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A revolution was about to begin when the birth control Pill arrived on the scene in 1960, when the US Food and Drug Administration approved it for contraception, the Pill has been one of the most popular methods of preventing pregnancy.. It heralded an era that would emancipate fertile women from the burden of unwanted pregnancies, thus opening the door to greater equality and freedom. Far from being safe and risk-free, it is now being recognized that these steroid hormones are actually dangerous and potentially life-threatening drugs that cause grave harm to women. The sexual freedom that women have fought so hard to attain has been won at a terrible price. In fact, with hindsight, it will very likely be recorded in history that the widespread prescribing of synthetic hormones to women was one of the biggest medical bungles in history. Most women taking the contraceptive pill (or HRT) have very little idea about the hormones they are putting into their bodies; nor are they knowledgeable about the potential side-effects. A soaring incidence of breast and cervical cancers, as well as strokes, cardiovascular disease, blood clots, impaired immunity, infertility, and major nutritional imbalances are only some of the conditions undeniably linked to these hormones.
For the past 40+ years, about 200 million women around the world have chosen the Pill as their preferred method of contraception. This "medical miracle" has been used by almost 90% of Western women of reproductive age on some kind of contraceptive at some time in their lives. But in recent years, reminiscent of the off-label uses of HRT, oral contraceptives have increasingly been prescribed for adolescent girls and young women for non-contraceptive purposes. There is no doubt that doctors consider the Pill the best solution to address a long list of young women's hormonal difficulties. This day and age, there's a plethora of options: the combined low-dose Pill made with estrogen and progestin; the progestin-only mini-Pill; and the three-year implant or injection. Far beyond its initial purpose as a contraceptive drug for short-term use, the Pill has become the darling of the medical world for treating just about any hormonal problem a girl may have, and then some. To date, the Pill is prescribed to help teenagers attack acne, "regulate" their periods, eliminate painful periods and treat PMS, endometriosis, migraines, ovarian cysts and polycystic ovaries. Girls as young as thirteen are now prescribed the Pill for treating acne.
The Pill has been touted by the medical profession as one of the most effective and powerful preventive medicines around. But is it? In December 2002, the U.S. federal government published the 10th edition of its biennial Report on Carcinogens, which is mandated by Congress as a way for the government to help keep the public informed about substances or exposures that are known to cause human cancers. Added to the list of "known" human carcinogens were all steroidal estrogens used in estrogen replacement therapy and oral contraceptives. The gravity of this finding cannot be overstated: all estrogens have now been proven, unequivocally, to cause cancer!
To make matters even worse, norethisterone, the most common progestin in progestin-estrogen combination oral contraceptives, and other synthetic progestins used for injections and implants, were listed as known human carcinogens by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences back in 1997. Is it arrogance or just plain ignorance to believe that "Women are healthier if they are on the Pill?" The fact is that the ingredients of the Pill, whatever its formulation, are known human carcinogens. How can any carcinogenic drug be deemed to be health promoting? What cancers do these hormones cause? Studies have linked estrogens and progestins to breast, ovarian, endometrial, cervical, skin, brain, and lung cancers. It is now recognized that, far from being safe and risk free, these steroid hormones are, in reality, dangerous and potentially life-threatening drugs that cause grave harm to women. Most women taking the contraceptive pill do not have any idea about what dangerous ingredients they are actually putting into their bodies, nor are they knowledgeable about the potential side effects.
The Pill literally stops natural menstruation. Bleeding only occurs each month because the synthetic hormones are not taken for seven days of the cycle, which causes a shedding of the uterine lining. The bleeding that occurs would be more accurately termed withdrawal bleeding, not menstruation. In fact, there is nothing natural about taking the Pill. The action of the Pill is in fact a female form of "castration" because it stops the natural reproductive cycle. Sometimes a woman's ovaries will become permanently damaged, resulting in infertility. Fabio Bertarelli, a Swiss billionaire who owns Serono Laboratories, manufacturer of 70% of the world's fertility drugs, has attested to this fact. He told the Wall Street Journal in 1993: "Our usual customers are women over 30 who have been taking birth control pills since they were teenagers or in their early 20s."
