“Periods have no health benefit” claimed this recent article in The Guardian. It explores how many women are taking The Pill continuously to stop their periods because they are so difficult. But are there other options?
There’s certainly no shortage of evidence that many women really struggle with their periods. I did for 30 years. I totally get why the woman mentioned in the article whose periods last for 8 weeks would want them to stop.
However, there is little or no understanding in our culture that our menstrual cycle does have benefits. We need to be aware that we lose these if we take hormonal contraception, like The Pill.
Periods are our natural stress-detector
Our menstrual cycle is the first part of our body that gets knocked by stress. It is the only body system that is not essential for us to stay alive. Our lungs must breathe air, our heart must pump blood, and our stomach must digest food. Reproduction however is optional (in the short-term at least, otherwise we’d obviously die-out as a species!). So, if our periods are problematic, there is either something medically wrong or something majorly out-of-balance with our health and well-being. Such problems are an indicator to look at how we live and make improvements. Taking hormonal contraceptives like The Pill may ease the symptoms but do nothing to address the cause(s). Periods are our natural “stress detector” – and it doesn’t take much stress to push them out of kilter. Simply living a busy twenty-first century life can be enough. But there are ways we can learn to navigate the challenges of our cycle.
Periods are our time to recharge
Because we keep going all the time, doing the same sort of thing every day of our menstrual cycle we don’t realise that periods arour built-in system to rest and recharge. If we don’t ease up at this time, I truly believe that with each cycle we become a little bit more tired. After many cycles, when we are in our 30s or 40s this accumulates into out and out exhaustion or even burnout. If we stop our periods by taking The Pill or other hormonal contraception, we lose out on this innate opportunity to refuel our tank. This is so important for our overall, long-term health and well-being.
Periods don’t have to be expensive
Period products are expensive. Research shows we spend £10 per month on them. But you can save a significant amount of money if you buy reusables like cloth pads and silicone cups. A set of cloth pads will pay for itself in 6 months. Thereafter they are effectively free. If they last 5 years (they can last longer) then you’ll save over £500 during that time. Not to mention that reusables have a much lower environmental impact too.
Western medicine not the only way
It may be true that periods have no medical benefit, as The Guardian article debates. But only if you believe that western medicine is the only lens through which to view your health and well-being. Whilst western medicine is brilliant at dealing with many health conditions, there are many it still does not understand and cannot treat let alone cure. Nor has it worked out how the mind, body and emotions interrelate – though clearly, they do. There is also little knowledge about the menstrual cycle’s effect on other aspects of our health and disease. The research simply has not been done. A lot of what we think we know about medical conditions is based on research done on men. Not on women nor taking account of the effect that our changing levels of oestrogen and progesterone has on other body functions.
A limited offer
There’s no doubt that hormonal contraceptives like The Pill can help with period and cycle problems. The trouble is that is ALL that our doctors offer women who come to them with pain and suffering.
My experience is that there is no mention, let alone support of any kind, of learning to live with women’s natural hormonal changes. They are often seen as an aberration that needs fixing. In levelling out the hormones, by taking The Pill for example, everything else about a woman becomes levelled out too – her emotions, her varied and valuable modes of thinking, her energy levels, her sexual desire, her connection with her cyclical nature.
Contraceptives – like any drug – have side effects. These are not properly explained to women when contraceptives are offered. For example, the NHS’s leaflet “Your Guide to Long-acting reversible contraception” has only one reference to “side effects” in one of the four contraceptives it explains. I’ve taken The Pill twice in my life and neither time did the doctor explain the side effects. And it does have side effects. The combined pill can cause mood swings, nausea, breast tenderness and headaches and has a very low risk of serious side effects, such as blood clots and cervical cancer.
Other options are simply not on the table – like healthy eating, more sleep, living in sync with our natural cyclical changes, adjusting our yoga or other exercise to suit where we are in our cycle. Yet these can be transformative. I’ve heard so many stories of women who’s lives and cycle problems have been totally changed for the better through such options. The yoga sequence (available in my book: Yoga and the menstrual cycle – live in harmony with your natural rhythm) that I created especially for period time got rid of my period pain. Avoiding junk food and finding an expressive outlet for my premenstrual anger eliminated my PMS.
Making an informed choice
So how can a woman weigh up the pros and cons of hormonal contraception and the other options that can make an ENORMOUS difference?
How can she make an informed choice?
She can’t. Because she isn’t given all the information.
I totally agree with The Guardian article’s conclusion that each woman should choose for herself. But now the standard offer is: do you want period pain, heavy bleeding and PMS-so-bad-you-cannot-function? Or do you want hormonal contraceptives?
That is not a choice.
Let’s give every woman ALL the options and ALL the pros and cons and then she can decide what’s best for her.
Tips to help you decide
1. If you have period or menstrual cycle problems, do not suffer in silence. Keep a note of your symptoms and which days of your cycle they appear (Day 1 is the first day of your period). Then go to your doctor. This will enable a diagnosis and treatment if the cause of your symptoms is a medical condition – or provide reassurance if it is not.
2. It is crucial to have a supportive doctor who is able to explain risks, benefits and alternative options, not solely prescribe medication – if yours is not, get a second opinion or find another doctor.
3. If you have no medical condition but you are struggling and need your symptoms to improve, research ALL the options to work out the pros and cons. The NHS is a good website for western medicine. If you are considering The Pill or other hormonal contraception read The Pill – are you sure it’s for you by the wonderful Jane Bennett and Alexandra Pope. Follow the lifestyle and yoga tips in my book: Yoga and the menstrual cycle – live in harmony with your natural rhythm or contact me for lifestyle and yoga mentoring. Check out complementary health practitioners like homeopaths, acupuncturists or herbalists.
4. If your symptoms are severe and hormonal contraception seems the best option for you then make that decision and that’s okay. It may really help you through your current struggle whilst you are able to look into and line up additional support for the long-term.