Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

The Other Dangers of Yasmin and Yaz

July 2nd, 2013 by Holly Grigg-Spall

Recently, in a piece for the Ms. Magazine blog, re:Cycling’s Elizabeth Kissling remarked on the lack of media coverage of serious safety issues with the popular birth control pill brands Yaz and Yasmin. Of the coverage there has been, little has looked beyond the significant number of injuries and deaths caused by blood clots to the potential dangers held in the negative psychological impact of these drugs, an impact that it appears a large number of women may have experienced.

As I read the stories of women who had suffered strokes or gone blind, I wondered how many women using Yaz or Yasmin had also been driven close to death, or perhaps even died, due to the depression the pills can provoke.

I decided to interview Dr Jayashri Kulkarni at Australia’s Monash University, one of the few people researching into this area, to find out more. As a practicing psychiatrist Dr Kulkarni treats women with mental health issues as well as leading research studies into this possible root cause of psychological problems.

Of the potential for these pills to create suicidal tendencies in users Dr Kulkarni says, “We have seen amongst women using these oral contraceptives a profound lowered self-esteem which causes them to lose perspective, misinterpret comments, and feel like no one would notice, or the world would be better off, if they weren’t around anymore. We’ve seen suicide attempts.

Dr Kulkarni is undertaking both a large-scale national and international survey of women’s subjective experiences with Yaz, Yasmin, as well as the Mirena IUD, Depo Provera shot, and Implanon implant and a smaller scale in-clinic study of the impact of oral contraceptives like Yaz and Yasmin on women over a three month period. The psychological impact is not what she calls “major depression” but instead a “sub-clinical depression” wherein women experience a mood change that impacts their relationships, work, and overall happiness.

“This depressive syndrome has a spectrum of symptoms. We tend to think depression just means sadness, but it can present as fuzzy headedness, inability to multitask, guilt, irritability, anxiety, and in behavioral changes like the development of obsessive compulsive disorders. Women experience a change in perspective that makes them magnify issues that occur in their lives, be that a slight weight gain or an argument with a partner, into feelings of worthlessness. It can also cause impulsivity, making the woman suicidal.”

At her clinic Dr Kulkarni describes treating a mother who found it difficult to let her children go to school for fear something would happen to them and another who became transfixed with the idea that her partner was cheating, and so called his phone repetitively to check on him. She believes that the provoked anxiety can display itself clearly as panic attacks, but it can also appear as paranoia and agoraphobia. When taken off Yasmin and Yaz these women returned to their previous state with a healthy perspective.

The Depo Provera shot and Implanon implant have shown in the research to also cause particularly profound depression. For women who have a history of mental health issues or have environmental factors that make them more vulnerable to mental health issues, these methods have been seen to provoke serious negative changes in mood.

Dr Kulkarni’s hypothesis is this: “Low estrogen pills and progesterone-only methods seem to cause depression at the highest rate. In our research we’ve seen women respond better to higher dose estrogen and natural progesterones. Clinical studies on animals have shown progesterone in a low dose causes increased anxiety, but conversely in a high dose it alleviates anxiety.” Her findings will be published later this year in full.

At present Dr Kulkarni treats her patients by changing their hormonal birth control method with her research in mind, a practice she believes to be generally successful. She prescribes new pill Zoely to patients who have responded badly to other brands. Zoely (which contains 2.5 mg of nomegestrol acetate and 1.5 mg of 17-beta-estradiol) was refused approval by the FDA for the US in 2011.

Yaz and Yasmin: An Unacceptable Level of Risk?

June 25th, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

Photo by Flickr user Beautiful Lily // Creative Commons 2.0

Don’t feel bad if you missed last week’s headline news about the deaths of 23 young women from their birth control. It was a top story for CBC news and a few other Canadian sources, but it was barely a blip on the radar of most U.S. news outlets. Yaz and Yasmin, two similar new-generation birth control pills from Bayer, are suspected in the recent deaths of these young Canadian women.

These are among the best selling oral contraceptives in the world, but this is not the first time Yaz and Yasmin have been suspected of causing death or adverse effects. Earlier this year, Bayer agreed to pay up to $24 million to settle claims from plaintiffs with gall bladder injuries caused by the drugs, and the company set aside $1 billion to settle claims from approximately 4,800 women who have suffered blood clots due to Yaz or Yasmin. As of February, 2013, approximately 10,000 lawsuits against Bayer are still pending in the U.S., and an additional 1,200 unfiled claims are pending. The company anticipates additional lawsuits—and additional settlements—regarding blood clot injuries, such as pulmonary embolisms or deep-vein thrombosis.

