Sanitary napkins have evolved from cotton layers held together by a fibre sheet with a waterproof plastic layer at the bottom to prevent staining. As new techniques and designs came up, it transformed into ultra-thin sanitary napkins with gel core, to absorb more and provide safety against leaks. While modern women enjoy the ease that comes with the use of synthetic sanitary pads, little do they suspect the impending health threat that they are being exposed to, is affecting their reproductive health.
On an average, a woman uses 11,000 to 17,000 sanitary pads during her lifetime. Use of sanitary pads varies from region to region. According to the National Family Health Survey, in 2015-2016 the use of sanitary pads is 47% in rural India and 77% in urban India. Considering the population of the country, these proportions translate to a huge number. If every Indian woman who uses sanitary pads generates waste of disposable sanitary pads weighing 500 gm, then the total waste generated in the country is a whopping 16180 tons.
There is a long list of reasons as to why synthetic sanitary pads are risky. Several independent studies have been carried out to determine the extent of health damage caused by the components of synthetic sanitary napkins. A WHO report in 2013 which states that several carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and surface irritants are being used in menstrual hygiene products like sanitary pads and tampons.
These dangerous chemicals called Dioxin. The WHO labels dioxin as a pollutant and carcinogen which does not degrade in the environment easily. The effects it can have on the human body is much more serious than just superficial irritation and allergy. Dioxin is a chemical used to bleach the cotton and cellulose wood pulp, to give it a white color. This chemical does not get eliminated from the product on which it is used and finds its way to our body and environment when you use a sanitary pad containing this cotton. Even at low doses, Dioxin finds its way into your fat tissues and continue to pose several health threats.
Dioxin is a potent carcinogen. the nature of dioxin to get accumulated in your body has the potential to cause cancers like cervical cancer and ovarian cancer. The vaginal mucous membrane is extremely permeable and can absorb chemical like Dioxin directly into the bloodstream. Dioxin is also an immunosuppressant and can disrupt hormonal regulatory mechanism. This endocrine disrupter can alter the ratio of estrogen and androgen in body, resulting in reproductive problems.
The plasticizers like BPA and synthetic linings of sanitary pads can result in the increased risk of exposure to bacteria and yeasts. Wetness resulting from the collection of moisture can be a breeding ground for bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus and yeast like Candida albicans. These microbes multiply rapidly in a humid environment and cause vaginal infections.
If left untreated, these microbes can enter the bloodstream and cause severe septic shock. Vaginitis can progress into Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, which has the potential to damage the reproductive ability of a woman. BPA and BPS are also linked with disruption of embryonic development. Synthetic sanitary napkins are laced with odor neutralizers and artificial fragrances. These cheap chemical components can cause serious irritations and allergy. These chemicals can cause complications in reproduction, to the extent of infertility.Phthalates are compounds used to give a smooth finish to the sanitary pads. These compounds have been shown to cause endocrine disruption and affect normal reproductive hormone levels.
Super Absorbent Polymers used in sanitary pads are mostly petroleum by- products which claim to soak 30 times their weight. This quality of ultra-thin sanitary napkin makes it very desirable for women, but there is a considerable health threat that comes with this convenience. SAP can cause skin reactions, rashes, allergies, reproductive issues, and Toxic Shock Syndrome.
FROM AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR DR GOVIND SHUKLA, NUTRITION EXPERT
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Govind Shukla, Specializes in Pharmacology, Toxicology, Nutraceuticals & Herbal Drugs has published More than 100 research papers in National & International Journals. He is also a reviewer of International Journal of Pharmacology & pharmacotherapeutics, Chief editor of IJPNR Journal & Freelance Medical Writer for Different publication Groups including Lambert Academic Publishing Saarbrucken, Germany.