life.
What I also admire about Veeda is that they seem to be a socially aware company seeking to promote women’s health and rights. I often see them tweeting for endometriosis awareness, and they have established a charity for disadvantaged women and children around the world which they donate 10% of their profits too. This contrasts with Proctor & Gamble (who own the Always and Tampax brands) who have systematically refused calls to disclose precisely which chemicals they use in their feminine hygiene products or to remove any substances known to directly damage health.
I personally know which company I would rather support. The excellent Chem Fatale Report on this topic also highlights the irony that while these products are marketed to women as essential for ensuring ‘good health, sexuality, and fertility’, in reality they are likely to do the opposite. As women, we have the power to influence big companies through our consumer choices. If we collectively and consistently endorse non-harmful products through our purchases, companies will be forced to listen and then more likely to develop and sell more natural products.
It’s important that I add that other natural feminine hygiene products outside of Veeda’s range are likely to be available where you live, so please do your own research and shop around to see what works best for you! You may decide to use The Diva Cup as a natural and environmentally friendly alternative. I’m intrigued by the idea, but I don’t feel that is an option for me personally as I have very heavy bleeding with my cycles (thank you adenomyosis) and find insertion painful (thank you endometriosis), which is also why I don’t tend to use tampons. But hey- each to their own 🙂
Making the switch to more natural feminine hygiene products makes sense for any woman, regardless of whether you have a disease like endometriosis or adenomyosis. The chemicals in bleached tampons have been directly linked to the development of Toxic Shock Syndrome which can be fatal, as well as being linked to a number of cancers and birth defects.
So come on ladies, it’s time to make the switch to promote your long-term health and wellbeing. This one is a no-brainer surely?! I did notice that the issue of reducing the chemical load on our bodies was explored in the fabulous Endo What? documentary, so I would recommend checking the film out if you’d like to know more.
I’d love to hear your thought on this issue. Would you consider switching your femine hygiene products, or does brand loyalty override this decision for you? Do you already use a natural alternative- and if so what? Love, Claire xx
*Veeda have not paid or incentivised me to write this review- I just genuinely like their products.