We all know about western medicine, right? Of course there are a multitude of things that it absolutely excels at. Honestly, I am glad that I have it at my disposal. For example, If I have a life threatening emergency. I like being alive, so I am glad that I can prolong my life if I get into an accident or something.
Overall, though, if we want great health it doesn’t really have a lot to offer you or me. We could even go in for annual check ups for preventative measures, and if nothing was glaringly obvious we would be deemed in good health and skirted out the door. When there is something that threatens our quality of life we are often given a band aid rather than a real cure.
This is hugely the case with women and hormonal contraceptives. Yes, they are a contraceptive, but let’s set that mechanism of action aside for a while and focus on the other things that it does for women of reproductive age.
Clears skin
Makes the bleed come regularly
Alleviates cramps
Relief of symptoms from endometriosis and polycystic ovaries
Lightens heavy periods
PMS relief
Less periods (for those on some types of pills or long acting hormonal contraception)
How many people do you know struggling with any of these things? I’m guessing a lot! The thing is, what all of these have in common is that they are a result of imbalanced hormones. A non-regular period can happen due to some other things that are not pathological, such as short term stress or illness, but everything else is going to be better addressed another way.
So long as doctors have a tool to eliminate symptoms, those pesky messages from our body telling us something isn’t right, there isn’t as much desire to get to the root of the problem. Either on the doctor’s or patient’s end.
From a patient’s perspective, unless they are very proactive about their health, they are going to listen to their doctors. When their doctors offer them relief of whatever symptom they originally came in with they feel that whatever they took or did “worked.” And it did work in that it alleviated a symptom. What we experience as a symptom is just one facet of a larger problem. Typical doctors are very good at eliminating that symptom, the problem is, many of them don’t have the first idea of how to go about treating the underlying problem.
So, how does this relate to women’s health, in particular their hormonal health? Since women are able to cover up symptoms, they are often unmotivated to get to the root of their problems. I would say that, for most, that lack of motivation does not come from lack of care for their health, but from the fact that they just truly don’t realize that the symptom is just a message telling them about a larger problem in the first place. What they are using as that “band aid” isn’t actually fixing that problem. Just look at this author talking about her experience with period suppressing pills.

Thanks for your concern, ladies, but actually skipping my periods is the best thing to happen to me in a long time.
Sarah Fazeli
Aug 14, 2013 at 12:30pm | 443 comments
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Periods. It’s something we bond over.

“Yeah, my cramps are hell this week.”

“Tell me about it…I was doubled over with a heating pad for a five days!”

“Last month I had such a bad headache, I missed work.”

“I know…I’m so emotional. I’ve been crying over that Cheerios commercial!”

Menstruation has been bringing women together through the ages, be it through the sisterhood and emotional support in The Red Tent, or camaraderie over margaritas and tortilla chips at happy hour.

I found myself in the midst of one such conversation when someone turned to me and asked, “What about you? Are yours bad?”

“Mine? I don’t get one.”

They look concerned. Am I eating enough? What about my stress levels? Do I have an undiagnosed diseased? Am I pregnant? Could it be peri-menopause?

“What do you mean you don’t get one?” they asked, suspicious.

“I skip them on purpose.”

“Skip them?”

I explained that I take my birth control pills continuously, so I don’t get a period.

Gasps. Then an outpouring of concern. Some had heard of the pill called “Seasonale” — they come in a 3-month pack, designed to allow a woman to bleed only four times a year. There are several other brands on the market now, one generic, and they make up a class of medication known as Extended Cycle Combined Hormonal Contraceptives.

But just because some of them had heard of the method, not everyone approved.

“That can’t be good for you.”

“It’s just not natural.”

“What about your moon cycle? Your body needs to cleanse itself!”

Thanks for your concern, ladies, but actually skipping my periods is the best thing to happen to me in a long time. I have three-whammy periods: I get migraines, yeast infections, and life-interfering crying jags.

