Dear Ms. Paltrow,

It was less than 48 hours ago that I responded to your posting on porous rocks for the vagina and yet here we are again addressing another fact-deficient and potentially harmful bit of gynecological advice from GOOP. I feel as if I am being trolled, although that’s probably just wishful thinking as I doubt very much you or your sister doyennes care what a board certified OB/GYN has to say about the upper or lower genital tracts. After all there are naturopaths to ask!

Le sigh.

Okay, let me science it up for you.

There are no toxins in tampons. Really. I can say this with 100% certainty as a toxin is a preformed poisonous substance made by an organism, think botulinum toxin or the bee venom that you have used to reset your humors. It’s shame Dr. Maggie Ney N.D., your naturopath, couldn’t set you straight on that lede.

The post zeroed in quickly on the herbicide glyphosate, because apparently Monsanto ruins everything even vaginas. Your post states that the World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic,” however, that’s been clarified because massive amounts of many things are harmful but realistic daily doses are often not. This is what the WHO actually says:

Several carcinogenicity studies in mice and rats are available. The Meeting concluded that glyphosate is not carcinogenic in rats but could not exclude the possibility that it is carcinogenic in mice at very high doses. In view of the absence of carcinogenic potential in rodents at human-relevant doses and the absence of genotoxicity by the oral route in mammals, and considering the epidemiological evidence from occupational exposures, the Meeting concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.

You know what is definitely carcinogenic? Alcohol. You may wish to rethink all those cocktail recipes on GOOP. #JustSaying.

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OK, back to the vagina.

Small amounts of glyphosate may be in cotton, although the herbicide is applied before the cotton fibers even form on the plant. Finding peer reviewed studies with the actual amount of glyphosate in cotton isn’t easy. One non peer-reviewed study found 4 micrograms/kg of menstrual products. A regular tampon and applicator weighs around 6.5 g (finding the actual weight of a dry tampon was also hard!) and since I don’t know the weight of the applicator let’s just round up (bad pun!) and use 0.0065 kg. As 4 X 0.0065 is 0.026 a regular tampon has about 0.026 micrograms of glyphosate. I will make an educated guess that a super plus tampon is double the weight, so about 0.052 micrograms of glyyphosate. On a heavy day a woman might use six super plus tampons, so the potential maximum daily exposure is 0.312 micrograms of glyphosate (0.000312 mg). Obviously, on many days fewer or smaller tampons may be used and if any glyphosate is absorbed it is likely only from the surface.

The European Food Safety Authority’s acceptable daily intake of glyphosate from food is 0.5 mg/kg body weight per day (the United States is 1.75 mg/kg) so a 50 kg woman (smaller than the average American) can safely eat 25 mg of glyphosate a day with the lower European limit. Math may not be Dr. Ney’s strong suit so Id like to point out that 0.000312 mg is way less than 25 mg. In fact, a lifetime of heavy tampon use doesn’t approach the amount allowed for one day of oral intake.

Let’s look at the shade Dr. Ney throws to the FDA and dioxins. Sure the FDA says the minute levels of dioxin in tampons are safe but, “All that said, I do feel that tampon companies underestimate the effects of dioxin.” Now let’s look at the facts. At one point the bleaching of wood-pulp used for rayon was a source of dioxin exposure, but that process isn’t used today. This is what the FDA says about dioxin (it’s a longish quote but as you are so interested I thought it might be more helpful than innuendo):

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has worked with wood pulp producers to promote use of dioxin-free methods because dioxin is an environmental pollutant. Because of decades of pollution, dioxin can be found in the air, water and ground. Therefore, while the methods used for manufacturing tampons today are considered to be dioxin-free processes, traces of dioxin may still be present in the cotton or wood pulp raw materials used to make tampons. Thus, there may be trace amounts of dioxin present from environmental sources in cotton, rayon, or rayon/cotton tampons.