The history of the birth control pill and its social impact is well documented. First approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1960, it quickly became the world’s first “lifestyle drug,” and it has become the one of the most studied drugs in history. It is considered to be so safe that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently recommended that oral contraceptives be sold without a prescription.

But all hormonal contraceptives–the pill, the patch, the shot and the vaginal ring–carry a risk of blood clots. For most users, this is a minor concern, affecting approximately six of every 10,000 pill users. For users of new-generation pills—that is, pills containing drospirenone, the fourth-generation synthetic progesterone found in Yaz, Yasmin, Ocella and several other brands—the risk jumps to ten of every 10,000 users, although Bayer maintains that their own clinical studies find the risk comparable to older pills. Note, however, that the risk in most of these studies is compared either to other hormonal contraceptives or to pregnancy, not to using effective non-hormonal contraception. As if women’s only choices were to be pregnant or be on the pill.

And it is this matter of women’s choices that brings me to my main point: Why we have we seen so little media attention to the safety profile of Yaz/Yasmin (and hormonal contraceptives more generally)? This isn’t about just a few unlucky Canadian women: Four women in Finland have died, more than 50 U.S. users of Yaz and Yasmin died in just a few years and France reports 20 deaths per year due to birth control pills between 2001 and 2011, with 14 attributed to the new-generation contraceptives. This is a major consumer safety concern, and a women’s health issue.

In an earlier time, this might have led to Congressional investigations, such as the Nelson Pill Hearings, which resulted in FDA-mandated Patient Package Inserts (PPIs)—the printed information about risks, ingredients and side effects included in pill packets, first required for oral contraceptives and then for all prescription drugs. It is hard to imagine today’s Congress calling for such an investigation. Among many other social changes since 1970, drug manufacturers in the U.S. hold more influence over both legislators and consumers, now spending nearly twice as much on promotion as they do on research and development.

A parallel can be found in the health crisis triggered by an outbreak of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) linked to tampon use in 1980. TSS is a potentially fatal infection caused by bacterial toxin Staphylococcus Aureus. A new brand of superabsorbent tampon was linked with 813 cases of TSS, including 38 deaths, that year. By 1983, the number of menstrual-related cases reported to the CDC climbed past 2,200, and manufacturer Proctor & Gamble had “voluntarily” pulled the product from the market before the FDA forced them to do so. The intense media coverage, public concern and outcry from feminist activists pushed the FDA to reclassify tampons as a Class II medical device, an upgrade which meant tampons would require more specific regulation and possibly after-market surveillance. They were much slower to mandate absorbency standards, but eventually did so under court order. These actions resulted in a documented decrease in menstrual-related TSS, although it is important to note that it has not disappeared.

Today, more than 30 years later, young women are again dying from something purported to help them, something that affects mostly women. Thousands more are experiencing life-threatening, health-destroying side-effects, such as blindness, depression and pulmonary embolism. Canada’s professional association of OB-GYNs defended the drug, suggesting that perhaps the recent deaths could be attributed to non-contraceptive reasons for which it was prescribed, such as PCOS or diabetes, both of which are associated with higher risks of blood clots. But there is little evidence of public concern, outside of Yaz/Yasmin user message boards. Even feminist outlets aren’t always covering these issues as vigorously as we might hope.

Yet the birth control pill in general has never been more politicized in the U.S.: In the last year or so, we’ve seen headlines and public debates about insurance coverage of the pill, access to emergency contraception and so-called personhood bills which have been introduced in legislatures in at least eight states. Feminist activists and health care advocates have been working tirelessly to protect access to the pill along with other forms of birth control, as well as the right to end an unintended pregnancy—and feminist journalists have been writing about these activities.

In the urgency of responding defensively to these political attacks—and we must respond—feminists cannot ignore corporate threats. Just as preserving contraceptive and abortion access is critical to women’s health and well-being, so is protecting contraceptive safety.

Cross-posted from Ms. magazine blog.

Getting Over The Pill

January 15th, 2013 by Kati Bicknell

Here’s a notion: Birth control pills are not the only way manage your reproductive health.

The pill came out more than 50 years ago, and at the time, it was a symbol of liberation and freedom for women. Suddenly, they no longer had to worry about unplanned pregnancy. It was great. But now that 50-year-old technology is starting to lose much of the appeal it once had.