Business is booming for the fertility business. The data from the journal Fertility and Sterility suggest that 6.2 million women in the U.S. had fertility problems in 1995, compared to 4.5 million in 1982 and 4.9 million in 1988, and this number could be as high as 7.7 million women in 2025. All contraception formulas may increase the risk of coronary artery disease, breast cancer, cervical cancer, skin cancer, immune dysfunction, liver toxicity, stroke, blood clot, osteoporosis, gum disease, high blood pressure and ectopic pregnancy. The side-effects include nausea, vomiting, migraine-type headache, breast tenderness, allergies, weight increase, changes in sex drive, depression, head hair loss, facial hair growth and increased incidence of vaginitis. Also, women with a history of epilepsy, migraine, asthma or heart disease may find that their symptoms worsen. Many of these effects may persist long after discontinuation of the Pill. Pill-users have an increased risk of two painful types of inflammatory bowel disease: ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
In addition, the Pill causes serious nutritional deficiencies of vitamin B1, B2, B6, folic acid, B12, vitamins C, E, K, zinc, selenium, magnesium and the amino acid tyrosine, which is essential for proper thyroid function. Estrogen increases copper levels, which causes depression. Even more alarming is the fact that the earlier a woman uses the Pill, the greater her risk of developing breast cancer and also having a worse prognosis. One disturbing study showed that the Pill caused chromosomal aberrations in the breast tissue of young female users. The American Journal of Epidemiology in 1989 reported a 100% increased risk of breast cancer, which extended from 10 years of Pill use, down to just three months of use! So, it is of no surprise that women as young as 17 and 19 years old are now being diagnosed with breast cancer. The breast tissue of young teenage girls is still developing and is particularly sensitive to the over-stimulation from synthetic estrogen. In one landmark study, researchers found that women who took the Pill before the age of 20 and were later diagnosed with breast cancer had tumors with worse prognoses than did breast cancer patients who started taking the Pill at a later age or had not previously taken it. Another study found this most terrifying result: the younger the women were at the time of breast cancer diagnosis, the greater the possibility that they would be dead within five years.
Progestins make their own mischief. As well as being carcinogenic, they raise "bad" cholesterol and blood pressure, distort sugar metabolism, compromise the immune system and create undesirable masculinizing effects. So it is no wonder that Depo-Provera should be of great concern to women. It was reported that women who used it before the age of 25 increased their relative risk of breast cancer by 50%, and that women who used it for six or more years raised their risk significantly to 320%. (Dr Coutinho, the enthusiastic advocate for the elimination of menstrual cycles using the continuous low dose Pill, was the developer of Depo-Provera.) Of further concern are studies showing that both oral contraceptives and Depo-Provera contribute to bone loss in adolescents. Needless to say, the pathologizing of women's menstrual cycles and hormonal imbalances through the pervasive and persuasive advertising campaigns initiated by both the medical profession and pharmaceutical industries is seriously jeopardizing the physical and emotional wellbeing of young women. Many parents have been convinced that the Pill was the solution to their daughter's period pains, acne, endometriosis or ovarian cysts, but the fact is that this carcinogenic treatment will only further compromise the health of teenage girls. What has been seriously overlooked is the fact that hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills are formulated with the same ingredients: estrogens and progestins. The main difference is that the Pill has higher amounts of these physiologically altering, carcinogenic, toxic drugs.
With the arrival of the continuous low dose Pill, normal menstrual cycles are now fair game for drug treatment. This has great appeal to young women, who have been brainwashed into believing that menstrual cycles are indeed a curse, not to mention a damned inconvenience. Nutritionally depleted diets, stress and environmental toxins--the real culprits of menstrual irregularities and hormonal imbalances--have been all but ignored by doctors. Why not just use a quick fix to shut the whole system down? Take a pill! Haven't we been here before? Reminiscent of recent HRT revelations, the mass prescribing of the continuous low dose Pill--without any long-term studies undertaken--amounts to a dangerous experiment being conducted on young women. However, it would be pointless to spend millions of dollars on such a study, since overwhelming evidence of how seriously the Pill compromises the health of young women already exists.
