Is that right? New feminine product balances pH?
An editor recently forwarded me a press release about a new brand of tampon billed as "the boldest new innovation in feminine protection since tampons were first invented in 1929."
"While traditional tampons were designed for leak protection, comfort and convenience, they have done nothing to balance pH," the announcement read. "Until now."
Here's the case for RepHresh (the spelling makes more sense once you notice the embedded pH) Brilliant Tampons: "In healthy women, vaginal pH is typically 3.5 to 4.5. The pH of blood is 7.4, so during the menstrual cycle, vaginal pH becomes elevated by menstrual fluids." The press release further explains that these new tampons quickly bring vaginal pH down to the normal range, thus creating a nice environment for good bacteria and an unsupportive one for bad bacteria.
Lauren Streicher, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University, appears in this ad for the tampons. She told me by telephone that pH imbalances can set the stage for bacterial vaginosis, a condition in which the bacterial balance in the vagina is upset. The condition can cause pain, itching and burning, vaginal odor and discharge and is particularly problematic for pregnant women. (Who, of course, don't need tampons.)
Streicher told me, "If you use this tampon, you're going to control pH" in the vagina. She is careful to say that neither she nor the FDA, in approving the tampon, makes any claim that controlling that pH will protect against bacterial vaginosis. That link's not yet been studied, she says.
I called the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, whose p.r. office put me in touch with two OB/GYNS who are particularly knowledgeable about menstruation.
Cheryl Iglesia, associate professor in the departments of obstetrics/gynecology and urology at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, told me via e-mail, "For the vast majority of women who do not suffer from recurrent vaginal infections, these tampons may be of no added benefit. For the small minority of women in whom vaginal infections are recurrent and problematic, then there may be a role for acid stabilizing gels such as repHresh (a competitor product is acid jelly) to maintain ph balance of 4.5 and keep healthy lactobacilli in the vaginal ecosystem." (RepHresh Vaginal Gel is made by the same company -- Lil' Drug Store Products -- that makes these tampons.)
Howard Sharp, associate professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah School of Medicine, was skeptical before reading the clinical study that appears on the RepHresh Web site in support of the tampon's efficacy and even more so after he reviewed that research. The study, involving just 28 women, is small and the data weak, he noted. Plus, he said via e-mail, "The outcomes measured have no real clinical relevance. Does a slightly more acidic pH [in the vagina after using such a tampon] translate into less infection, discharge or discomfort?"
If you often suffer from vaginal discharge, odor or other symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, you might want to talk with your doctor about whether these tampons are worth trying. Otherwise, save yourself a few bucks (a pack of 18 regular or super-sized RepHresh tampons costs $6.99 at Walgreens) and stick with your usual brand.
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