Living with endometriosis: Why your choice of feminine hygiene products matters for your health.

Do you know what chemicals are in your feminine hygiene products? And do you know why you should care?

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:
-Petrochemicals (i.e. plastics)
-Fragrances and Dyes
-GM organisms

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.

veeda pic

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?


*Veeda have not paid or incentivised me to write this review- I just genuinely like their products.

We need to talk about the endo-diet.

There will inevitably come a time following your diagnosis with endometriosis when you stumble across ‘the endo-diet’ for the first time. This may be through your own research efforts, the result of your attendance at a support group, or like me you may be randomly given a book on the subject by a well meaning friend. I classify it as one of those entities in life that once known can never be unknown-for better or for worse. But this topic is interesting food for thought (excuse my pun-I think I’m funny) and an excuse for some soul searching.

This was on my desk one morning. That actually happened.

This was on my desk one morning. That actually happened.

I’m not going to dwell on the ins and outs of the diets’ specifics here as I presume you are familiar with at least its basic premise. However, for you culinary newbies out there, it can best be described as the elimination of foods which foster inflammation and/or act as endocrine disruptors. This helpful image below shows which foods are recommended and restricted:

endo diet

I am a member of several Facebook groups dedicated to endo-recipe sharing and tip swapping, follow endo-diet pins on Pinterest, and keep a scrap book of suitable recipes which I make on a frequent basis. You could call me an enthusiast or a convert. I started eating kale, I bought a nutri-bullet to make smoothies, and I now use a variety of coconut based products. And I’m not the only one. There is no shortage of posts on social media or in the press from advocates of this eating style claiming that it solved their problems with chronic pain and/or infertility.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for us endo-sisters taking positive and constructive action to regain some control over our health and to better manage our symptoms. In fact, I actively encourage it. However, some aspects of the endo-diet, or perhaps the movement that surrounds it, do not sit comfortably with me. Here’s why:

It’s super restrictive!

Have you seen what you can’t eat on this diet?! I mean seriously?! If you’re going to do it properly (and I’m one of those all-or-nothing types by nature) you can kiss goodbye to that Friday night pizza and beer, the big cheese-burger at your neighbour’s BBQ, your cups of tea at work with your colleagues, or even the yoghurt you have every day as your mid-morning snack. Do not talk to me of gluten/caffeine/dairy free alternatives- I lived with these things for months and have decided that most are pure unadulterated evil. I have vowed to never eat another co-yo. Basically, you have to quit all the little things that make life worth living.


I have put an end to this tyranny.

As much as I enjoy kale, avocados and quinoa, you can only eat them so much of them before you start loosing the will to live. Besides, I get super grouchy when I’m hungry (or ‘hangry’ as my friend calls it) and I have enough problems to be dealing with as it is without adding to them…just sayin’.

It sets you up to fail.

So this diet is tough, and therefore only the most dedicated or those most determined to completely purge their lives of joy are likely to be able to stick to it. This sets the rest of us up to feel like failures, or at least, I did. Several times I mentally berated myself for eating a cookie or a slice of bread, and that’s when I new that my pursuit of perfection in this diet had allowed me to blur the lines between self care and self abuse. That is not a healthy place to be.

It places responsibility for your pain on your lifestyle.

”In pain but you still eat gluten, or dairy, or caffeine? Well, you’re basically bringing the agony, fatigue, and infertility on yourself then lazy chops. It’s your lifestyle, it’s your choice.”

Nobody has ever explicitly said this to me, but I do sometimes sense it under the surface in my own interactions and in some of the stuff I’ve seen online. Like when people say: ”Is that brownie gluten free?” when they see I’ve order a desert. Or this woman banging on about how she went organic and just ate vegetables and then got pregnant after a decade of infertility. There is a sense of one-upmanship and competition to it that is really distasteful somehow. But I didn’t ask to have endometriosis, or adenomyosis, or chronic fatigue, so I will not be held to ransom by them.

It is not a cure.

I’m a scientist by trade so skepticism is but second nature to me of course. I just think that the benefits perceived from this diet probably just stem from people generally eating more mindfully and healthily, rather than due to the elimination of specific food types. And that’s a good thing- making healthy choices can only help our bodies and minds to cope with the onslaught that endometriosis throws at them.

But to me, that’s all the endo-diet is- a healthier choice, along with yoga, and acupuncture, and all the other things I have so desperately tried in order to claw back some control over my life and end the relentless pain I was experiencing. And do you know what? They have helped, my pain is significantly reduced from this time last year.

What these things aren’t though is a cure, and that’s what we all so desperately want and need. I will focus my energy on campaigning for that any way that I can. (Not that it claims to be a cure of course, but a symptom modifier, but I think it is paraded around in that way in some unsavory corners of publishing and social media. Not cool dudes.)

So now, I think I am living in a happier middle ground, or at least I try to, and that suits me much better. I am conscious of what I am putting into and onto my body, and have revamped my kitchen skills and culinary repertoire to boot. My husband loves all the new foods I’ve been making too which is great. I still attend my boot camp sessions too which help me a great deal.

But do you know what? If I want an ice-cream I’m going to have one, and you can bet it isn’t make with soaked cashews or coconut milk! 🙂

I’d love to hear all of your experiences and thoughts on the endo-diet! I totally accept that people have both posotive and negative experiences in this area. Has giving up gluten saved your life or driven you crazy? Do you have a favorite recipe? Do you follow the diet strictly or just reduce rather than eliminate certain food groups?