In the 1950s, the image of a world doomed by overpopulation was alarming scientists and governments in the industrialized West. Thus began a frantic rush to control population. This coincided with the discovery of a relatively inexpensive process for making synthetic estrogen and progesterone that could be used as contraceptives, known as the combined Pill. Even though as early as 1932 it was known that estrogen and progestin could cause cancer of the breast, womb, ovaries and pituitary glands in animal experiments, the Pill was believed to be an effective solution to the overpopulation crisis. Plans for manufacturing sex hormones were well underway and the required clinical trials were initiated. Nobel laureate Frederick Robbins expressed the prevailing attitude of the time when he addressed a meeting of the American Association of Medical Colleges, stating that "the dangers of the overpopulation are so great that we may have to use certain techniques of conception control that may entail considerable risk to the individual woman." And considerable risks they did contain. Envoid, the fist oral contraceptive, was given a clean bill of health by the US FDA in 1960 on the basis of clinical studies which involved only 132 Puerto Rican women who had taken the Pill for a year or longer.
Five women died during the study, but no effort was made to determine the cause of their deaths. Not surprisingly, the initial trials were flawed and inadequate. The fact that there was no evidence that the product was safe did not seem to be a cause of great concern to the researchers. In spite of what should have been a serious warning, the Pill was promoted with all the enthusiasm that the pharmaceutical companies could muster. Although it was known early on that the Pill caused blood clots, it wasn't until the mid-1970s that the death toll of heart attacks and strokes in young women began to get public attention. The prophetic warnings from some doctors--that the widespread rise in use of oral contraceptives would create health hazards on a scale previously unknown in medicine--were coming true. Statistics have confirmed that the early Pill users were up to 11 times more likely to have thrombo-embolisms. In effect, there are presently about 60 million women "trialing" the Pill around the world. It is evident that the early reassurances by governments and pharmaceutical companies were lies. A recent study for the Inspector General's Office of the US Department of Health and Human Services disclosed that more than 70% of oral contraceptive advertising to doctors is "misleading or unbalanced"--making contraceptives the most "deceptively advertised" category of prescription drug, with antibiotics in second place.
While the Pill in its many forms has been accepted successfully into the lifestyles of millions of women, the fact remains that the long-term effects from artificially altering a woman's normal and reproductive life created ill health, not only of the women themselves, but of future generations. The Pill allows experiments on the general population that would never be allowed as a planned experiment. How generous of women to be donating their bodies to medical science, even if no informed consent has ever been given. By 1975, the devastating effects from young Pill-takers dying from blood clots and heart attacks caused public outrage. The ensuing pressure from consumer groups convinced the FDA Commissioner to propose that oral contraceptives be accompanied by package inserts: full-length comprehensive warnings about possible side-effects of the recommended dosage. It was expected that there would be opposition from the manufacturers. What was not anticipated, however, were the heated attacks from the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It seemed that if the medical profession, not wanting to trigger undue alarm among patients, wasn't fully informing women of the risks, then no one else should either. With almost four decades of knowledge of the many side-effects of the Pill, there are still few doctors who adequately warn their patients of the many risks and potentially serious problems associated with taking the Pill.
Hormones are very powerful substances. Begin tampering with nature's finely tuned messengers of life's processes and you are asking for trouble. This is especially true for women. A woman's psyche is intimately connected to her monthly flow of hormones. Hormones not only direct and determine physiological processes but also influence emotional and psychological states. Besides controlling sexual development and function, hormones also help to control growth and muscle building, and regulate the digestive system, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and fluid balance. Hormones also hold the key to subjective feelings and changes in blood chemistry associated with stress. Hormonal imbalances not only create myriad health problems and diseases but can also undermine self-esteem, the sense of well-being, emotional balance and mental acuity.
The two main hormones in a woman's body are estrogen and progesterone. Nature has choreographed these two hormones to work together with exquisite timing and balance. Estrogen, which is produced in the first half of the fertility cycle, is responsible for the sexual development of females: the growth of breasts, the development of the reproductive system and the shape of the female body. It also stimulates the growth of cells preparing the endometrial lining for fertilization each month. The target organs of the breast, uterus and ovaries as well as the skin are particularly sensitive to estrogen. Progesterone halts estrogen's effect of rapid cell growth. It also develops the proliferative lining of the uterus, ensuring the implantation of a fertilized egg. Progesterone is known as the mother of all hormones since estrogen (estradiol, estrone, and estriol) and testosterone are all made from it. Progesterone is not only a sex hormone; it is also intricately involved in maintaining many other vital physiological functions.