Adapted from a photo by Jess Hamilton // Creative Commons A-NC-SA 2.0

Today many women get on the pill as teenagers to “regulate” irregular cycles, and they get off the pill in their late 20s or early 30s when they want to get pregnant. The unfortunate reality is many women find it’s not as easy as they thought it would be to get pregnant. Ten or fifteen years of being on oral contraceptives doesn’t “fix” an irregular cycle; it just kind of pushes the pause button on your reproductive system.

When you come off the pill in your late 20s or early 30s because you finally want kids, your body has to pick up where it left off when you were a teenager. Often women at this stage of their lives find it takes longer than expected to conceive and wind up on the assisted reproductive technology track — reproductive endocrinologists, expensive and annoying tests, procedures, hormone injections ,and all that jazz. And, heartbreakingly, after several years and thousands of dollars, that doesn’t always work.

The side effects of the pill are a real pain in the ass for many women, too. Weight gain, depression, loss of libido, and “not feeling like myself” (AKA “I seem to have gone insane”) are some of the more common complaints cited. In fact, a CDC report on contraceptive use states that 10.3 million women have stopped taking the pill due to side effects, or fear of side effects.

All women need a way to have children when they want them, and to not have children when they don’t. And they need to feel good about the whole thing — not freaked out, bloated and crazy. Imagine how the world would be different if this was a reality.

This reality is possible thanks to the wonderful simplicity of the Fertility Awareness Method — the technology behind Kindara. Instead of women’s reproductive reality being like this:  “Oh my god,  I don’t want to get pregnant” during her twenties, followed by “Oh my god,  I want to get pregnant NOW!” in her thirties, the Symptothermal Method makes it one question: “When do I want to get pregnant?”

Charting your cycle using the Fertility Awareness Method can help you achieve your reproductive goals without pills, side effects, or stress, whether you want to have kids in the next few years, in 10 years, or never. By charting your cycle, you will see if and when you are ovulating, and you will know when you are fertile, which is the trick to knowing when you can or cannot pregnant. Charting your cycle could help clarify issues that need to be remedied before you can get pregnant too. You can even confirm pregnancy with your chart. Exciting!

If women were taught the basics of Fertility Awareness as soon as they entered their reproductive years and knew that they could avoid or plan for pregnancy by charting their primary fertility signs (temperature and cervical fluid), they would save a lot of time, money, and stress.

What a different world we would all be living in if each woman shifted her thinking from “I need this pill so I don’t have unplanned pregnancies, and I need my doctor to prescribe this pill” to “I know just what is going on with my cycle at all times. I am calm, confident, and empowered. I manage my own fertility thank you very much, and I don’t need pills to do it.”

Now I’m not saying that oral contraceptives have no place in the world. They are a wonderful invention. Thanks to the pill, women today can take it as fact that pregnancy can be prevented easily and effectively. But because this is now a forgone conclusion, we are free to look for even better options — options like the Fertility Awareness Method that can prevent pregnancy easily, effectively, autonomously and without side effects.

Originally published at Kindara.com on December 15th, 2012

Is Hormonal Literacy Important in a Counseling Session?

October 19th, 2012 by Ashley Ross

When we sit with our clients – whether it’s a medical consultation, a therapy session, a group program or even spiritual guidance – what happens when we include a woman’s cyclic nature in the conversation?

As a holistic reproductive health coach using the Hakomi somatic counseling method, this question is not only unavoidable but inevitable.

Hakomi is a therapeutic method that uses mindfulness in our present time experience to discover unconscious beliefs that either resource or limit us. Put another way, we bring a woman’s awareness to what is happening in her body as we’re consulting with her. This is done with the understanding that our bodies are as much a part of our experience as our cognitive experience (how we make meaning) but they have a less perfected filtering and editing capacity, making them a wonderfully effective access route to our unconscious – our experience outside our awareness.

Many of my clients come to me for help with their emotional hormonal symptoms (perimenopause, PMS). Below are a few different ways I work in this hormone/psyche/somatic interface. I thought this might be a place for us to share what we’ve discovered.

Knowing Where She’s At

I begin each session by establishing which phase of her monthly cycle and/or life-cycle she’s in. We explore how she experiences these phases (which initially requires teaching tracking and observation skills). I also find it extremely helpful to find out what birth control she uses to ascertain whether she is using endocrine disruptors.

