Are Periods Just an 'Option' for Those on the Pill?
Experts Argue the Merits of Ending Monthly Ritual
WebMD News Archive
Ellertson says there's no reason to assume that monthly periods are
"natural" or "normal." She notes that women today have more
periods than did their foremothers for various reasons.
As such, Ellertson maintains that the medical value of menstruation is
largely unstudied and unproven. "It is unclear how many periods women need
to have per year or per lifetime," she says. Ellertson disagrees with the
belief that the monthly shedding of the uterine lining, which is what forms the
menstrual discharge, is necessary in women who are already taking the hormones.
She says that women who are on the pill are already having "artificial"
periods induced by the hormones in their medication.
"There are some women who like the monthly reminder that they are not
pregnant and that their pills are working," Ellertson says. "But with
modern pills, the failure rates are so low that more women are inclined to
trust these methods. Plus, women have access to cheap and effective pregnancy
tests" for added reassurance.
While it is probably not unsafe to suppress one's period for a few months at
a time, today's oral contraceptive pills weren't designed for this purpose,
counters Donna Shoupe, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the
University of Southern California. Shoupe, who reviewed the Lancet
article for WebMD, also disputes Ellertson's contention that monthly periods
aren't medically necessary.
"It is a very delicate balance between having enough estrogen for the
rest of the body and not stimulating the lining" of the uterus to thicken.
"[If] it builds up and you don't slough it off, you can get cancer,"
Shoupe says modern birth control pills are extremely useful in solving many
of the problems associated with menstrual cycles, including PMS symptoms,
cramping, and heavy bleeding. In her practice, fully 50% of her patients are
taking oral contraceptives for some goal other than contraception. For
most women on the pill, getting their period "really isn't that bad,"
- An expert on reproductive health has written an essay questioning the role
of menstruation in women's health and whether birth control should be used to
stop it altogether.
- She offers up as evidence that there are no health benefits to having a
monthly period and there are no reasons to assume this is "natural" or
- One critic argues that using contraception to prevent menstruation could
stimulate the lining of the uterus to thicken and cause cancer, and she adds
that for most women on birth control pills, monthly menstruation isn't all that