In 1836, a surgeon named Cooper published his observation that the stage of the menstrual cycle influenced the speed of growth and division of breast cancer cells. They proliferated more rapidly in the early part of the cycle when ovaries are secreting estrogen. By 1896, the Lancet reported the experiments of Beatson who removed the ovaries of women with breast cancer, causing their advanced disease to go into remission. At the same time it was discovered that the secretions of the yellow cyst in the ovary prevented the release of any more eggs once a pregnancy had started. This gave rise to the idea that estrogen and progesterone could be used as a contraceptive. By 1932 it was known that estrogens and progestins could cause cancer of the breast, womb, ovaries and pituitary gland in experimental animals, but the plans for manufacturing sex hormones were well underway. The body's own internal hormones are endogenous, while those from outside, eaten in food or prescribed as medication, are exogenous.
Most estrogens, whether natural or endogenous, or synthetic and exogenous, like Premarin, still act exactly like estrogens, have the same action and attach themselves to estrogen receptors. All exogenous hormones tend to cause biochemical stress. When a woman is pregnant, levels of estrogen and progesterone rise and further egg production is stopped. The hormone levels continue to rise during pregnancy, signaling the brain to stop secreting its egg-stimulating hormones. The contraceptive Pill hormones mimic this effect and continually dupe the brain into thinking that pregnancy has occurred, thus suppressing ovulation. Present day oral contraceptives are made up of varying doses of estrogen-progestin formulations (the combination Pill) or progestin-only (the mini-pill, or implants such as Depo-Provera).
To varying degrees the various formulations of the Pill signal the brain to suppress ovulation. In addition, all formulations of the Pill cause alterations to cervical mucus. The cervical mucus may become thicker and hence make it more difficult for sperm to move through the neck of the cervix. This presents obvious difficulties when a woman decides to stop taking the Pill in the hope of becoming pregnant. Both the progestin-only and the estrogen-progestin formulations act to cause alterations to the lining of the womb, converting the proliferative nature of the endometrium--which is naturally designed to accept and sustain a fertilized ovum--to a secretory endometrium, which is a thin, devasculating lining, physiologically unreceptive to receiving and sustaining a zygote. The Pill also causes changes to the movement of the Fallopian tubes, which may alter the time taken for the passage of the ovum, and hence reduce the possibility of the ova being fertilized. Clearly when you tamper with a woman's hormones you are tampering with her most sensitive physiological and psychological processes. By interfering with these vital processes, many profound changes are initiated in a woman's body.
For the best part of two centuries we have known that sex hormones cause cancer in hormone-dependent tissues, such as in the breast. In 1940, around the time that pharmaceutical estrogenic chemicals were first appearing on the market, an American woman's lifetime risk of breast cancer was 1 in 20. In 1995, the risk was 1 in 8. Every study shows an increase now. The youngest users who may take the Pill for four years or longer prior to the birth of their first child have the highest risk of developing cancer from using the Pill, and the highest risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the potent artificial steroid drugs contained in the Pill. The Pill causes 150 chemical changes in a young woman's body. The prevailing myth that the Pill is a safe and natural way to correct hormonal imbalances has led to its widespread use in correcting teenagers' menstrual cycles or alleviating painful periods. Puberty has now been medicalized. Even though Nature often requires several years to help balance out a teenager's menstrual cycle, girls as young as 13 who complain of irregularities will all too often be recommended or prescribed the Pill, supposedly to help "regulate" their periods. Such common practices are both irresponsible and highly dangerous.