Let me explain each plague. First off, menstrual migraines occur when your body reacts to a change in hormones. A headache? If that were the case I’d be willing to pop a few Advil and be done with it. But these are m-i-g-r-a-i-n-e-s. Sound and light cause nausea, dizziness, visual disturbances, fatigue and an ice pick to one-side-of-my-head pain. Keeping my hormones regulated by taking the Pill continuously averts menstrual migraines altogether. Which means I can actually have a life.

Obviously, this isn’t the case for everyone – for some women, the Pill actually causes migraines. For me, the option to skip a three-day-long head-splitting migraine is a godsend.

Then there’s pH Imbalances: yeast and BV. Menstrual blood causes changes in the pH of your vagina. Any change in PH can make the vagina more hospitable to yeast and bacteria. No, your period doesn’t “cause” infection, as some are quick to point out. Certainly, many women get through their periods just fine without this complication. But for those with extra sensitive genitalia, a change in pH from bleeding is complicated by vulvar itching, pain, and burning. No fun. Why suffer?

And lastly there’s the PMS and PMDD. My mood swings just before and during my period were out of control. No yoga in the world could keep me from snapping, screaming, and then collapsing in tears. For a time, my doctor put me on Sarafem, which is basically Prozac marketed to women for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, otherwise known as serious PMS. Why add a drug to my life when I can get rid of the PMDD that requires it?

I remember the day my gyno suggested I skip my period altogether. You can DO that? I marveled at the idea.

After all, the period you get on the Pill is not a true period at all: it’s just withdrawal bleeding from a change in hormone levels. When you are on the Pill, there is no uterine lining to shed and no egg. In fact, as some of you may know, the placebo pills (the last 7 days of a 28 day cycle pack) were a marketing ploy designed by the pharmaceutical companies to keep up the appearance of menstrual bleeding. A total lack of bleeding would have been branded “unnatural,” — too much for the times. Without it, the Pill simply would not have been accepted.

Some doctors do recommend giving yourself a break from the Pill three or four times a year to avoid a possible side effect called “breakthrough bleeding.” Sometimes I do that, sometimes I don’t. But I can tell you that my life with a period three times a year is vastly different from my life with a period 12 times a year.

You don’t need anything other than your regular pills to achieve the same effect as Seasonale-type prescription. Using a 21 active, 7-day inactive pill pack, you simply skip the placebo pills and proceed directly to Day 1 of the next pill pack. My gyno called this the “honeymooner’s secret” and said it’s been around for years.

Hormonal contraceptives are an extremely easy “fix,” which is one of the reasons they are so prevalent. But here is where the real issue comes in: Not only are those who have a hormonal imbalance in the first place ignoring the underlying problem in favor of symptom relief, but they have their own side effects associated with their use, like any other drug. So when we take the drug to suppress a symptom, not only do we have an imbalance that we don’t deal with, we also add hormonal imbalance on top of that. What a doozy, right?
Listen, I don’t judge anyone for making a decision that is right for them, but I want to help people make an informed decision so that they really know that it is the right choice and they can feel confident in it. If you aren’t ready to deal with a lot of health stuff, which often even delves into the emotional, maybe those hormones are your best bet right now. But, if you want the best health you can get let me assure you that artificial hormones are not a piece of that equation. I should say, there may be exceptions to that statement, like for those that have had an early total hysterectomy, though I don’t think we have enough data to really know.
One of the reasons this can get so out of hand with hormonal contraception is because of their double purpose. Women find it convenient that what helps them be symptom-free also helps them not get pregnant.
One of the great things about the sympto-thermal method (ENTER THE LADYCOMP) of fertility awareness is that it’s kind of like hormonal contraceptives, but the opposite. You get the whole birth control thing, but you also get a window into what is going on with your hormones so you get an idea of how to fix them (since your typical doctor isn’t going to be much help in fixing the underlying issues).
I invite anyone taking hormonal contraceptives to examine your motives for doing so, and think about whether you might be able to get more feedback about any of your health problems if you got off the hormones and experienced your body as is.
Hannah Ransom is a Fertility Awareness instructor.

Should I Take Birth Control Pills?


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