Drug companies are marketing new birth control pills that offer women more choices over controlling the length of their periods, but researchers still don’t know the long term effects
By Jessica Hall
Ladies, prepare for a multi-million dollar marketing campaign aimed at you and how often you choose to have your period. The drug companies will now offer you a menu of menstrual cycle suppression options. Choose from the four below:
• A regular monthly period
• Only three days a month
• 4 times a year/every three months
• Once a year
Sound appealing? Maybe you should know at bit more about them first. These new birth control pills are strictly about reducing the number of menstrual cycles you will have each year, and they also prevent pregnancy just like the regular birth control pills. But the newest additions to the market revolve around menstrual cycle suppression, and this is where the controversy begins.
Our bodies are regulated by hormones, and these new pills bring up the question of the effects of fiddling around with women’s hormones. This is especially true for adolescent girls whose female cycle is just starting to kick in. In a recent New York Times article, several doctors and consumers said that menstruation is indicative of what is happening hormonally in a woman’s body, and that more research is needed on long-term effects of interrupting women’s periods since the hormones impact more than just the menstrual cycle.
Since March 2006, two brands of pills, Yaz® 28 and Loestrin® 24 Fe, packaged to shorten women’s periods hit the market. These oral contraceptives contain 24 active pills and only four placebos, allowing for shorter periods. In addition, while women can limit their periods with any oral contraceptive, there are two particular brands, Seasonale (approved in 2003) and Seasonique (approved in 2006), that are packaged to restrict menstruation to every three months. Lybrel, pending FDA approval, allows women to skip their period a year at a time.
When the active pills are taken everyday without interruption, women can skip their periods. But the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research takes the position that “continuous oral contraceptive use should not be prescribed to all menstruating women out of a rejection of a normal, healthy menstrual cycle.” They feel that additional research on menstruation suppression is necessary for women to make an informed decision. In particular, they are concerned about how skipping periods affects adolescents because their bodies are still developing and because of the lack of research with this age group.
Some gynecologists argue there is no medical benefit to monthly menstruation for women on the pill since what they experience is not a true period. A period while not on the pill is the result of the shedding of the uterine lining. The pill prevents the build-up of the lining, so there is no reason to shed it. The bleeding that occurs while taking the pill is due to unbalanced hormone levels.
The new oral contraceptives offer women more choices over controlling the length of their periods. However, researchers still don’t know the long term effects these pills will have on women. Be sure to get educated about them first before deciding to cut your menstrual cycle short.