Women on the pill show a definite shift of parameters, including indicators as pH, resistance and redox potential in blood, urine and saliva, toward a malignant pattern within just a few months of starting to use it! Approximately one-third of breast cancers contain cell chains that hook up with estrogen molecules. Such tumors are called estrogen receptor positive, or ER+. Very simply, they grow when exposed to estrogen and shrink when their source of estrogen is withdrawn. From 1974 to 1985, the nationwide incidence of ER+ breast tumors rose 131%--about five times faster than the incidence of tumors without estrogen receptors. The risk is a potential time bomb with a fuse at least 15 to 20 years in length; this is a gamble, which is difficult to justify because of the large numbers of women at risk. This relationship is dose- and time-related. The higher the dose and the longer the exposure, the more cancer produced.
From Harvard School of Public Health, in a review paper published in Cancer: "data combined form case-control studies revealed a statistically significant positive trend in the risk of premenopausal breast cancer for women exposed to oral contraceptives for longer duration. This risk was predominant among women who used oral contraceptives for at least four years before their first-term pregnancy." The younger the women were at the time of diagnosis, the greater the possibility they would be dead within five years. This could be categorized as drug-induced vandalism of the female physiology. Instead of relying upon the Pill to "regulate" problem periods, girls would be much better off to correct the problem at its source through improved diet, nutritional supplements, exercise and attention to emotional stresses. It would save them from the horrors of breast cancer and the high risk of dying from the disease. The assault on women's breast health comes not only from the effects of estrogen but also from progestins. Depo-Provera, an injectable form of synthetic progestin should be of great concern to women. The British Medical Journal reported in 1989 that women who used progestin before the age of 25 increased their relative risk of breast cancer by 50%. For women using it for six or more years the risk increased significantly to 320%. Progestin stimulates breast tissue growth.
The most common cancer in young women is cervical cancer. With the introduction of the Pill, not only have the rates of cervical cancer increased, but also has the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The sexual freedom that the Pill ushered in was also responsible for more sexually transmitted infections or venereal diseases. Now up to one in five preconception patients, many of whom have taken the Pill for over five years, have a positive smear--a sign of very early cervical cancer--before they are 40 years old. A 1992 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reported that women starting on the Pill at an earlier age were at increased risk of cervical cancer compared with those starting later. The risk was 50% greater for Pill users. Many studies worldwide have shown increases in both squamous carcinoma of the cervix and the more rare adrenocarcinoma with prolonged Pill use. Women who have had a positive smear and continue to take hormones are more likely to develop more severe cancer. Invasive cervical cancer in young women is another reason for early-age hysterectomy. The Pill causes production of a type of cervical mucus, which makes it easier for cancer-causing agents to gain access to a woman's body. Mineral and vitamin deficiencies, especially deficiencies of folic acid, have been linked with cervical cancer. Such deficiencies are prevalent among hormone-takers and smokers.
The numbers of melanomas have increased sharply among young women in the principal Pill-taking countries of Australia, North America and Europe. It has been found that the tumors, like breast cancer cells, have estrogen receptors. It has also been found that women on HRT are also more likely to develop melanomas. Pill and HRT users are more likely to develop melanomas. By 1981, the overall increased risk for Pill users was statistically significant at three times. Stress, zinc deficiency and lack of protective antioxidants increase the chance of developing moles, any of which can change for the worse when hormones are taken.
Oral contraceptives may create certain nutrient deficiencies and excesses as well as increase the nutritional needs of the user. Most of the B vitamins, particularly pyridoxine (B6) and folic acid, are needed in higher amounts when birth control pills are taken. The copper level usually rises, and zinc levels often fall. Thus, more zinc is needed as well. An increased need for vitamins C, E, and K may also result from the use of birth control pills. In Nutrition and Vitamin Therapy, Michael Lesser, M.D., points out that birth control pills cause an alkaline imbalance in the vagina that may lead to increased susceptibility to infection.
Far from emancipating women, the Pill and other steroid hormone variations have condemned them to a life of potentially debilitating health risks and an early grave. We are only just beginning to realize the price we are paying for being part of a culture where fast food, fast cures and fast sex are predominant. There are safer, effective birth-control methods available--barrier methods such as diaphragms and low-toxin spermicides and condoms. There is also a highly effective method developed by Francesca Naish, author of the book Natural Fertility. Called Natural Fertility Management, it incorporates various methods to monitor fertile and non-fertile times naturally, rather than over-ride or manipulate them. Women using her technique are becoming highly attuned to their bodies and are not only reclaiming their health but are safely avoiding or achieving conception. Maintaining choice and control over one's reproductive freedom is the right of each woman in our modern-day culture.
