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Gynecologists should expect appointment time with patients to include a discussion about the utility and safety of vaginal steam baths.
Steam cleaning is great for so many things-hard surfaces, fabric, toys, floors-but I'm guessing there was a collective groan among the OB/GYN community this week when actress Gwyneth Paltrow praised the Mugworth V-Steam. She wrote, "You sit on what is essentially a mini-throne, and a combination of infrared and mugwort steam cleanses your uterus, et al. It is an energetic release-not just a steam douche-that balances female hormone levels."
(By the way, mugwort is an aromatic plant of the genus Artemisia.)
The practice isn't new. It's based on chai-yok (essentially a vaginal steam bath), a centuries-old Korean practice that is purported to reduce stress, regulate menstrual cycles, and eliminate hemorrhoids.
Perhaps even more interesting are the discussions that ensued on local radio stations across the United States about similar practices. On a Houston radio station, for example, someone said that for a flat stomach after childbirth, their mother advised them to boil an onion, getting it very hot and nearly mushy, and then "steam" the lady parts with it.
My guess is that many of you will be getting questions from your patients and friends about the utility of steaming the vagina and uterus. And probably some of you-or your emergency physician colleagues-may be seeing some patients with accidental genital burns.
What's your take on this? Does it bother you that precious appointment time is lost, time in which you could be discussing other health issues, such as modifiable risk factors for heart disease or diabetes? Or might there be some clinical benefit to this practice?
(We welcome your Comments below.)