Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Cover story in New York Magazine questions The Pill

November 30th, 2010 by Giovanna Chesler
The Pill makes the cover of NY Mag

The Pill makes the cover of NY Mag

Rare is the feature on women’s health from a magazine hip to New York City’s nightlife, dining, arts and entertainment.  Within the past two months alone the magazine featured articles on the Julie Taymor Spiderman play, Jimmy Fallon and John Stewart. Not what one might consider provoking and thoughtful. Yet this week’s issue arrived with a juicy six page article titled Waking Up From the Pill that asks readers to consider the side effects of hormonal birth control.

The author begins her journey at a 50th anniversary celebration for the Pill, hosted by a pharmaceutical company, for “a couple-hundred bejeweled women in gowns” who toast to the Pill’s gift of reproductive freedom for women.  But author Vanessa Grigoriadis notes a stunning social side effect of hormonal birth control – that women are waiting to conceive, particularly women in New York who “have shifted their attempts at conception back about ten years. And the experience of trying to get pregnant at that age amounts to a new stage in women’s lives, a kind of second adolescence.” She adds that this period is marked by anxiety and obsessions.

Interestingly, Grigoriadis elides information on the Pill’s physical side effects like increased risk of blood clots, strokes, decreased sexual drive and the like, and focuses only on the social side effects. Perhaps fearing a lawsuit, her language strongly connects infertility solely to durational use of the Pill that lingers beyond a woman’s natural reproductive age. “The Pill didn’t create the field of infertility medicine, but it turned it into an enormous industry. Inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect.” Be sure to read on.

Painful Periods as Predictor of Endometriosis?

November 29th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

endometriosis_and_adhesionA cross-sectional study published in the November, 2010, issue of Fertility and Sterility reports that very painful menstrual periods during the teen years (that is, period pain so severe that girls miss school) may be predictive of an increased risk of developing deep infiltrating endometriosis (DIE), the most extensive form of endometriosis.

In a study of 229 women undergoing surgery for endometriosis, French researchers found that those with the most extensive form — known as deep infiltrating endometriosis (DIE) — were more likely to have had particularly painful periods as teenagers.

As a group, they were four times as likely as women with non-DIE endometriosis to have used birth control pills to treat severe menstrual pain before the age of 18. And they were 70 percent more likely to say they’d missed school days because of menstrual symptoms.

Although these findings may help women receive a diagnosis of endometriosis sooner,* it is unclear whether progression to DIE (what an unfortunate acronym!) can be prevented. And there is no real cure for endometriosis.

*As we reported previously in writing about Kate Seear’s research about the diagnostic delay in treating endometriosis, the delay is non-trivial: research estimates an average delay of 8 years in the UK and 11 years in the US.

Weekend Links

November 28th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

The Don’t Do Drugs

November 24th, 2010 by Holly Grigg-Spall

15 Dangerous Drugs Big Pharma Shoves Down Our Throats


Alternet recently posted a list of the drugs most likely to make you sick. Writer Martha Rosenberg’s ’15 Dangerous Drugs Big Pharma Shoves Down Our Throats’ contained some startling choices.

Yaz is there, described as a “too good to be true” birth control pill that purported to do away with acne, bloating and PMS but ended up causing the deaths of many young women from blood clots and gall bladder disease. Interestingly, she points out that although the pharmaceutical company Bayer has seen a sales slump of late this has been attributed to the appearance of a generic, cheaper version of the pill, and not women’s suspicion of its side effects. This is a testament to the power of the company’s aggressive marketing campaign, and the pull of Yaz’s promise.  I have written at length on my blog, Sweetening the Pill, about the impact Yaz had on my health – from the UTIs to the paranoia – but still when I saw Bayer would be releasing a rebranded version of the drug – Beyaz, with added vitamin B – I still felt tempted to try it. My life has been entirely transformed since ditching the Pill after ten years and looking back I can see very clearly how Yaz destroyed my body and mind, but I am still a woman living in a Pill-pushing culture just trying to avoid the self-doubt I’m sold on every day.

The birth control pill was the first drug created for and prescribed to healthy people. Its release was a catalyst for the industry, showing that although pills for sick people could make a profit, pills for healthy people could make millions. The Pill had a massive potential market of fertile women, and soon became a cure-all for any ailment seen as specific to them. This paved the way for another medicine on Alternet’s list – Lipitor – the heart-attack preventer drug, on which Martha Rosenberg writes:

“”My older patients literally do without food so that they can buy these medicines that make them sicker, feel bad, and do nothing to improve life,” says an ophthalmologist web poster from Tennessee. “There is no scientific basis for treating older folks with $300+/month meds that have serious side-effects and largely unknown multiple drug interactions.” What kinds of side effects? All statins can cause muscle breakdown but combining them with antibiotics, protease inhibitors drugs and anti-fungals increases your risks. In fact, Crestor is so highly linked to muscle breakdown it is double dissed: Public Citizen calls it a Do Not Use and the FDA’s David Graham named it one of the five most dangerous drugs before Congress.”

