Q. I have always believed that douching was part of good hygiene, but my daughter’s doctor told her not to douche. Who’s right?
A. At one time, doctors routinely instructed their female patients to douche; however, that is no longer the case. Studies have shown that there is a higher rate of infection of the reproductive tract among women who douche than among women who do not. At least one study has detected a significant increase in cervical cancer in women who douche more than once a week. There are also a handful of studies that suggest that douching may increase the risk of ectopic or tubal pregnancy.
What remains unanswered by these studies is whether douching itself promotes infection and other problems by altering the normal vaginal environment, or whether women who have problems tend to douche more than those who don’t. I personally believe that the latter is true, and that douching per se may not be dangerous, as long as it is not done more than once a week. That is not to say, however, that douching is necessary. Normal hygiene (daily bathing and showering) is all that is required to maintain personal cleanliness. If you do douche, however, I suggest that you avoid using perfumed or prepackaged chemical mixtures, which could not only be irritating but could alter the normal acid concentration of the vagina. Make your own douching solution by mixing 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar with 1 quart of warm water. Do not depend on a douche for contraception. It is not effective or dependable. Do not attempt to ward off infection yourself by douching; in fact, if you do have an infection, douching can spread it. See your doctor for a precise diagnosis before “self-treating”.
Marianne J. Legato, MD, Ph. D. (hon. c.), FACP is an internationally renowned academic, physician, author, lecturer, and pioneer in the field of gender-specific medicine. She is a Professor Emerita of Clinical Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and an Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School. Dr. Legato is also the Director of the Foundation for Gender-Specific Medicine, which she founded in 2006 as a continuation of her work with The Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University. She received an honorary PhD from the University of Panama in 2015 for her work on the differences between men and women.
At its core, gender-specific medicine is the science of how normal human biology differs between men and women and how the diagnosis and treatment of disease differs as a function of gender. Dr. Legato’s discoveries and those of her colleagues have led to a personalization of medicine that assists doctors worldwide in understanding the difference in normal function of men and women and in their sex-specific experiences of the same diseases.
She began her work in gender-specific medicine by authoring the first book on women and heart disease, The Female Heart: The Truth About Women and Coronary Artery Disease, which won the Blakeslee Award of the American Heart Association in 1992. Because of this research, the cardiovascular community began to include women in clinical trials affirming the fact that the risk factors, symptoms, and treatment of the same disease can be significantly different between the sexes. Convinced that the sex-specific differences in coronary artery disease were not unique, Dr. Legato began a wide-ranging survey of all medical specialties and in 2004, published the first textbook on gender-specific medicine, The Principles of Gender-Specific Medicine. The second edition appeared in 2010 and the third edition, dedicated to explaining how gender impacts biomedical investigation in the genomic era, won the PROSE Award in Clinical Medicine from the Association of American Publishers in 2018. A fourth edition is forthcoming.
She also founded the first scientific journals publishing new studies in the field, The Journal of Gender-Specific Medicine, and a newer version, Gender Medicine, both listed in the Index Medicus of the National Library of Medicine. She has founded a third peer-reviewed, open access journal, Gender and the Genome, which focuses on the impact of biological sex on technology and its effects on human life.
Dr. Legato is the author of multiple works, including: What Women Need to Know (Simon & Schuster, 1997), Eve’s Rib (Harmony Books, 2002), Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget (Rodale, 2005), Why Men Die First (Palgrave, 2008), The International Society for Gender Medicine: History and Highlights (Academic Press, 2017), and most recently, The Plasticity of Sex (Academic Press, 2020). Her books have been translated into 28 languages to date.
As an internationally respected authority on gender medicine, Dr. Legato has chaired symposia and made keynote addresses to world congresses in gender-specific medicine in Berlin, Israel, Italy, Japan, Panama, South Korea, Stockholm, and Vienna. In collaboration with the Menarini Foundation, she is co-chairing a symposium on epigenetics, Sex, Gender and Epigenetics: From Molecule to Bedside, to be held in Spring 2021 in Italy. She maintains one of the only gender-specific private practice in New York City, and she has earned recognition as one of the “Top Doctors in New York.”