Her Relationship to Her Cycle

We get to know what beliefs she has about her cycle and her body. Many core beliefs about the Self reside in her relationship with her body and can show up in how she experiences her period, her birth control choices, how she inhabits different parts of her body – specifically her reproductive organs and pelvis, etc. (I like the work of Tami Kent on this last point). Many issues of self-regard, self-compassion and agency might also be expressed through this relationship.

Menarche

We explore her first period experience; for example, how old she was, what was happening in her life at that time and the messages she got leading up to and including her first period. These might include difficulty in accepting her sexuality; anger and resentment towards the masculine, or the feminine; shame, confusion, disappointment or rage about her menstruating body; relief and excitement about being a woman; etc. We also explore her significant relationships at that time – with mother, father, sisters, brothers, grandmother etc. We note whether she experienced any loss of relationships because of her menarche. We offer her the “missed experience” of acceptance of her womanhood, fertility and sexuality (with gender-identity appropriateness).

Normalizing the Fluctuations

We discuss variations in energy, temperament, sexuality, mood, “liminal” state (see Alexandra Pope’s Wild Genie), etc. through her cycle. She learns to recognize her unique patterns. We explore any fears/judgments/beliefs about being “unpredictable” or “inconsistent”, specifically in relation to expectations she might have for herself.

The Resource of Hormonal Literacy

We point out new signs and beliefs as she begins to integrate her hormonal experience. for example, moments of self-compassion, nonjudgmental, embodiment, empowerment, etc. We work somatically to create new neural pathways that integrate her developing hormonal literacy.

These are a few areas that I feel warrant further discussion and examination in how we include a woman’s hormonal experience in our interactions with her in a session. There are more, of course, like the counselor’s relationship to hormones and menstruation (counter-transference) as well as bringing hormone awareness to treatment with addiction or trauma. Rich stuff.

What I’ve noticed by including this interplay between hormones, psyche, and the body is the phenomenon of how awareness changes a woman’s experience. When she connects the dots between her hormonal cycle and her experience, it not only empowers her but shifts her hormonal experience itself.

I know we all look forward to the day when our hormonal and somatic awareness are so integrated, they become the water we swim in – that great day when we are not appreciated and valued regardless of our hormones but because of them. Until then, I believe we can best serve women by including hormonal literacy in our work together.

Libido and the Pill

September 7th, 2010 by Laura Wershler
Laura Berman, Ph. D.

Laura Berman, Ph. D.

It’s great to see celebrity sexpert Laura Berman, Ph. D. – frequent Oprah TV guest, Oprah radio host, and (according to her website) world renowned sex and relationship expert - talk truth about the effect of the birth control pill on women’s libido.

In the September 2010 issue of Parenting magazine, Dr. Berman acknowledges that the pill can lower libido and clearly explains the mechanisms for this.  So far so good. What bothers me is her advice to moms experiencing this problem.

Happily, there are solutions, short of becoming celibate. Here are four options— talk to your doctor to see if any of them might be right for you.

Her recommendations include two alternative forms of hormonal contraception –  the Nuvaring and the Mirena IUD, the hormone-free IUD, and a sterilization method called Essure that scars the fallopian tubes to prevent sperm reaching egg.

Granted, all are legimate alternatives to the pill.  But the message sent, yet again, is that women who don’t want to get pregnant or remain celebate must depend on drugs, foreign objects inserted into the uterus, or sterilization.  If nothing else is mentioned, then nothing else must be trustworthy.

It has become all too typical for sexual healthcare providers to ignore the needs of women seeking information, support and services to use non-hormonal, non-invasive methods of birth control confidently and effectively.  This was a golden opportunity for Dr. Berman to talk about the ever effective condom, the new FemCap cervical barrier, and the growing interest amongst American women in Fertility Awareness Methods, which though wildly misunderstood by most in the medical and sexual health community have proven effectiveness equal to the pill.

Kudos to Laura Berman for telling the truth about the pill and libido.  Many sexual health care providers are not this open about the libido lowering effects of oral contraceptives.  Check out the comments at this May 2010 discussion at Jezebel.com about the subject.

Now I urge Berman to take on the challenge of providing information and support for women who are ready to turn the page on hormonal and invasive birth control methods.  For some women it will be the only way to achieve the better sex and intimacy at any age she promises on her website.



The Disappearing Diaphragm

June 24th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling
Photo courtesy of Jenny Lee Silver under Creative Commons 3.0.

