Your menstrual cycle can tell you so much about your body and your health. But what if your doctor could take that a step further by using your period blood to diagnose certain health conditions — such as cervical cancer or endometriosis — instead of having to perform invasive procedures? That’s what companies like NextGen Jane and Lifestory Health hope to do by using period blood as a biomarker that could help doctors test for specific health conditions, The Cut reports, though the two companies do so in different ways.
While NextGen Jane's aim is to develop and produce a tampon-like device that could test these conditions, Lifestory Health is focused on studying these and other biomarkers with the ultimate aim of “offering predictive, early and more precise female diagnostics based specifically on female biology,” according to their website.
The Cut writer Edith Zimmerman likens menstrual tissue tests to home DNA kits, only with period blood instead of spit. NextGen Jane co-founder Ridhi Tariyal says they’re working on a tampon that would test for what they call “the menstrualome,” says The Cut, or something that’s similar to the microbiome or genome found within period blood. If you’ve never heard the term “menstrualome” before, that’s because Tariyal’s team came up with it, Forbes reported in 2017.
“It’s a highly underutilized, underexplored specimen that could really break open women's reproductive health,” Tariyal told Forbes. “But to date, everyone has thought it's too gross to engage in.”
The NextGen Jane team chose tampons as the collection tool because it’s a product many menstruators are already using. “[A tampon] is this unique singular access point to the woman's reproductive system that you literally cannot get short of a biopsy,” Tariyal told Forbes in 2017. “Your body is expelling materials from your entire reproductive system every single month, trying to tell you something. We call it a natural biopsy.” NextGen Jane is currently soliciting tampons from potential beta-testers to help "chart the menstrualome" on their site.
Studies have shown there’s diagnostic potential in period blood. A 2018 study published in Molecular Medicine found that people with endometriosis have fewer uterine cells in their period blood. Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that analyzing period blood could be a non-invasive way of diagnosing endometriosis and might lead to earlier and more effective treatments for endometriosis. And a 2012 study published in Molecular & Cellular Proteomics found that period blood might be used to diagnose infertility.
But even without a special tampon, your period can tell you so much about your health. Your period blood color lets you know if you have an infection, if your hormones levels are off, if you might be anemic, or how fast or slow you’re menstruating, according to Prevention. How severe your period cramps are can tell you if you need to talk to your doctor about whether another medical condition might be present, says Mayo Clinic. And, of course, your period flow can signal if you’re pregnant, you’re stressed, you have another medical condition that needs to be addressed, your hormones levels are off, and so much more, according to Medical News Today.
TBH, it is absolutely incredible how much your period can tell you about your health. That’s why it’s a bit mind-boggling the medical community isn’t already using period blood to test for medical conditions. Straight up; the "menstrualome" isn’t gross. It’s an amazing gift of nature that is chock full of information.
Clarification: This piece was updated on Feb. 21, 2019, to more accurately describe Lifestory Health's work in this field of research.