Several of my patients have recently asked my opinion on the use of vaginal detox pearls, which now seem to be now all the rage for a multitude of gynaecological ailments.
No, this is not a typographical error, but many women are now resorting to inserting small herb-filled balls into the vaginal canal in the hope of removing “toxins” that seem to cause just about any gynaecological illness.
These detox pearls are advertised widely, including social media, and are touted as the solution for problems ranging from ovarian cysts and pelvic infections to uterine fibroids and infertility.
If only it was that simple.
As with any form of alternative or unconventional therapy, it is always such a sensitive topic for me to discuss. It is easy enough for physicians to brush off such treatments as utter foolishness but many patients think that their doctors’ disapproval is just a master plan to hide the ultimate solution or indeed to hide the fact that they don’t know anything about it.
In the spirit of understanding and supporting my patients, I do try to listen to all their queries and give an honest opinion. If I don’t know, then it’s up to me to check the available evidence and the science behind it.
Detox pearls are small cloth covered balls packed with herbs such as mothersworth, rhizoma, angelica, osthol and borneol. A local provider claims that not only does this cocktail of herbs maintain and encourage good reproductive health, they are non-toxic, have no side effects and “have passed more than 1000 clinical trials.”
Needless to say, I could not find any of these trials in the recognised medical literature. What I did find though was that Health Canada, the country’s public health department, issued a warning over a Chinese medicine containing borneolum syntheticum, a synthetic version of borneol, both of which are toxic, and are known to be found in the detox pearls. As of 2019, Canada has banned the sale of these pearls in the country. Earlier this year, a company selling vaginal pearls was faced with a class action lawsuit in Florida for misleading and deceptive advertisements. Court documents said that “the product’s labelling, marketing and advertising contained on the packaging and on defendant’s website are false, deceptive and misleading because the product is not safe and because the product cannot provide the claimed benefits.”
The idea that the female reproductive tract needs to be detoxed by some external force is as persistent as it is wrong. Doctors, sexual health experts and even journalists have repeatedly tried to debunk this vaginal detox scheme that almost equates to blatant fraud.
There are natural biological mechanisms that do the job of self-cleaning so much that no external devices are needed. Unfortunately, this does not stop companies preying on the insecurities of women to peddle these practices that have no real basis.
Douching, steaming, purifying, using crystals, jade eggs and of course pearls are insidious as they are presented as a natural, holistic solution, when in fact “detox” is not needed at all.
Even worse, leaving these pearls in for long periods can lead to a build up of bacteria and have the potential to cause a rare medical condition called Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). This can be rapidly fatal and has been known to occur in women who have left tampons in for a prolonged time.
Women are increasingly conscious of their reproductive health and any issues in this area should be discussed with a qualified health care provider.
The mere existence of these “detox pearls” makes it clear that there is still the need to address issues in gynaecological health that many women find perplexing. Misleading and potential harmful products are rife with claims of the ultimate “natural” remedy for every ailment. However, a good rule of thumb is that if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.