Photo courtesy of Jenny Lee Silver under Creative Commons 3.0.

Did you know that last year’s combined sales of Yaz and Yasmin, the most popular oral contraceptives in the U.S., totaled $1.64 billion? Did you know the drugs are also the target of 1,100 lawsuits for potentially fatal blood clots? Did you know that an estimated 50 women have died from taking those contraceptives?

Despite such health risks,  however, oral contraceptives remain an extremely popular method of birth control in the U.S., second only to sterilization. The Guttmacher Institute reports that whether a woman prefers the Pill or sterilization is largely a function of age, with women under 30 choosing the Pill and women over 30 choosing permanent methods. These trends have been fairly stable since 1982.

None of these facts surprised me as much as the news that fewer than one percent of women in North America (and northwestern Europe) use the diaphragm–or any other woman-controlled barrier method. I’m puzzled that a safe, reliable, fairly easy-to-use (with some training and practice), inexpensive method of controlling fertility is not more widely recommended. Used correctly and consistently, the diaphragm has an effectiveness rate of 94 percent. Nevertheless, diaphragm use declined after the Pill was introduced, from 25 percent of married women in 1955 to 10 percent in 1965, and kept dropping thereafter, to just 4.5 percent of all women in 1982 and 0.2 percent today, according to the CDC [pdf].

U S. Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use, 2010, released last month by the Centers for Disease Control, shows that the diaphragm has no medical contraindications for most women. The exceptions are latex allergies, immediate postpartum or post-termination use, uterine prolapse, and women with HIV/AIDS, for whom the risk is not the diaphragm itself but the accompanying spermicide nonoxynol-9, which may increase viral shedding and HIV transmission to uninfected sex partners.

Yet the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Committee on Gynecologic Practice recommends that hormonal methods such as IUDs or injections be offered as “first-line contraceptive methods and encouraged as options for most women.” At this year’s annual ACOG meeting last month in San Francisco, the group issued a press release with eight gushing statements of praise for the Pill on its 50th anniversary. (See re:Cycling‘s response to the ACOG statement here.)

But nearly four of every ten women who use contraceptives are not satisfied with their method, and I hear frequently from young women that they’re pressured at college health centers and physicians’ offices to choose hormonal methods, usually the Pill, over barrier methods such as condoms and diaphragms. Even after negative experiences with the Pill, women are often encouraged to try another brand rather than another method.

I’ve even heard of educators and health care providers actively discouraging use of the diaphragm because “it’s messy”. This complaint baffles me, and I used a diaphragm for 15 years. With or without a diaphragm, sex is messy.

Although diaphragms must be accurately fitted by a health care professional and re-assessed every few years, they remain cheaper than hormonal methods and require less frequent physician visits. A diaphragm can be inserted hours or moments before intercourse, and it is a fully reversible, female-controlled method of birth control. There is some evidence that diaphragm use minimizes women’s exposure to certain STIs , and ongoing research by pharmaceutical companies is aimed at developing a spermicide that is also antimicrobial.

There’s even research on a one-size-fits-all diaphragm in progress: Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) has developed and patented a single-size diaphragm designed to fit most women comfortably. The modified device has proven effective in initial studies, and the organization plans to apply to the FDA for approval as a contraceptive by the end of next year.

Early last century, Margaret Sanger risked prison to introduce the diaphragm to an American public desperate for effective birth control. We need a contemporary crusader to re-introduce the diaphragm in the 21st century for those seeking safe, effective, hormone-free birth control.

Cross-posted at Ms. magazine blog.

SMCR Bloggers Respond to ACOG’s Homage to the Pill

May 20th, 2010 by Laura Wershler

MenstruationResearch.org – Today, during an email exchange among the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research blogging team, research-advocacy experts on the menstrual cycle spoke out in response to the unbridled passion for the pill expressed by members of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists at their 58th Annual Clinical Meeting. Amidst the hoopla surrounding the 50th anniversary of the pill, it must be noted that not all experts believe the pill to be an unequivocally positive contribution to women’s health and well-being that those quoted in the ACOG media release purport it to be.



“The pill has literally changed the world, and it was a primary stimulus to the women’s movement of the 60s. It has done far more for women’s rights than any legislation that has been passed and should be recognized as the great emancipator of women.”


