I don’t pay a lot of attention in the sanitary products aisle when I go shopping, but this box caught my eye. (Images below.) I initially thought the illustration on the box showed molded plastic, with some sort of speaker and that this was a truly weird product that would hum period pains away. I freely admit it is possible I shouldn’t blame the graphic designer, but my lack of experience looking at computer generated images of feminine hygiene products.
Examining the box I eventually accepted it was just a sanitary pad, but with “Infused Nannogenic™ Technology“. I DM’ed a picture to my wife, eliciting a “WTF”, and finished my shopping, but I couldn’t get rid of an urge to discover what “Nannogenic™” really meant.
Looking for the answer sent me down a rabbit hole where I learned a thing or two about the low quality of research on uses of far infrared (FIR) and found a link between these pads and Tom Brady. But I’ll get back to that later. First, here’s what “Nannogenic” means.
According to NannoCare, the company that markets Nannopad, Nannogenic technology “Utilizes the same Far Infrared energy our body emits” which is “Concentrated and reflected back to our pelvic area” and their “scientists and innovators created a proprietary blend of concentrated particles that emit far infrared energy, which has notable improvement over other menstrual solutions.”
They even have a “whitepaper” if you are “brave enough to try to wade through technical papers loaded with highly specialized terms” which is, and I’m quoting the byline in full here, “Written by U.S double board-certified Urogynecologist.” No, the name of this stalwart scientist(?) isn’t at the end of the paper either. But it does cite eight different studies, and we all know that means quality!
How to market pseudoscience
I’ll come back to these studies, and to Tom Brady, but first let me briefly sum up NannoCare’s use of standard tricks for selling pseudo-science based health and wellness products:
- Use of weasel words: Packaging says it may help with menstrual discomfort.
- Use of general scientific results to imply a specific use: “Multiple scientific studies have shown that the use of Far Infrared energy has beneficial effects on circulation in the tiny blood vessels present within organ tissue“. Even if we accept that, it doesn’t mean this application is valid.
- Mix of references to scientific results of various quality and completely unscientific consumer testing. The only references for tests of Nannopad are to consumer tests with free product and self assessment. Supposedly single blinded placebo trials, but no report available.
- Special weasel words: “FDA approved manufacturer” (FDA does not “approve” health care facilities, laboratories, or manufacturers.)
- “Expert approval”: Nannocare claims their product is “Recommended by U.S board-certified physicians” and include a video with an approving dermatologist, who is, surprise, surprise, also a homeopath and nutritionist.
- A very active Instagram account. Not linking to that. It is hella boring anway.
Far infrared technology
Okay, so their marketing is straight from the snake-oil salesman handbook and I don’t think there’s a reason to think this product will change the amount of infrared hitting the pelvic area more than a thicker pair of panties. But I only have a generalists knowledge about this. Is there a nugget of truth here somewhere? Far infrared is a real thing. What about those papers?
Well the so-called whitepaper has references to eight published papers, most of them old, from 2011 and 2012, and only one newer, from 2014. So either this was written six years ago and never updated with newer and more convincing studies. Or it’s a nonsense alibi meant to fool non-scientists.
The studies include in-vitro studies, studies on other types of pain and on dermatological issues. Not really a good foundation to build this claim on. Only three of the papers focus on dysmenorrhea, so let’s concentrate on those. They are:
- Lee, C. H., Roh, J. W., Lim, C. Y., Hong, J. H., Lee, J. K., & Min, E. G. (2011). A multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial evaluating the efficacy and safety of a far infrared-emitting sericite belt in patients with primary dysmenorrhea. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 19(4), 187-193.
- Ke, Y. M., Ou, M. C., Ho, C. K., Lin, Y. S., Liu, H. Y., & Chang, W. A. (2012). Effects of somatothermal far-infrared ray on primary dysmenorrhea: a pilot study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012.
- Liau, B. Y., Leung, T. K., Ou, M. C., Ho, C. K., Yang, A., & Lin, Y. S. (2012). Inhibitory effects of far-infrared ray-emitting belts on primary dysmenorrhea. International Journal of Photoenergy, 2012.
I have unfortunately been unable to find the full text of the first paper, but it involved a belt with ceramics and the use of hot packs to heat the ceramic (and the placebo). Even if it had been a high quality study there’s little reason to think the effects would be the same if the ceramics were in your panties.
The second study looked at using a belt infused with 10% by weight ceramic powder with far-infrared emitting properties, and compared this with a placebo without the ceramic. According to the paper the output of the ceramic belt as “FIR energy, at wavelengths between 3 and 16 ?m, was 10.16 mW/cm2“, but they don’t describe the conditions or how this compares to the placebo belt. This turns out to be fairly standard for these studies. The supposedly active treatment is described with details such as this, but the placebo product is … presumed to be inert? It seems very possible any effects were due to the ceramics belt just being a better insulator, or heavier, and not something magical about FIR. At the very least I’d like to see how much they differed in weight and insulating properties.
There are a few interesting things about the third paper. First it has two of the same authors as the second one, Ou, M.C. and Lin, Y.S. Second it uses a “Carbon fiber belt set to 50°C for 30 minutes”. Or as a non-scientist would put it, they used a heating pad. Third, they describe the FIR output of this belt at 50°C as “11.34 mW/cm2 by integrating the intensity of the wavelengths between 4 ?m and 16 ?m“. That is pretty much the same as what the other belt was supposed to radiate, so how does this FIR technology differ from just using heating pads or a more insulating garment really?
I’m tempted to dig further into NannoCare’s chosen studies and the authors thereof, but some of you have probably started skimming now to see if I’m actually going to link this to Tom Brady, and I don’t think any of you really want more of my second rate reviews of third rate papers. Time to move on. Passive FIR technology seems to be nothing more than insulation and some active FIR technology appears to me to just be your regular old heating pad. There is no reason to think it has any place in sanitary pads.
There’s also no reason to think it has a place in sleepwear, but that hasn’t prevented UnderArmor to team up with Tom Brady and give you Athlete recovery sleepwear with “Far Infrared print inside“. With Tom Brady on the team they could choose a slightly different marketing approach than NannoCare, relying on their customers known penchant for celebrity athlete endorsements and belief in lucky socks and every nonsense trend that comes along (anyone remember cupping in the 2016 Olympics, or kinesio tape in 2008?).
Still they felt they had to cite at least one scientific paper and it’s a paper also on NannoCare’s list, so let us have a look.
The paper is Vatansever, F., & Hamblin, M. R. (2012). Far infrared radiation (FIR): its biological effects and medical applications. Photonics & lasers in medicine, 1(4), 255-266.
UnderArmor calls it an NIH independent study, it is not. It’s a review of all modalities of FIR treatment from special lamps and IR saunas to passive garments, and it references all the poor studies NannoCare cite. (What a coincidence.) It also doesn’t conclude in a way that support these nonsense products, but says “If it can be proved that non-heating FIR has real and significant biological effects, then the possible future applications are wide ranging.”
This review is also from 2012, and this is still an active field. It is possible that these kinds of products genuinely increase the return of heat to the body in the form of FIR rather than just decreasing conduction and convection. But as far as I can tell the researchers in this field never compare these properties of the products and the placebos. So instead of supporting pseudoscience and a spelling disaster by buying Nannopads, just try warmer underwear and if you need even more infrared exposure, get a heating pad.