Tampon use, environmental chemicals and oxidative stress in the BioCycle study

Singh, Jessica; Mumford, Sunni L.; Pollack, Anna Z.; Schisterman, Enrique F.; Weisskopf, Marc G.; Navas-Acien, Ana; Kioumourtzoglou, Marianthi-Anna

Tampons are used by up to 86% of US women and are a rarely considered potential source of pesticide and metal exposure. Tampons may be of particular concern given the likely higher absorption that occurs in the vagina. Our objective was to examine the potential associations between tampon use and metal concentrations, and biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress among healthy women.

We used information from a prospective cohort of 259 regularly menstruating women, aged 18–44, followed for two menstrual cycles. Tampon use was assessed using information provided in participant study diaries. Metal concentrations were measured from a blood sample collected at enrollment. Oxidative stress and inflammation biomarker concentrations were determined from blood samples collected at up to 8 clinic visits for each cycle. Linear regression models were used to estimate associations of tampon use with metal exposure, and linear mixed models to estimate associations of tampon use with inflammation and oxidative stress biomarkers at different times during the menstrual cycle.

We observed non-significantly higher mean levels of mercury for tampon users compared to non-tampon users (exp(β) = 1.25, 95% CI = 0.93, 1.68). We found no evidence of an association between tampon use and inflammation biomarkers. We observed consistently higher isoprostane levels, an oxidative stress biomarker, among tampon users compared to non-tampon users (e.g. exp.(β) = 1.05, 95%CI = 0.96, 1.16, for the average isoprostane during the menstruating week); however, these results were not statistically significant.

While our results are not statistically significant, we observed suggestive associations between tampon use and elevated levels of mercury and oxidative stress biomarkers. Although our finding should be interpreted in light of our limitations, they indicate that tampons may be a source of exposure to metals and chemicals that have been largely ignored, and any related health effects are an important public health concern.


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Environmental Health

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Academic Units
Environmental Health Sciences
Published Here
April 23, 2019


Tampons, BioCycle, Metals, Oxidative stress, Menstrual cycle