Mark S. DeFrancesco, MD, MBA, Cheshire, CT
Secretary Elect, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

“When the pill first came out, young unmarried women had to fight for the right to take it. Now, they have to fight for the right NOT to take it. Overhyped as medicine’s gift to women’s health, by mostly male gynecologists who have never taken the drug, the pill has become an almost forced right of passage – the “standard of care” treatment for being a girl. Emancipation or subjugation? Ask the young women who face coercion and control by their doctors when they ask for support to use non-hormonal methods of birth control.”

Laura Wershler, Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights Advocate,
Executive Director, Sexual Health Access Alberta


“Birth control pills provide women with many non-contraceptive benefits, including cycle control, cancer prevention, and pain relief. They have been an integral part of women’s health.”

Scott D. Hayword, MD
Mt. Kisco, NY
Chair, District II, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

“Birth control pills provide women with many risks in exchange for contraception, including blood clots, stroke, breast, cervical, and liver cancers, diminished libido, and mood disorders. They have been instrumental in activating the women’s health movement, as feminists
demanded responses to these risks.”

Elizabeth Kissling, Ph.D.
President, Society for Menstrual Cycle Research


“I have often thought that the birth control pill should be called a hormone regulation pill because its use and impact have been so much broader than contraception alone. The pill has certainly improved reproductive control, but the impact on menstrual regulation has been very important for women, from adolescence to menopause.”


Jeanne A. Conry, MD, PhD
Roseville, CA
Chair, District IX, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

“I’m so happy to have The Pill called “a hormone regulation pill” because that is the way it is currently used by many physicians, and some women. It is used to cover up the far-apart cycles of anovulatory androgen excess (also known as PCOS) but doesn’t promote ovulation. The Pill is used to treat heavy bleeding in teenagers, but doesn’t restore her own balance of estrogen and progesterone. It is used for menstrual cramps when ibuprofen or other non-steroidal is more effective and has no suppressive effect. It is used to treat premenopausal osteoporosis when the evidence suggests it causes rather than prevents subsequent fragility fractures.

In short–the Pill has become the major non-surgical tool of gynecology.”

Jerilynn C. Prior, MD, FRCPC
Professor of Endocrinology / Department of Medicine
Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research
University of British Columbia

“The introduction and rapidly accepted, widespread adoption of oral contraceptives among women of reproductive age drastically reduced women’s fear of unplanned pregnancy in ways their mothers and grandmothers never knew. The pill has allowed women to take different roles in all aspects of their lives—career, education, travel, and a host of other beneficial ways.”

J. Craig Strafford, MD, MPH,
Gallipolis, OH
Vice President, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

“Women realize their full potential when they are supported in making informed decisions in all aspects of their lives. Indeed, oral contraception has enabled women to avoid unplanned pregnancies, but it has never been a risk-free option. While providers are eager to prescribe the pill, they are less eager to fully explain how hormonal contraception works and the side effects it carries. Until women have access to a full range of safe, affordable and accessible options, their freedom is compromised.”

Chris Bobel, Ph.D.
Chair and Associate Professor of Women’s Studies, University of Massachusetts-Boston

“The pill has revolutionized women’s health care. Obviously, the contraceptive benefits are paramount, but I have become a huge advocate for all of the non-contraceptive reproductive health benefits that the pill offers. Another advantage is that the pill has enjoyed incredible safety over its 50-year history.”

Douglas H. Kirkpatrick, MD, Denver, CO
Immediate Past President, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

“The Pill has its roots in a time much farther back than fifty years.
Historically the female body has been feared and the release of the
Pill fitted very easily into this history. Victorian doctors removed
women’s ovaries in response to many perceived female problems, and today doctors prescribe the Pill, shutting down ovulation. The Pill is not only prescribed for birth control – it is handed out to women with acne, PMS, irregular periods, heavy periods. Even light, regular periods are now considered enough of an inconvenience to warrant a long-term drug dependency. The Pill has developed into a medication for the disease of being female. In place of changing society, society decided to fix women. At a time when we are more concerned about what we eat, what we wear, what we use to clean the toilet than ever before, we are still celebrating millions of otherwise healthy women taking a powerful medication every day, for years.”

Holly Grigg-Spall, Journalist

“The advent of effective contraception was revolutionary, transforming, empowering, and a tremendous boost to women’s health. It continues to play a major role in the effort to achieve responsible reproductive health and choice for all women—a goal of every child being a wanted child delivered into a supportive and secure environment.”

