To Bleed or Not to Bleed,
Most women have absolutely nothing kind to say about their periods. It’s – insidious drum roll, please – “that time
of the month” when everyone runs and hides from us, since we’re either complaining about our bloating and cramps or we just bite anyone’s head off who can’t be sympathetic. Well, who can really blame us? Not only are we physically uncomfortable, but simple activities like swimming and good ol’ sex are now at risk of being erased from our agendas for the next week. If given the opportunity, most women would gladly kick Aunt Flow out the door forever and without a kiss goodbye. And, who’d have thought this would actually be a legitimate possibility?
Now that we’ve roughly covered the basics of oral contraceptives, there’s an important fact most women aren’t aware of – and this is the argument behind eliminating periods. The bleeding that occurs after each cycle of active birth control pills is not a real period. It’s not caused by ovulation, when the uterus sheds its lining, but it’s actually a response to the active hormone pills – the body is withdrawing from the progesterone. This is referred to as “withdrawal bleeding.” When The Pill first came on the scene in 1960, its creators included
“withdrawal bleeding” to make the whole process feel more natural and to also have a method for users to detect
Suppressing periods is not a new fad, by any means. It’s been common practice among women who are physicians with easy access to oral contraceptive pills. But since this method
has not been officially approved by the FDA, it was not widely known. Women have been doing it with traditional
pill packs for years – all you’d need to do is skip the week of placebos and start a new pack of active pills imme-
Women who suffer from endometriosis are also advocates for fewer or no periods. This condition occurs when the uterine lining grows outside of the uterus, causing painful internal bleeding during every menstrual cycle. Many doctors advocate suppressing menstruation as a treatment for endometriosis.
While there is much support behind disowning Aunt Flow, there are just as many who’d rather she stay. Dr. Susan Rako is a psychiatrist based in Boston and the author of “No More Periods?: The Risks of Menstrual Suppression and Other Cutting-Edge Issues About Hormones and Women’s Health.” She says, “Manipulating women’s reproductive hormonal chemistry for the purpose of menstrual suppression would be the largest uncontrolled experiment in the history of medical science.” Rako is concerned with the long-term health affects of this behavior, for there are no in-depth studies that can give us any ample insight. She says a normal hormonal cycle includes two weeks of significantly reduced blood pressure – this contributes to the reason women of reproductive age have fewer heart attacks and strokes.
Menstrual bleeding also rids the body of excess iron, which is another risk factor for cardiovascular disease. “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,” Rako says. In her practice, Dr. Leslie Miller checks the iron levels of women who have been suppressing their periods for years, to make sure they do not have any problems with iron storage in the body. She recommends regular blood donation to be on the safe side, but she has not found any patient with excess iron in her system.
Each side of the argument makes some pretty valid points – both addressing risks and benefits of menstruation and suppression. Which side makes more sense to you? Check out our Further Reading section below for more information. It’s a great conversation starter: “Hey, do you think periods will be passé?”