We dislike it, detest it, or are even afraid of it. A shame, because menstrual blood turns out to be the new gold if you do research. You can do more with it than just ruin your underwear. We list the latest insights of what you can investigate or test by using menstrual blood.
1. Check the absorbency of menstrual products
Duh, you might think. But read on. Because for many years the absorption capacity of menstrual products has been tested with a water-based salt solution (saline) or even with plain water – sometimes coloured blue. That can give inaccurate results. Logical, as menstrual blood has a completely different consistency than saline or water. It’s even less fluid than ‘normal’ blood – that stuff that flows through your veins. It may also contain large clots. Another minus of this test method: your flow can differ considerably throughout your period. Just try getting up after sitting for a while. That means that with absorbent products – such as (washable) sanitary pads, menstrual underwear and tampons – the speed at which moisture is absorbed is also important. But we digress.
In the American study by Oregon Health & Science University, published in the journal BMJ, 21 menstrual products were tested for the first time using real red blood cells. Still not menstrual blood, but it’s a step in the right direction. For sanitary towels, tampons and menstrual cups, the absorbency more or less corresponded to what was indicated on the packaging. A menstrual disk – a flat menstrual cup that looks a bit like an old-fashioned diaphragm – turned out to be able to handle the largest flow (80 ml). The menstrual underwear tested scored less than promised.
The study was done because to diagnose heavy menstrual bleeding (HMB) score cards based on traditional menstrual products, such as sanitary towels and tampons, are used. Therefore the focus was on how the capacity of these products compares to products such as menstrual cups and menstrual underwear. The fact that real blood cells were now being used made headlines around the world. Healthy blood is a precious commodity. It can be used to save lives and develop medicines. That’s why blood donors – people who donate blood – are so important.
We waste a billion litres per year…
Menstrual blood – not quite the same stuff, but apparently also very valuable – is now flushed down the toilet, or thrown in the trash, in large quantities. In other words: we waste quite a bit of it. Do the math. On average, you lose about 5 tablespoons of menstrual blood per cycle. Based on 15 ml per spoon, this means about 75 ml per menstruation. Per year this comes to 13 x 75 ml, which is 975 ml or 0.975 litres. It’s about 39 litres per woman’s life.
There are more than 2 billion women of childbearing age on the planet. The number of women who currently get monthly periods (some are pregnant, breastfeeding, or stopping their cycles with the help of the contraceptive pill or a hormone-releasing IUD) is estimated at 1.2 billion. Together, they produce approximately 1 billion litres of menstrual blood per year. That amounts to a large swimming pool: 1,000 meters long by 100 meters wide by 10 meters deep.
A billion litres of menstrual blood. This can of course be used to test the absorbency of menstrual products (saving water in the process). But there are plenty of more beautiful things you can do with it – although it took some time for the penny to drop. Research by Stanford University from 2023 on the search term ‘menstrual blood’ in the PubMed database yielded one publication between 1941 and 1950, and only 400 publications in subsequent decades. During the same period, 10,000 studies on erectile dysfunction were published.
2. Use it as a diagnostic tool (or even save lives)
A missed opportunity, because now it appears that menstrual blood can be a fantastic diagnostic tool. In addition, it’s available in abundance and can be collected quite easily using a menstrual cup or special sanitary towels. You don’t even have to stick a needle into someone’s veins. Menstrual blood contains valuable information about the female reproductive organs and immune system. This can help to gain insight into possible causes of miscarriages, for example – more specifically: the role of the so-called NK immune cells or, for example, the effect of the endometriosis diet. Endometriosis is also a condition in which the immune system plays an important role. These two topics are currently being investigated by Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands.
Worlwide, many more studies are done into the diagnostic possibilities of menstrual blood, for example in the early detection of endometriosis, cervical cancer (detection of the human papilloma virus) or diabetes. Menstrual blood could even save lives in the future. You can extract stem cells from it. These are body cells that still have to develop into specific tissues and which can therefore be used for the treatment of diseases and conditions. Stem cells from bone marrow for example are used to treat lymphoma and leukaemia. A little more respect for the menstrual cycle once again appears to be something that everyone can benefit from. Period!
PS: Menstrual blood is also suitable for all kinds of home, garden and kitchen things. And in addition to science, the business community has also discovered the unexpected qualities of your flow. But you can read that here.
Period! is an independent, online magazine about all aspects of menstruation. Period! is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you’re suffering from medical complaints, always visit your doctor or GP. Editorial articles can contain affiliate links. Sponsored collaborations can be found in the category Spotlight. Do you have any questions? Check our Contact page.