James N. Martin, MD, Jackson, MS Secretary, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

“If the pill was as revolutionary, transforming and empowering as is suggested, then all women should be taking it from menarche to menopause, except when we are ready to have the “wanted child.” But we aren’t. Today, young women are ditching the pill in favor of non-hormonal methods, and still managing to achieve responsible reproductive health choices. As for the pill being ”a tremendous boost to women’s health” – I think not. Troublesome side effects, serious health concerns, and a growing interest in holistic approaches to health care are putting the pill in its proper place. One contraceptive choice that works for some women, some of the time.”

Laura Wershler, Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights Advocate,
Executive Director, Sexual Health Access Alberta


“The pill is probably the single biggest contribution to women’s health in our lifetime. Not only has it given women more control over their fertility, it has been successfully used to treat many gynecologic conditions such as dysmenorrhea, menometrohaggia, PMS, acne, PCOS, and endometriosis, enabling women to have a better quality of life.”


James A. Macer, MD, Pasadena, CA

Assistant Secretary Elect, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists


“Long term safety data on the current patterns of use of the pill do not exist, and are not being collected. When first approved, the pill was available to married women, most of whom had children, and allowed them to space their families. Currently, the pill is most commonly used by childless young women, often during the teen years, and can extend for decades. The consequences of pharmaceutical suppression of the developing endocrine system (during the 12 years following the first period) have, to my knowledge, not been explored. For example, taking the pill interferes with bone acquisition, compromises the accumulation of bone density, and may compromise peak bone mass. Peak bone mass sets the bar for lifelong bone health. In a cohort expected to live into their 80’s, casual and enthusiastic use of the pill may be something society regrets half a century from now. There is a tendency to blame side effects on the bad old days, and to say that things are better now. But a recent large study confirmed blood clot risks with today’s “modern” formulations, and, more worryingly, these risks are amplified by obesity and smoking, both of which are more prevalent in modern populations.”


Christine L Hitchcock, PhD, Research Associate, Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research, and Clinical Assistant Professor, School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia

This ACOG statement furthers a broader message to young women that they should trust pharmaceutical menstrual rhythms over that of their own bodies and that they should trust clinical authority over their own authority. In and of itself, ceding their bodily authority, ownership and stewardship to medicine causes harm to women.

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The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research is a nonprofit, interdisciplinary research organization. Our membership includes researchers in the social and health sciences, humanities scholars, health care providers, policy makers, health activists, and students with interests in the role of the menstrual cycle in women’s health and well-being.

The cure for all things menstrual?

December 24th, 2009 by Chris Hitchcock

A recent press release from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists announces that Hormonal Contraceptives Offer Benefits Beyond Pregnancy Prevention. This is in the same vein as similar articles published over the years about “non-contraceptive benefits of the pill” – a laundry list of the many benefits women may obtain by using hormonal contraception. It’s not clear how they should be used by practicing obgyn’s. One use is certainly as additional talking points to convince women who are cautious or reluctant to replace their body’s own menstrual physiology with a pharmaceutical product.

I haven’t been able to read the full document (for some reason my university access seems to only find the first page of the full document), but it appears that, like previous reviews I have read, it is a biased list, including benefits but not risks. Perhaps what is most in common is the sense that a spontaneous menstrual cycle is somehow suspect, that fluctuations over time are unnatural, and that pharmaceutical control is a good solution.

I can understand why the pharmaceutical industry might want to publish a long list of off-label uses (although they would be quickly stopped by the US’s FDA and regulatory bodies in other countries). But it is a curious thing to find a professional group extolling the many off-label benefits of a class of pharmaceutical drugs. Do cardiologists publish practice bulletins about the non-cardiovascular benefits of statins?

There are other perspectives about how one might treat painful periods or heavy menstrual flow. The published Cochrane Reviews (well-respected summaries of published studies) about cramps suggest that the evidence for non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS, such as ibuprofen) is more solid and clear than that for combined oral contraceptives, and that, to date, no studies have compared them head-to-head. Moreover, NSAIDs also have been shown to reduce menstrual flow.

The press release notes the protective effects against endometrial, ovarian and colorectal cancer, but fails to note the increased risk of sexually transmitted infections. Being on the pill is the most important risk factor for not using condoms.

And when absent or long periods occur, inducing regular and predictable flow will reduce the risk of endometrial cancer, but otherwise primarily serves to mask the underlying issue. In that case, going on the pill can be like hitting snooze on your smoke alarm.

 

Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.