…dioxin levels in the rayon raw materials for tampons are reported to be at or below the detectable limit of the state-of-the-art dioxin assay, i.e., approximately 0.1 to 1 parts per trillion. FDA’s risk assessment indicates that this exposure is many times less than normally present in the body from other environmental sources, so small that any risk of adverse health effects is considered negligible. A part per trillion is about the same as one teaspoon in a lake fifteen feet deep and a mile square.

As for GMO proteins entering the blood stream from tampons? What proteins? What specific harm do you think they will do? How are they absorbed au naturel as typically larger molecules like proteins need some help with abssorption especially in minute doses?

Speaking of harm, you know what is actually harmful? Dr. Ney’s advice to use sea sponges! The Food and Drug Administration tested twelve “menstrual sponges” at the University of Iowa and they contained sand, grit, bacteria, and “various other materials.” Another batch was tested by the Baltimore district laboratory and in addition to the sand, grit and bacteria they also found yeast and mold. One sample contained Staphylococcus aureus (the bacteria that causes toxic shock syndrome). As the FDA notes there is least one case of toxic shock syndrome associated with the sea sponge and another possible one.

If women want to use “natural” tampons that is obviously their choice and many women do so for a variety of reasons, but alarming women because of “chemicals” is wrong medically and ethically. Telling women to use seas sponges is potentially dangerous. We can identify trace amounts of glycosate and dioxin in tampons not because the cotton and rayon that was used was first steeped in a swill of McChemicals, but rather there are trace amounts everywhere and our tests are really, really good. If glyphosate is a concern for any woman it is far better for her to think about her food choices than tampons. For women who want the most environmentally friendly choice excellent options are a menstrual cup, Thinx, or reuseable/washable cotton pads.

In a great and tragic irony Dr. Ney, so blinded by the false idols of glycophosate and dioxin, neglected to discuss the very real and dangerous toxin associated with tampon use, toxic shock syndrome. It has been also been described with a menstrual cup. You can read more on the risks here.


Dearest Gwyneth, tampons are not toxic but your carefully curated advice most certianly is.

Dr. Jen Gunter MD, FRCS(C), FACOG, DABPM, ABPMR (pain)

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  1. I was excited to read this until you had to throw unrelated attacks of the POTUS in there. Maybe write an article about the actual subject and keep your political opinions to yourself.

    1. Are you even commenting on the right article? There isn’t a single political comment in this one, so I doubt it!

  2. Oh good – someone who actually speaks sense on the subject! I’m in the camp that prefers to use natural things where possible (trying to get to grips with a cup), but honestly… sea sponges? Women used to use those in the Middle Ages. They believed sticking vinegar up there was a good idea. They used ‘fumigation’ as a cure for disease which clearly just resulted in burns. Seriously – the Middle Ages knew no better – we do. There is no excuse for trying to flog people this crap. Charged by the moon? Does the moon come with a USB port these days? This modern day quackery belongs in a time where 5 nutmegs could buy a house. There is a reason modern sterile safe alternatives have been invented. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s automatically good for you. Use your brain, use google, use the knowledge scientists and doctors have spent years accumulating. I don’t agree with tampons. I personally would prefer not to have anything wedged up there but sometimes it is more practical to. And I would want to make sure whatever I use is safe.

  3. Thanks for this!! I read about natural sponges being used for menstruation on another site, not GOOP, but I didn’t even consider all the gross stuff that might be in an actual sea sponge.

  4. Dear Dr. Gunter, thank you for your blog! The BS posted on GOOP (and elsewhere) drives me crazy and your fact-based and hilarious commentary is much appreciated. Question: do you know if menstrual cups are safe/safer than tampons? They claim to have no risk of TSS and I have used one for years for health, heavy flow, convenience, financial and environmental reasons.

  5. Thank you for your eloquence and spirited fact-based rebuttal to GooP. I’m a physician too, and I’m very much on your team. In my field (allergy/immunology) I encounter patients who have received detrimental and terrible (and expensive) advice from alternative practitioners. It is so frustrating. Seeing people defend GP and her beautifully-marketed quackery is just the worst in my mind. Even more scary, the current political climate, in which evidence-based science is threatened and factual information is spun as elitist fakery, may sadly strengthen the force of the GooP wave. At any rate, thank you for standing up for science and for women.