However, perhaps it is time for women to rethink the entire Pill issue. Women are indeed recognizing that they have succumbed to a highly successful advertising and propaganda campaign promoting the joys of sexual reproductive freedom. In fact, the hidden agenda all along was to curb women's fertility through the use of synthetic hormones in the hope of putting the reins of the overpopulation problem. Along the way, it also spawned a multi-billion-dollar industry for the pharmaceutical companies and medical researchers. The change that is needed to stop the exploitation of women's health for profit will require women as well as conscientious health professionals to make new, informed safe choices. The health and well-being of millions of women worldwide and the health of future generations must no longer be sacrificed for any cause.
Being a teenage girl is challenging at the best of times. These days, it seems to be even tougher for both teenagers and their parents. Peer and social pressures, economic concerns, health problems, school work and family tensions all tilt the stress barometer into the dangerous red zone. Skipping meals, eating junk food and going on starvation diets is a way of life for teenagers these days. More than ever, teenagers seem to be burning the candle at both ends. The behaviors and decisions that young women make directly affect their physical and emotional well-being for the short and long term. As a result, their hormonal health is under siege. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), painful periods, irregular or absent periods, ovarian cysts, polycystic ovaries, fibrocystic breast disease (lumpy, painful breasts), endometriosis, hormonal migraines, acne, allergies, fatigue and mood swings are occurring in young women at epidemic rates. Many girls try to ignore their health problems, hoping they will disappear. Others schedule an appointment with their doctors. Odds are, they will leave the office with either a prescription for a drug or some variation of the Pill. Modern science, rather than perceiving hormonal imbalances as aberrations created by the many abuses of modern-day living, has convinced women that the underlying problem is menstruation itself and that natural reproductive cycles are dangerous and disease-producing and must be medicated. Women are also told that their reproductive system has become the enemy and is the primary cause for all their physical problems and emotional turmoil. The solution: shut it down. The method: steroidal hormones.
A long history predates this particular perspective. The venerable Greek fathers of medicine held similar views. Hippocrates posed the question, "What is woman?", and then supplied the answer: "Disease!" He also argued that fermentation in the blood precipitated menstruation, because women lacked the "male ability to dissipate the impurities in the blood gently and sweetly through perspiration." To his way of thinking, menstrual blood had a "noisome smell." Galen, another famous Greek philosopher, believed that menstrual blood was the residue of blood in food, which women, having inferior bodies, were unable to digest. The notion that menstruation is a rather unpleasant, if not downright toxic, process has been around for a very long time. So has the belief that the source of all women's suffering resides with her ovaries, uterus and menstrual flow. The science of medicine is notoriously misogynistic. While it would be comforting to think that living in the 21st century guaranteed a more enlightened appreciation of women's physiology, it would appear that we may have to wait another century or two for that momentous event finally to occur. When it comes to understanding and appreciating the wonders of the female physiology, modern medicine is moving at a galloping snail's pace.
A recent syndicated column by a highly respected Australian medical doctor was titled Period Disease. A question from a reader was posed to him: "My doctor told me recently that monthly periods are now regarded by some as a "disease" and totally preventable. Is this true?" His sagacious reply: "Why should women be burdened with loss of valuable blood each month, which is often not manufactured in similar amounts, often leading to anemia and chronic tiredness? Taking the active ingredients of the oral contraceptive pill daily, with no seven-day break, solves the problems." The short answer to that question of whether monthly periods are a disease was a wholehearted "Yes."
The sentiment that periods are a disease--or at least a most unwelcome, unproven and unsafe physiological process--seems to reflect a growing trend amongst members of the medical profession. They promote new scientific developments that can supposedly liberate women from their age-long debilitation, menstruation. Leading the charge to stamp out menstruation is the work of Dr. Elsimar Coutinho, Professor of Gynecology, Obstetrics and Human Reproduction at the Universidad Federal da Bahia in Brazil, as recounted in his book, Is Menstruation Obsolete? Dr Coutinho argues that regular monthly bleeding is not the "natural" state of women and that it actually places them at risk of several medical conditions of varying severity. The author maintains that while menstruation may be culturally significant, it is not medically meaningful. He asserts that prehistoric women had fewer than 160 periods in their lifetime. (The mind boggles at how rigorous the scientific method actually was in the conduct of that research.) On the other hand, modern women, who start menstruating earlier and spend less time pregnant, have more than 400 menstrual cycles.
