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Menstrual Cup: Is It Better Than Tampons And Pads?

Dealing with periods once a month is a painful challenge all women have to contend with and cannot escape for biological reasons. Popping pills, heating pads and taking the day off are coping mechanisms women resort to, depending on the level of discomfort experienced. But when it comes to evaluating the ecological footprint of the products used during that time of the month, there is not much discussion around the topic. 

Most women are comfortable using pads and tampons more than menstrual cups, since the mentioned products are commercially marketed and are out there for women to purchase in medical stores. Though this is a mark of practicing good hygiene, people do not think through the repercussions on the environment since it's considered a conventional option.

The drawback of using pads is that it can take up 500 to 800 years to break down because they are made of non-biodegradable plastic. Tampons biodegrade faster in about six months since it is made from cotton, but now, increasingly more brands are using plastic in tampons as well. 

Since they are not reusable, it creates a hurdle to being environmental friendly for those who may want to go down that path. For those who want to go against the norm and make a conscious choice to save the planet, the most eco-friendly product available is the menstrual cup that can be used for up to ten years since it's durable and reusable. Manufacturers make menstrual cups from sterilized medical material like latex, rubber or silicone.

A recent study published in The Lancet Public Health journal attests to the viability of menstrual cups in terms of leakage and safety, particularly in comparison to tampons and pads. Here are some of the factors to consider while choosing menstrual cups over pads that were highlighted by the study.  

Leakage

The research reviewed 43 studies and 3,319 participants that studied the usage of menstrual cups as an alternate product. Out of all the studies, 293 participants from four studies compared menstrual cups to tampons and pads for leaks in the underwear or clothes, while potentially staining clothing material.

While three studies said the rates of leakage were almost the same in all the products, only one study said that menstrual cups leaked lesser than tampons and pads. The reasons could vary from heavy flow, the size of the cup, lack of knowledge on how to insert the cup and anatomy of the uterus itself. 

GettyImages-463653042 Community health workers supported by APHRC (African Population and Health Research Center) displaying a menstrual cup used by women in Korogocho slum, one of Nairobi's most populated informal settlements. June 9, 2014 in Korogocho, Nairobi, Kenya. Young mothers that visit the clinic also receive family planning services and sexual reproductive health options. Photo by Jonathan Torgovnik for The Hewlett Foundation/Reportage by Getty Images

Familiarity and Awareness

Once the women familiarize themselves with menstrual cups and got over their initial hesitation, 70 percent of people in the 13 studies said that they would be happy to use menstrual cups again. It showed that reusing cups over many period cycles grew their acceptance. 

The lack of awareness is a major hurdle since three studies pointed out that only a mere 11 to 33 percent of women were aware of the existence of menstrual cups. Not just that, of the 69 websites in 27 countries that educate people on menstruation, a mere 30 percent gave out information on menstrual cups. Tampons and pads were more in focus, hence fewer people tend to use them because information is lacking. 

Safety and Health Concerns

Four of the studies included in the review found that menstrual cups did not disturb the vaginal flora i.e., vaginal bacteria that determines overall vaginal health. Boiling in water or sanitizing in drinking water works to remove all the impurities and menstrual cups only need to be changed every 8 to 12 hours, making it convenient for working women. 

There was also no tissue damage observed from menstrual cup usage, and even the vaginal canal and cervix were left unaffected. The review of studies also said that using the menstrual cup is a low-cost option for women in low income countries, who do not have to worry about safety even with poor sanitation and water facilities. 

There were some not-so-good issues that were observed as well, and there was some negative points evaluated from the research. In 13 cases, when the women were taking out the menstrual cup, it forced intrauterine devices out of the vagina. From all the problems that were reported, five women said they had suffered pain from using menstrual cups, three had suffered vaginal wounds, six got allergies as a result of wearing menstrual cups while nine said they had contracted urinary tract problems soon after.

Despite these concerns, the review concluded that menstrual cups are as good or bad as any other menstrual hygiene products, namely tampons and pads. So, go ahead and make the right choice for yourself. More importantly, keep in mind the biodegradability of the products you choose. 

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