TSL: Great white sharks, Jewish moms, and other things to avoid on your period

According to The Examiner, the average woman has 451 periods during her lifetime. Now, the way I look at it, that’s either 451 opportunities to think up a euphemism for menstruation (I recently heard the phrase “riding the cotton pony”) or 451 opportunities to learn something fascinating and probably disgusting about the wonderful and horrible miracle that is being a woman. And while we’re at it, how to avoid some of the horrible parts.

I recently learned in Women and Health in America by Judith W. Leavitt, at the onset of her daughter’s first period, it is the Orthodox Jewish tradition for a mother to slap her daughter.

One down, four hundred and fifty to go.

Mother Jones, women’s advocate, asks if swimming in the ocean is safe when Aunt Flo comes along, considering the fact that as much as two thirds of a shark’s brain is made of olfactory lobes which attribute to their impressive sense of smell, making them able to detect an odor like blood from as much as 100 yards away.

Ann Dreolini, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Aquarium responds that the jury is out: “According to what I have read so far, there are people who believe the chance of a shark attack is greater while menstruating…and others who think this has absolutely no impact on shark attacks at all.”

Ralph S. Collier, an expert on shark behavior since 1963 and head of the nonprofit Shark Research Committee, recalls a study done in the 1960’s. Collier and his associates introduced a variety of human bodily fluids to wild sharks. Collier felt that human blood, menstrual or not, would not clearly convey the stress signals that a shark would deduce from marine blood. But Collier still offers an uncertain word to the wise for ladies: “If it’s a young lady for whom it’s that time of the month, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Better to wait till everything is back to normal to go into the ocean.”

Dr. Sam Gruber, on the other hand, is the director of the Bimini Biological Field Station at the University of Miami. He said that while there has never been a conclusive study on the effects of menstrual blood on sharks, he does have a theory. Theoretically, he says that a shark could be attracted to menstrual blood–but not for the reason that you would think. You see, biologically, women and female sharks have almost identical hormonal molecular structures. It’s not altogether unlikely that a male shark would be attracted to these same hormones.
This is interesting, when considering that surfer and blogger Coconut Girl reminds that 60% of shark attacks on surfers  are upper-radius bites, a common sight at the initiation of a shark courtship ritual. Also consider that the vast majority of shark attacks have happened at night, when visibility is limited.

Marie Levine, founder and executive director of the Shark Research Institute and avid diver claims that she has been diving for decades, with or without her period. Even when among a school of hammerheads, Levine claims that the sharks were not interested.

However, Ms. Levine is said to have a great personality.

You’ve managed to avoid being slapped in the face or eaten for dinner. But there’s three more little letters that you might want to avoid: TSS

Although cases of TSS have been reported throughout modern medical history, the disease was made famous in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when several young women died from using a brand of super-absorbent tampon. According to Wikipedia, in 1978, Procter and Gamble introduced a brand of super-absorbent tampons, called Rely, to the United States. Rely was made of polyester, and was said to absorb nearly 20 times its weight in fluid. Talk about reliable! The tampon could also “blossom” into a cup shape that would hold additional menstrual fluid. However, by 1980, doctors reported an unusually high amount of cases of TSS, numerous cases being fatal. Before long, these fatalities were  traced back to Proctor and Gamble’s Rely tampons. Proctor and Gamble were forced to recall Rely immediately. Part of that recall included the TSS warning still present on tampon products today. After this recall the cases of TSS reduced dramatically and the Center for Disease Control ceased to publish yearly statistics.

Would you know if you or a loved one had TSS?

WebMD explains that TSS, short for Toxic Shock Syndrome, is, as the warning states, a potentially fatal condition. TSS is brought on by the a strain of staph infection, the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. Surprisingly, Staphylococcus aureus bacteria is normally present in as much as one in three women, and does no harm. However, when an environment becomes ideal for bacteria, they can become overgrown. According to WebMD, a tampon can create an ideal environment for rapid bacterial growth, especially those made of polyester that are left for an excessive amount of time. When bacteria multiply rapidly, they release dangerous levels of toxins into the bloodstream. This gives a woman the symptoms of TSS, including a high fever, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Because TSS is caused by bacteria, if identified, TSS can be treated with antibiotics. With proper treatment, a WebMD says that the typical recovery time is two to three weeks. However, without treatment, the condition can become fatal in hours. Without treatment, the victim can go into what is called hypotensive shock, which means that vital organs such as the heart and lungs cannot withstand the sudden stress.

Although the Center for Disease Control no longer tracks fatalities by TSS, independent researcher Patrick Schlievert published a study in 2004, finding that as much as 4 out of 100,000 tampon users will suffer from TSS every year. In 2002, there were 8 deaths in California alone. So why the rise? Some researchers, such as Philip M. Tierno and Bruce A. Hanna, blame the return of high-absorbency in modern tampons and the discontinuation of overnight warnings, as well as an earlier onset of menstruation. This is supported by the fact that a third of the cases of TSS occur in women under the age of 19. Those who have had TSS and women who have recently given birth are also at a higher risk of developing TSS. According to Playtex, you can minimize your risk by alternating with pads, choosing the minimum absorbency possible, or not using tampons at all.

But it doesn’t end there.

Even though that little warning label hides in the fine print of your tampon box, only half of the cases of TSS are caused by tampons at all. In fact, you don’t even have to be a woman to get TSS: anyone can get TSS, regardless of age, race, or sex. Besides the half that occur in menstruating women, WebMD says that another half of TSS cases occur in  those recovering from surgery, a burn, an open wound, or those that use a prosthetic device.



8 thoughts on “TSL: Great white sharks, Jewish moms, and other things to avoid on your period

  1. Chances of Toxic Shock are much higher than a shark bite. From my 20+ years surfing, I’d say all avid female surfer girls surf while on their period. It’s much more dangerous to surf in dirty/run-off ocean water while on your period. It’s much more dangerous to wear a tampon (especially while surfing in polluted water). And – I’m playing the Jewish mom role right now – more important than all that: girls/women should NOT wear GMO / pesticide laden tampons. Sticking anything up your cooch that is not organic is a much bigger risk than swimming with sharks while on the rag. Cotton is one of the most heavy sprayed crops. And girls wear tampons way too much. Let it flow! xo

    Posted by coconutgirl | October 29, 2012, 7:10 am
    • After doing this research, I would have to agree. While Proctor and Gamble still runs the show on super-absorbent plastic-polyester-anything else that will make a profit tampons, here is one alternative option for girls in the organic tampon department: http://www.seventhgeneration.com/Organic-Tampons. You won’t find most organic tampons in stores, but these ones run about $6 for a pack of 16, with free shipping for orders over $50.

      Posted by tedbelle | October 29, 2012, 12:50 pm
  2. It still amazes me how entertaining and readable your posts are to someone not at all in the wheelhouse of your readers (i.e. someone that is male), so kudos on improving each and every week. My favorite line from this post has to be “Mrs. Levine is said to have a great personality.” I laughed quite a bit at that. Good topic, great research, amazing writing. Can’t wait til next week!

    Posted by Joey Strawn | October 29, 2012, 1:31 pm
  3. My husband showed me your blog and I have enjoyed every post! Very informative and entertaining.

    Posted by Amanda Strawn | October 30, 2012, 12:01 am
  4. Great information ted belle. How about the good and bad and cost of breast implants. Would like info on THAT. Grannie

    Posted by Jan | November 6, 2012, 1:07 pm

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