The rule was not only represented with blue liquids in advertisements. Also in scientific studies the blood was fake. Until now, most opted for water or saline solutions to analyze the absorption capacity of different feminine hygiene products, a standard that was established in 1982 by The Tampon Task Force congress (working group on tampons) and that have followed the most companies since then. This is reported by a study by the Oregon Health and Science University, United States, which claims to be the first to have used human blood. Their results have just been published in the scientific journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health and they conclude that menstrual discs are the products that can retain the greatest amount of menstrual flow.
The menstrual disc is a variant of the menstrual cup. Instead of being concave, it is smooth with a double edge that prevents leakage. It is placed under the cervix, so it allows sexual intercourse. Like the cup, it is reusable, limiting its cost and environmental impact. Despite these advantages, it is less popular than the cup and much less so than tampons and pads, with which it was compared during the analysis. This study could help make these discs fashionable, as it indicates that it is the most suitable device for people with heavy periods. One in three women has this type of heavy bleeding, known as menorrhagia.
The study also reports a mismatch between the absorbent capacity with which these products are advertised and what they actually have. “Most claimed to have a higher capacity than our tests showed,” says Dr. Bethany Samuelson, lead author of the study, in an email exchange. This could be due to the way the tests were conducted. “Saline or water have a different viscosity than blood compounds,” she points out. “But what’s more, there is no industrial regulation that requires checking the capacity [de estos productos] except in the case of tampons, due to their relationship with the risk of syndrome of shock toxic,” he adds. At the time of publishing this article, Procter Gamble Spain, a company that controls trademarks such as Evax, Tampax and Ausonia, had not responded to El PAIS’s request for information.
The scientific gap about the actual absorption of these products can have a medical consequence, says the expert: “Diagnoses of heavy menstrual bleeding can go unnoticed because doctors do not know how much blood different menstrual products contain.” Typically, during a normal period, between 70 and 80 milliliters of fluid (about a quarter of a cup) is lost. But people with heavy menstrual bleeding can lose 160 to 400 milliliters. Many women with menorrhagia are unaware, since it is also a little-known condition.
Understanding the actual performance of tampons, pads, discs and cups could help to objectively measure menstruation and detect when bleeding is heavier than normal, the study found. This analysis has not used menstrual flow, but a compound from human blood tested in the laboratory, not in a real situation. These are limitations that Samuelson acknowledges: “Our study was the best approximation we could get, but it definitely has limitations.” Even so, he believes that his conclusions are closer to reality than experiments with aqueous substitutes.
The taboo of the rule
Despite the fact that 800 million people have their period in the world, menstruation continues to be a taboo because it is found at an intersection between sex, blood and the feminine. “It’s a completely normal bodily function that affects half the population for an average of 40 years of their lives,” reflects Samuelson. “The taboos, stigma and shame surrounding the discussion of menstruation are deeply damaging,” he laments.
These obstacles undermine scientific research by creating a knowledge gap around this natural bodily function. A gap that Stanford University has probed in a recent study that quantified the low representation of this topic in the scientific literature. A search for “menstrual blood” in the PubMed medical database only returned 400 results from studies conducted in the last few decades, while erectile dysfunction returned about 10,000 results in that same period. “Research on women’s health in general and focused on menstruation in particular continues to be underrepresented in the medical literature,” that research concluded.
“Having data on the absorption capacity of modern products is important,” he says, referring to the research by Samuelson’s group, “especially when we take into account the financial burden of buying these products, pain pills and other expenses associates”. Some people cannot afford these outlays, the so-called menstrual poverty: according to data from the period.org organization, 20% of women in Spain have problems paying for these products.
Between menarche (the first menstruation) and menopause, it is estimated that a woman will have around 400 periods. It is a routine event for half of the population, and even so it continues to be involved in a great deal of ignorance, which is also transferred to the scientific field. “There is a lack of good data and a lack of funding,” denounces Samuelson. But we also need to talk openly about it. “Every week I see patients who have had heavy periods for decades, but didn’t know it was abnormal because they hadn’t received proper education about what is and isn’t normal and didn’t feel comfortable discussing their periods with others.” points. “That has to be changed.”
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Source: EL PAIS