Lipitor is the best-selling drug in the world because its market is huge – healthy people holding any risk of heart attack, or just holding the fear of a heart attack are the demographic. Whereas the Pill is confined to female parameters, Lipitor also hooks men. Those behind the Pill had to first convince women that stopping ovulation is okay, then that menstruation is at best bothersome and unattractive, and at worst dangerous. Lipitor had a lost less work to do.

Since moving from the UK to the US I have been shocked by the casual use of Ambien that I’ve seen here. This drug also seems to be gathering cure-all status despite actually only reducing the get-to-sleep time by 18 minutes. Despite high profile cases of Ambien inducing users to act – drive, make phone calls, have sex – in their sleep, it is taken with an easy, carefree attitude. Martha Rosenberg remarks increased uptake has been linked to higher rates of traffic accidents and national overweight statistics – as users find themselves crashing cars and eating junk food whilst under the influence. The sleep cycle can usefully be considered alongside the menstrual cycle as important fixtures of a life led at optimum wellness – a topic I have written on previously. Lack of sleep impacts on hormone levels with a range of negative consequences. As we see more magazine articles advocating eight hour a night sleep routines people have been reaching for the Ambien, rather than the relaxation techniques.

The hormone drugs Prempro and Premarin are listed with these statistics: “26 percent increase in breast cancer, 41 percent increase in strokes, 29 percent increase in heart attacks, 22 percent increase in cardiovascular disease, double the rates of blood clots and links to deafness, urinary incontinence, cataracts, gout, joint degeneration, asthma, lupus, scleroderma, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and lung, ovarian, breast, endometrial, gall bladder and melanoma cancers.” However Pfizer is still testing such pills for proof of their benefits, hoping to come up with a ‘lite’ – rebranded – version to sell.

The article lists other medicines classed as “once-unapprovable drugs” that are only now available as a result of the FDA “transferring risk onto the public’s shoulders with “we warned you” labels.” As the writer highlights, “The warnings are supposed to make people make their own safety decisions. Except that people just think FDA wouldn’t have approved it if it weren’t safe.” Warning labels and inserts were first produced for the birth control pill after women protested that they were not fairly informed of the early version of the drug’s ability to provoke cancer, blood clots and chronic depression. After the trials that questioned the release of the Pill in the late 60s this ‘victory’ for women was essentially a move by the industry to shirk responsibility and make women coconspirators. By linking the Pill to the concepts of freedom and choice, the phamaceutical companies could ignore the need for real informed consent and use millions of willing as experiments for money-making schemes. As is suggested in the article, we should all really receive ‘test subject’ compensation.

Hormone Therapy and the Brain

November 24th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Medical-Anatomical-Superior-half-of-diseased-brainSo there’s a surge today in news stories about how hormone treatment for menopause (popularly known as ‘hormone replacement therapy’ or HRT) benefits the brain, apparently based on publicity over this study published in Hormones and Behavior. In media interviews, the researchers suggest that HT enhances the communication between left and right sides of the brain, making the older women’s brains more similar to those of younger women. The researchers had the women perform tasks designed to demonstrate fine motor coordination, such as tapping buttons with different fingers. Of the 62 women in the study, the 36 on hormone treatments showed higher levels of motor coordination, leading the researchers to conclude that hormone treatments, especially estrogen, “exert positive effects on the motor system thereby counteracting an age-related reorganization.”

Admittedly, I have not read the entire study, just the abstract and press summaries, but would you consider me too cynical if I suggested that the publicity this research report is receiving is more about promoting the use the hormones among menopausal women than the significance of the research findings?

More news about irregular cycles

November 22nd, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Last week, we reported that new research shows a relationship between irregular menstrual cycles and sleep difficulties. Now we learn that irregular menstrual cycles are associated with a higher risk of both type 2 diabetes and coronary disease.  As we’ve said many times, the menstrual cycle doesn’t happen just in the uterus and vagina; it is part of a complex system, affecting nearly every other bodily system, and a window into women’s health.

Weekend Links

November 20th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

The Menstrual Cycle and the Sleep Cycle

November 18th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

New research confirms what many of our readers already suspected: the menstrual cycle affects one’s quality of sleep. A study of 931 women with sleep complaints, published in the December 2010 issue of Climacteric, found that it’s not just hot flashes that interrupt sleep: women with irregular cycles were more likely to report difficulties falling asleep and insomnia symptoms.