As the champion of women's freedom, he believes that 21st century women should be able to choose the timing and frequency of their periods, just as they can now choose the timing and frequency of childbirth. From a medical point of view he sees menstruation as a failed process, having no beneficial effects; indeed, it can even be harmful to many women's health. In a nutshell, Dr Coutinho's work suggests that the most medically advanced "treatment" for menstruation would be its total cessation in all women of reproductive age.
The correct medical terminology is chemical castration. The intricate and profoundly complicated female reproductive system, which has undergone many hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary fine-tuning, has now been declared obsolete. Like a top-class magician, medical science now professes the rationale and the means to make menstruation disappear completely! The solution is simple: just give all women a continuous low-dose birth control pill. What progress! Dr Coutinho's theory has many physicians and researchers waxing lyrical, agreeing that there's no reason why women can't opt for fewer periods by extending the use of the Pill. Whether for easing health problems such as migraines or eliminating the inconvenience and messiness not to mention the expense of menstruation, the Pill can now be taken continuously for 84 days followed by a seven-day break. In this manner, women will only have a bleed four times a year.
Freedolph Anderson, lead researcher of the trials for the new continuous contraceptive pill Seasonale, which will make its debut in 2004, says: "We have more than 30 years experience of prolonged period suppression with [intravenous contraceptive] Depo-Provera; we know there are no health deficits and that women don't develop gynecological problems from not menstruating." Dr John Eden, Associate Professor of Reproductive Endocrinology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, reiterates that point of view: "Women are often healthier if they are on the Pill." So, now that medicine has conquered menstruation and drug companies' glossy marketing campaigns have succeeded in extolling the Pill's ever growing virtuosity, what has actually been achieved for all the young women who are being seduced by these promises? Are women really healthier on the Pill? Has prolonged period suppression with Depo-Provera been perfectly safe over those 30-plus years? Is this really a great victory or a catastrophe of unparalleled proportions for modern women?
Natural birth control methods are behavioral techniques for preventing pregnancy. They don't involve any physical barriers (like condoms or diaphragms), hormonal medications (such as the Pill) or spermicides. Used correctly and consistently , natural birth control methods can be fairly effective at preventing pregnancy. Depending on the method you choose and how disciplined you are about using it, you can prevent pregnancy 75 to 98 percent of the time. You'll have the highest success rate if you practice two or more natural birth control methods at the same time.
In this method, the man withdraws his penis from the woman's vagina before he ejaculates. The idea is to prevent sperm from reaching and fertilizing an egg. Withdrawal doesn't always work because the man must have enough control to pull out in time--a difficult thing to do during lovemaking. The other big problem with withdrawal is that during sex, even before ejaculation, the penis releases small amounts of semen that can contain sperm. Withdrawal isn't reliable: It's only 60 to 80 percent successful at preventing pregnancy.
Couples who use the calendar method abstain from sex during the week when they believe the woman is ovulating. This technique works best when a woman's menstrual cycle is extremely regular, or when she is so in tune with her body that she can feel all the ways it changes before she ovulates. Symptoms to watch for include breast tenderness, thickening cervical mucus discharge, and Mittelschmerz--mild achiness or twinges of pain from the ovaries felt by about one-fifth of women. Still, even when a woman knows her body well, other factors such as illness or insomnia can hamper her ability to correctly monitor symptoms. If you decide to use this method, you'll first need to keep track of how long your cycles lasts over the course of a year. Count the number of days from the day you start menstruating to the day before your next period. (The first day of your period is always the first day of your cycle.) Then, to determine the first day of the cycle on which you might be fertile, subtract 18 from the number of days in your shortest cycle during the past year.
