BOSTON (AP) - Manufacturers of tampons can reduce the risk of toxic shock syndrome among users by adding magnesium to the product, say researchers who identified absorption of the mineral by certain tampons as a cause of the rare but dangerous disorder.
Doctors at Harvard Medical School said Wednesday that they had found that two kinds of fibers once used in highly absorbent tampons, polyester -foam and polyacrylate rayon, remove magnesium from the vagina.
A low level of the mineral provides an ideal environment for common bacteria to produce a poison that causes the ailment, said the researchers, who provided the first explanation of the link between the fibers and the disease.
"We hope we have found a means for making tampon fibers such that they will not stimulate maximum toxin production," said Dr. Edward H. Kass. "We hope what win come out is a safer product with maximum absorbency."
The study was financed by Tambrands, which makes Tampax tampons, and is being pulished in the June issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Between 1980 and 1984, 2,683 people got toxic shock syndrome, and 114 of them died, according to the national Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Three-quarters of the victims were tampon users, but the disorder also strikes men and children.
The illness is caused by toxic shock syndrome toxin 1, a poison produced by an everyday bacterium known as Staphlyococcus aureus. When levels of magnesium are relatively high, the bacteria produce little toxin. But toxin levels increase- six to 12 times when magnesium levels are low.
The researchers found that the two tampon fibers chemically bind magnesium, creating a perfect habitat for the bacteria. "If a very tiny amount of magnesium - a multithousandth of an ounce - is added, the toxin production is very high," Kass said at a news conference. "If more is added, toxin production goes down."
Toxic shock syndrome most commonly occurs on the fourth menstrual day. The researchers speculate that during the days of heavy blood flow, there is so much magnesium in the vagina that the tampon cannot bind it all.
But as blood flow slows, magnesium levels drop. Then the tampons remove enough magnesium to induce high production of toxin.
This page was first uploaded to The Magnesium Web Site on November 22, 2002