“I hate my period.”
This is a common theme among women. There seems to be a strong desire to live month-to- month without the inconvenience of these 4-7 days. This carefree desire can trick us into trusting that our health is fine – out of sight, out of mind. However unless a woman is menopausal, no matter how chore-like, having a menses is actually a very important guide to health and wellbeing.
Pharmaceutically erasing the calendar is a method called continuous birth control (CBC), which entails taking regular birth control pills during the whole month, without the week of non-hormonal sugar pills. In some cases, a woman is advised to take the non-hormonal pills every three months. However, many times this is bypassed and a common practice is to allow the CBC indefinitely. In recent years, marketing of specific brands of CBC has taken place.
Numerous concerns arise out of this practice. In most of the studies concerning the effect
and safety of CBC, no long-term observations exist to consider the hormonal burden on the body from long-term exposure to synthetic hormones. Ethinyl estradiol is a main estrogen component of birth control pills that prevents ovulation. Progestin, a.k.a. synthetic progesterone, also prevents ovulation and the build-up of the endometrial lining and cervical mucus. While these prevent pregnancy, the overall impact on subsequent fertility remains in question.
In 2009, Obstetrics and Gynecology reported, “women who used combined birth control pills for 5 or more years were significantly more likely to have thinner endometrial linings.” (doi: 10.1097/AOB.0b013e181b46f54) This thinning of the uterine lining has great impact on the ability to conceive and thus maintain a pregnancy.
We wonder about the long-term impact of the synthetic hormones on breast cancer and ovarian cancer. A myriad of studies investigated the notion that these hormones can be tied to cancers, with mixed results. Some studies do show increased risks, while others are inconclusive.
However, because the rates of breast cancer and infertility have been steadily increasing, it is reasonable to question the role synthetic hormones play. It is even more of a concern when considering that some women are ingesting such hormones on a continual basis, preventing menses. Having no cyclical break from hormones certainly may be even more burdensome in hormonal cancers.
Your menses tells you about your own hormonal patterns, such as estrogen dominance, progesterone deficiency and androgen balance. Cramping is often a sign of overall inflammation, likely coming from an inflamed gastrointestinal system. Mood changes also reflect issues with adrenal health and nervous system imbalances. If we take away these symptoms, without addressing the underlying cause, the problem will visit us in other ways at a later date.
Merely not having a menses because of discomfort or various symptoms is like fighting a fire by taking the batteries out of the smoke detector. You may not know something is wrong until the house is burned down.
Amy Nelson, ND* received her Naturopathic Doctorate from the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, OR where she studied nutrition, homeopathy, herbal and functional medicine. In addition, Dr. Nelson was the Associate at The IBS Treatment Center in Santa Monica where she treated irritable bowel syndrome and complex food allergies. Dr. Nelson utilizes her experience in natural medicine to address female and male hormonal imbalances, mental health, and digestive disorders.
*Naturopathic Doctors are not currently licensed in the state of Texas.