Don’t Just Take Yaz, Be Yaz

November 17th, 2010 by Holly Grigg-Spall

yaz-tv-commercial-300x168Despite facing ever-rising numbers of lawsuits over their top-selling drug – birth control pill Yaz – the Bayer pharmaceutical company has released a rebranded version, with added vitamin B. Despite, or perhaps as a result of, the mounting claims for compensation made by those who believe Yaz, or more specifically the synthetic progesterone component of Yaz – drospirenone, caused their stroke, blood clot or heart attack or that of their now dead or disabled loved one, the company has seen fit to produce a modified alternative to improve on the risk of other, lesser known side effects.

Bayer suggests that Beyaz, with its added levomefolate calcium – a form of folic acid, which is a B vitamin – will alleviate the possibility of pregnancy complications and birth defects produced by the original Yaz pill. Yaz causes folate deficiency which creates problems if a woman falls pregnant whilst taking the drug, or soon after stopping. In the press release sent out by Bayer last week, the company stated that Beyaz would provide ‘folate supplementation’ – admitting in subtext that Yaz causes this deficiency and that the millions of women taking Yaz as the most popular birth control pill in the US and Europe have therefore experienced deficiency in a type of vitamin B seen as vital enough to necessitate the creation of a new drug.

Just as it seemed possible Yaz might be taken off the market, here is Yaz, new and improved. Except Beyaz still contains drospirenone, the claimed cause of not only serious physical side effects – but also a negative mental and emotional impact documented by women across the Internet.

Bayer is focusing on the effect of folate deficiency on pregnancy and the unborn. This choice suggests Bayer’s marketing department is aware that most women taking the Pill aren’t wanting to get pregnant, aren’t planning on getting pregnant soon and therefore will dismiss folate deficiency as nothing to worry over, yet. Although some women may be alarmed at their suggestion that you can get pregnant when on the Pill. A little research reveals folate supplementation has been linked in studies to a decrease in stroke and thrombosis risk – a subtext Bayer could not print without admitting blame and accepting the law suit claims.

The production of pharmaceuticals is a billion dollar industry and it is, unfortunately, necessary to assume moves are made for money and the market and not in the hope of improving the lives of women. The less sick, or deceased women, the less lawsuits, and the more money to be made for Bayer. The creation of Beyaz suggests Bayer cares, and has the interests of women at heart, but essentially it is a cynical ploy to win back the loyalty of the many women who have become suspicious of Yaz, and consequently the Pill as a whole, due on the controversies and, most importantly, their own experiences.

Bayer has created a product that will solve a problem caused by one of its products, and make money from this. Even more ludicrous than that, it is ‘solving’ a problem by making an addition to a Pill that is causing the problem, in the hope the negative impact on the body will be balanced out. Bayer could have told its customers that they need to take a folic acid supplement when using Yaz, or eat foods rich in folic acid, instead of creating Beyaz.

Folate deficiency holds more issues than those stated by the company – sufferers can experience weakness, fatigue, irritability and difficulty concentrating – to name just a few. If Yaz produces a folate deficiency, it is also right to assume it is producing deficiency in other B vitamins, and other vitamins generally. By highlighting the issue, Bayer is revealing a more profound concern. There has been speculation that Yaz also creates a B12 deficiency – and it is logical speculation – and this can lead to psychosis, depression and personality changes. Intake of B vitamins of any kind is inextricably linked to good mental and emotional health.

A quick scan of blogs, including my own – Sweetening The Pill– and forums across the web shows many women taking Yaz experienced symptoms indicative of personality changes, and particularly depression. The new drug’s name implies we can Be Yaz, not just take Yaz – when many women have felt for a long time that Yaz has affected their very being and sense of self. The mental and emotional impact of Yaz is not  down to B vitamin deficiency alone, and will not be rectified by supplementation.

And back to Bayer’s claims – doctors are beginning to advise a woman be off the Pill for several months before trying to get pregnant to ensure avoidance of the problems Beyaz is meant to solve. Yaz has long come with the warning that it is not to be taken by pregnant women. It would be interesting to know what statistics Bayer used to ascertain how many women get pregnant on Yaz and stay pregnant. Surely many miscarry as a result of Yaz’s impact, or choose an abortion – perhaps even as a direct result of such warnings. Would taking the same Pill with a B vitamin supplement be enough?

How the Birth Control Pill Works: An Illustrated Guide

November 17th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling


[Source: Jackie, Let’s Be Honest]

Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.