MENSTRUAL cups are just as reliable in preventing leaks and could be more cost-effective than other sanitary products, experts say.
Researchers who carried out the first ever scientific review into their use found awareness is relatively low internationally.
Menstrual cups collect blood flow, rather than absorbing it as with pads and tampons, and are made from medical grade silicone, rubber, latex or elastomer.
Like tampons, they are inserted into the vagina, before being emptied every 4-12 hours.
There are currently two types – a vaginal cup which is generally bell-shaped, and a cervical cup.
The findings, published in the Lancet Public Health journal, indicate menstrual cups result in similar or lower leakage than disposable sanitary pads or tampons.
Researchers also found that they could be more cost-effective in the long run.
A cups costs around £15 to £25, which is more than a box of tampons, but it can be reused every month and lasts up to 10 years.
The team also suggest that it might reduce plastic waste, as over a decade a cup is estimated to create 0.4 per cent of the waste generated by single-use pads or 6 per cent of that produced by using tampons.
Scientists combined data from medical studies and grey literature in which participants reported their experiences of menstrual cups or their willingness to use them.
They selected 43 studies involving 3,319 participants in both low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) – 15 studies, and high-income countries – 28 studies.
Four studies within the review – 293 participants – compared leakage between different sanitary products.
The study found levels were similar between menstrual cups and pads and tampons, while one found that leakage was significantly less.
In European, North American, and African women and girls, there was no increased risk of infection associated with using menstrual cups.
Results from 13 of the studies suggest around 70 per cent of women wanted to continue using menstrual cups once they were familiar with them.
What is a menstrual cup and how does it work?
Menstrual cups are becoming increasingly popular – and with this new research revealing they are just as effective as tampons and pads then you might be wondering what all the fuss is about.
Stephanie Taylor, Managing Director of pelvic health company Kegel8 answers some of the nation’s most searched questions about these sanitary saviours to help you get clued up…
First things first, what is a menstrual cup?
A menstrual cup is a small cup made from flexible and body-friendly plastic which you insert into your vagina instead of using a tampon or towel.
It sits just below your cervix and collects any blood or lining you lose for up to 12 hours.
Can I use a menstrual cup if I’m a virgin?
Yes, you can start using a menstrual cup from your first period.
It may feel uncomfortable at first, but don’t force it. It’s best to choose a brand which offers smaller sizes.
How do you insert a menstrual cup?
Make sure both your menstrual cup and your hands are clean, then hold the base of your cup and flatten the opening.
Fold it in half vertically, so that the opening forms a ‘C’. Find a comfortable position to insert the cup…you can even squat or raise one leg.
The biggest thing to remember is to relax and take things slow. A menstrual cup doesn’t sit as high as a tampon; you should have approximately 1.5cm clear at the base.
Check the cup has fully opened by giving the stem a gentle pull – if you feel some resistance then you’re good to go.
Can I wear a menstrual cup swimming?
Yes, and for every other form of exercise.
You wear a menstrual cup completely internally, so you don’t need to worry.
However, if you’ve experienced leaks and haven’t quite mastered the art yet it’s best to resolve this first.
Are menstrual cups better for you?
Yes. Most tampons are treated with chemicals to bleach the cotton and even contain plastic.
Tampons strip your vaginal walls of its lining and soak up the healthy discharge you need to keep your body’s natural flora at the optimum levels. A menstrual cup takes the blood and leaves everything else.
Using a body-friendly cup can also reduce your risk of bacterial infections and contracting Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).
Is a menstrual cup eco-friendly?
Switching to a menstrual cup can also save the environment from approximately 16,000 tampons, panty-liners and sanitary pads in your lifetime which can take between 500-800 years to fully decompose.
Most sanitary pads are also 90 percent plastic and tampons are made from the world’s thirstiest crop – cotton.
In comparison, silicon is a much greener material which slowly goes back to its original state (sand) as it degrades.
How do I keep my menstrual cup clean?
Keeping your menstrual cup clean is easy, just give it a quick rinse with hot soapy water or use a cleaning spray.
Rinse thoroughly to remove any soap or cleaner residue as this can cause irritation after insertion.
For a more thorough clean, boil your cup.
How often should a menstrual cup be replaced?
With proper care and cleaning, a menstrual cup can last over a decade, saving women thousands of pounds on sanitary products over its lifetime.
Can I use a menstrual cup if I have heavy periods?
Menstrual cups can hold up to 5 times more blood than towels and tampons.
Some come with measurement lines to tell you whether you’re having a light, medium or heavy flow.
They can also help diagnose endometriosis which affects 1 in 10 women in the UK as very heavy periods can be a tell-tale sign.
Among 69 websites containing educational materials on puberty in 27 countries, 77 per cent mentioned disposable pads, 65 per cent mentioned tampons, only 30 per cent mentioned menstrual cups and 22 per cent mentioned reusable pads, the study found.
The authors note the cost and waste estimates are only illustrative, and do not account for the combined use of menstrual products, inflation, or production costs.
Given the limited number of reports on the use of menstrual cups, the authors also caution that other potential issues cannot be excluded, including use of menstrual cups in combination with IUDs.
Commenting on the study, Dr Julie Hennegan from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said: “For consumers purchasing menstrual products, the results highlight cups as a safe and cost-effective option.
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“Critically, findings indicate that menstrual education resources are not providing a comprehensive overview of products to support informed choices.”
The researchers believe this was the first systematic review and meta-analysis examining girls’ and women’s experiences of menstrual cups.
However, they note the quality of the studies included was low, and call for more, quality research in this area.
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