Have you seen this TV ad? The medical reason would be pregnancy, since that is now considered a medical, rather than a natural condition. Menstruation too, is now a medical condition: one that can be “fixed.”
The medicalization of reproduction has increased our acceptance of unnecessary cesarean sections, the regular use of hormones and the suppression of monthly periods.
Although suppressing your period and taking hormones to prevent pregnancy may seem convenient; the long-term consequences of doing so are still unclear. The human endocrine system is a complex, interdependent and still mysterious natural phenomenon.
Hormones are not only involved in reproduction: they are involved in growth and development, metabolism and nutrient regulation and overall homeostasis. The endocrine balance is so complex and acts in such intricate concert that “a single hormone may affect more than one of these functions and each function may be controlled by several hormones,” write authors of the textbook Endocrinology.
Even though many doctors feel that menstruation holds no benefit for women, others disagree. Dr. Susan Rako, for instance, says, “Taking the birth control pill non-stop throws a monkey wrench in the workings of every organ and system in the body, not just reproduction.”
Although doctors like Dr. Elsimar Coutinho believe that menstruation serves no purpose other than reproduction, that it can be harmful and that it is “obsolete,” health psychologist Paula Derry points out that no one really knows what purposes menstruation may actually serve.
She adds that suppressing menstruation with drugs is unnatural and creates a “hormonal environment that is not found in nature.” The FDA has approved such contraceptives without evidence from long-term research, Derry warns.
In 1993, University of Washington scientist Margie Profet theorized that the immune system cells found in menstrual blood may point to a flushing function of menses: protection from sexually transmitted infections.
Others, like Dr. Scott Spear, believe that menstrual blood can be a medium for bacteria to grow.
When you consider that the endocrine system is so complex and that we don’t really know what messing it will do over the long-term, as Derry says, “The argument that menstruation is obsolete is illogical and unscientific.”
Common methods of contraceptives can be categorized as: barrier methods, intrauterine devices, sterilizations methods, natural family planning or hormonal methods.
These techniques prevent pregnancy by:
- Preventing sperm from reaching the egg
- Damaging or inactivating sperm
- Preventing the release of eggs
- Altering the uterus lining so a fertilized egg cannot attach
- Thickening the cervical mucus so that sperm cannot pass through easily
How Hormonal Birth Control Works
The pill is the most common hormonal contraceptive but other hormonal delivery methods include injections, implants, patches and vaginal rings.
Traditional birth control pills, reports the Mayo Clinic, give you doses of reproductive hormones for 21 days: then, a week of placebo pills that allow withdrawal bleeding (withdrawal from the hormones—not typical ovulation and menstruation).
Extended-cycle pills have you take reproductive hormones every day, suppressing ovulation and so menstruation.
Two other extended-cycle birth control pills involve taking reproductive hormones for three months continuously and then a week of either placebo pills or low-dose estrogen so that menstruation then occurs just a few times a year.
Anyone can suppress their periods continuously by skipping the placebo pills and starting a new package of pills.
The hormones used in birth control prevent ovulation, thicken cervical mucus and alter the uterine lining, according to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AGOG).
Birth Control Side Effects
Birth control pills can affect cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and increase blood pressure, reports Mayo Clinic.
The other hormonal contraceptives, reports AGOG, can have side effects such as:
- Abdominal pain
- Breast tenderness
- Irregular bleeding
- Trouble generating proper hormone levels in order to get pregnant after discontinuation
- Unwanted hair growth
- Vaginal discharge
- Vaginal infections and irritation
- Weight gain
The Pill and Cancer
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) reviews the research to date on cancer risk and the use of oral contraceptives.
NCI explains that most versions of the pill are either synthetic versions of estrogen and progesterone or one type of synthetic progesterone.Estrogen stimulates the growth of the uterus, causes the thickening of its lining to prepare a “nest” for the egg, and affects breast tissue.Progesterone prepares the endometrial lining for a fertilized egg. If an egg implants, progesterone stops further eggs from being released.
A 1996 worldwide analysis by the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer found that users of “the pill” had an elevated risk of developing breast cancer.
A 2003 NCI study seemed to suggest that birth control pills raised risk in women who had used the birth control within five years of diagnosis of breast cancer, more so than in women who had used the pill 5 or 10 years before a breast cancer diagnosis. This risk was increased with younger women.
None of these studies were controlled or randomized: they were population studies or surveys.
The longer a woman takes birth control pills; the higher her risk of cervical cancer reports the NCI.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found that women who used oral contraception for more than 5 years had a four-fold increased risk of developing cervical cancer, and that this risk may decrease after discontinuing use of the pill.
Several studies have found that oral contraceptives increase the rate of liver cancer in low-risk populations.
Other Negative Health Findings
Birth control pills almost double the risk of stroke, according to a 2009 meta-analysis by Loyola University Health System doctors.
Long term use of progestin-based injectable contraceptives (2 or more years) has been linked to a 50% increase in risk of bone fracture in women under 50, according to 2010 study by scientists from the University Hospital Basel and Boston University Medical Center.
A German study published in a 2010 issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine has found that women taking oral and non-oral hormonal contraceptives have the highest risk of female sexual dysfunction.
Editor of the journal Dr. Irwin Goldstein points out that “The irony is that these women are provided a medication that enables freedom from reproductive worries but these same women are not provided information that there are significant adverse sexual effects that may ensue.”
Sounds more convenient and liberating for men than it does for women!
Natural Family Planning
Natural family planning involves following a woman’s natural cycle in order to determine when unprotected sex is less likely to result in pregnancy. These methods, also known as fertility awareness methods or FAMs, track a woman’s ovulation. They can be up to 98% effective with committed monitoring.
FAMs require self-control because although an egg is released about 14 days before a woman’s next menstrual period; the egg can survive 3 to 4 days after actual ovulation and sperm can live anywhere from 48 hours to 5 days!
It’s best to combine FAMs with non-allergenic condoms or abstinence to improve effectiveness.
FAMs include the calendar rhythm method, basal body temperature, mucus inspection, the symptothermal method and ovulation indicator testing kits.
Calendar Rhythm Method
The calendar method is about 80% effective on its own. Women vary greatly in terms of their monthly cycle and many things can affect hormonal levels.
If you are very regular in terms of your menstrual period; you’re more likely to be successful with this method.
After documenting her menstrual cycles for a year, a woman can subtract 18 days from her shortest cycle to determine her first possibly fertile day, and 11 days from her longest menstrual cycle to determine her possibly last fertile day.
Basal Body Temperature
12 to 24 hours before ovulation, a woman’s temperature drops by about half a degree Celsius, less than 1 degree Farenheight at rest.
This method involves taking temperature with a very accurate and specialized thermometer every morning before getting out of bed.
Cervical mucus is watery just before the release of an egg from the ovary, and thickens throughout the rest of the cycle.
The symptothermal method is a comprehensive approach to natural planning. It includes calendar, basal body temperature, mucus inspection and other known symptoms such as breast tenderness and slight cramping. With attention and awareness, a woman can actually come to feel the release of an egg.
Ovulation Indicator Testers
Leutinizing hormone (LH) surges 20 to 48 hours before ovulation and can be detected 8 to 12 hours later.Ovulation prediction kits measure LH levels in the urine.
Principles of Endocrinology (2001)
American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (2010)