  6. Seriously, how is crap like this still not illegal? Fear-mongering & lies in an attempt to sell crap, using purposely misleading information & suggesting the use of something actually dangerous to one’s health? I don’t get it. These people are the worst. I may not fully trust the FDA or mainstream medical stuff completely, but I’ll take it any day over these absolute phonies who pretend to be an alternative & suggest dangerous things. As far as I’m concerned, these people can all just die in a fire.

  7. LOL! Way to go! It’s really a big mistake to sell something “scientifically true” as claimed by the sellers without a single scientific basis. Thanks for calling out Paltrow & co.

  8. Well said Dr. Jen! Thanks from a fellow doc in Victoria who gets asked this stuff all the time.

  9. Dr. Jen,
    Many thanks for helping to set GOOP straight on the facts and evidence involving women’s health and for calling out Paltrow & co. for serially disseminating potentially dangerous misinformation in pursuit of brand-building and profit. Keep up your great work and terrific writing. I look forward to following your blog.

    1. Yes, how dare this author care about women’s health and be frustrated by the unsound medical “advice” handed out by Paltrow.

  10. Dr Jen, you are the perfect example for why women who are truly in touch with their own bodies don’t go to gynaecologists. Your intellectual babble backed by research, which more often than not is biased by big pharma, just confirms the truth I already know. Stay away from doctors. Ps I like Gwyneth Paltrow.

    1. My mum didn’t go to a gyno and avoided GP’s, so she never had pap smears.
      She believed that she would know if something was wrong with her health because she practiced transcendental meditation, reiki, reflexology, had a naturopath and so on.
      As a result of not keeping proper tabs on her health she ended up spending 16 months dying from treatable cervical cancer and was dead before her 62nd birthday.
      She eschewed chemo because of her distrust of ~big pharma~ and instead relied on massive doses of Vit C and other such tripe and it killed her.
      I sincerely hope you never experience what she did, but your comment doesn’t fill me with much hope.
      If you really hate modern science so much why don’t you go and live in a country that has very little access to such things? After all, your internet connection, your phone, your structurally safe accommodation, your transport… all of these things are yours thanks to science.
      And if you do happen to get sick make sure you don’t ever access any medical assistance, because that would make you a flaming hypocrite.

      1. “If you really hate modern science so much why don’t you go and live in a country that has very little access to such things? After all, your internet connection, your phone, your structurally safe accommodation, your transport… all of these things are yours thanks to science.”

        so perfectly, perfectly said…

  11. Perhaps you should advise Ms Paltrow that there are many chemicals which Americans consume daily that, in the wrong dosage, are much more dangerous. I’m thinking of dihydrogen oxide and natrium chloride.

  12. Paltrow certainly beats the BS drum loudly! I WISH I used only 6 super plus tampons in a day — I used at least one per hour, with a back up pad! By Paltrow’s computations I should be dead of toxins! Wait? Does this mean I’m really Iron(less) Woman?

  13. Doctor, your response was articulate, plain and entirely humourous without being snarky. I congratulate you on your skill!
    (And, in all seriousness, I appreciate having your sources, as this is an argument I’ve had to have before. )

    1. Science should be first and foremost when dealing with our health. These “flakey” psuedo-science articles by popular, uneducated beauty queens should be banned. Young ladies read these things and think it must be okay if a movie star endorses the bad ideas…yikes! Paltrow is a film actress and parent, that’s it, stick with what you know, girl. Thanks Dr. G. for setting the record straight on TSS and other dangerous problems caused by bacteria. I’m a retired Science teacher and have first-hand knowledge of how vulnerable many young girls can be and hope they don’t get ill from following bad ideas from a quack. Hang in there, Dr. Gunter, we need an army of the likes of you to combat the psuedo-science published in popular magazines. Keep up the good work!

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