To identify the day on which you can start having sex again, subtract 10 from the number of days in your longest cycle. If your cycles last between 26 and 29 days, for example, you'll have to avoid intercourse from day 8 through day 18 of each cycle. In truth, the calendar method doesn't work very well for most couples when used on its own; overall, it has about a 75 percent success rate. However, the calendar method can be effective when combined with the temperature and mucus methods described below. In fact, many couples use this system to get pregnant. They pinpoint ovulation so precisely that they know which days they should have sex on to conceive a child. To prevent pregnancy, you pinpoint the likely day of ovulation and then give yourself a no-sex buffer zone of a few days before that date and a few days after.
The temperature method is a way to pinpoint the day you ovulate so you can avoid sex a few days before and after that. For this method to work, you must take your basal body temperature (your temperature when your first wake up) every morning with a highly accurate "basal" thermometer, which shows the tiny incremental degree changes that a regular one can't. It's essential to do this as soon as you wake up, even before you've snuggled with your honey or put one foot on the floor. Note your exact temperature each morning on a calendar or basal body temperature chart.
Your basal body temperature (BBT) probably ranges from 97.2 to about 97.7 degrees before ovulation. During the two or three days after you ovulate, hormonal changes cause a rise in your BBT of between 0.5 and 1.6 degrees, which lasts at least until your next period. You'll probably notice your temperature spiking on other days, but unless it stays that way, you probably haven't ovulated yet. If your temperature stays elevated for at least two days, you'll know that ovulation has occurred and you're fertile--so you should steer clear of sex. The window of opportunity for carefree sex starts two to three days later, when your temperature goes back down as your next menstrual cycle begins. This method isn't reliable when your temperature is already elevated because of illness or infection. Too little sleep can also throw your resting body temperature off. But when combined with the mucus method, the temperature method is a fairly accurate way of assessing fertility. If you use these two methods correctly and consistently, the success rate can be as high as 98 percent. For more information on fertility awareness.
This method involves tracking changes in the amount and texture of your vaginal discharge, the mucus that forms around your cervix. Those changes reflect the rising level of estrogen in your body. For the first few days after your period, you may have no discharge at all. Then you'll notice a cloudy, tacky mucus as your estrogen starts to rise. When the discharge starts to increase in volume and becomes clear and stringy like raw egg white, you'll know that ovulation is near. A return to either tacky, cloudy mucus or no discharge means that ovulation has passed. You should avoid intercourse from the day you first notice the discharge until four days after it's gone back to normal or disappeared. A vaginal infection or the use of vaginal products like douches or medication can produce changes in your cervical mucus and throw off the pattern. When used--correctly and consistently--in conjunction with the temperature method, the mucus method can be 98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM)
The female body, has a knack for protecting itself against pregnancy in the case of women who have recently given birth. Research has recently proven what many women have always known: breastfeeding disrupts women's menstrual and ovulatory cycles in such a way as to render women temporarily infertile. Their bodies create their own biological "miracles" by failing to fully develop these women's eggs throughout the duration of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding's disruption of a woman's natural cycle is both complex and fascinating. Somehow the suckling of an infant upon the breast of the mother sends a signal to the body, changing the flow of hormones throughout her body that control her menstrual cycle. These hormones trigger the developement of the follicle on the ovary and the onset of menstruation itself. Some experts say that as long as you've had no periods since you gave birth, are nursing at least every four hours during the day and every six at night, and your baby is less than 6 months old, you won't get pregnant. But every woman's body responds differently to the hormonal influences of breastfeeding, so even if you're nursing your newborn all the time, you might be wise to consider yourself fertile. LAM is risky because you'll probably ovulate before you get your first period, so you can get pregnant without warning. And studies have shown that getting pregnant too soon after giving birth can increase your chances of pregnancy complications, such as preterm labor, and of having a low-birthweight baby.
Natural birth control methods aren't the best postpartum contraceptive choices because they require a lot of time and energy to be effective, and as a new mom you're probably short on both. Also, these methods work best on women with regular periods and it takes time for your period to become regular again after giving birth. They also have fairly low effectiveness rates and some studies suggest that getting pregnant too soon after giving birth can increase your chances of pregnancy complications, such as preterm labor, and of having a low-birthweight baby.