The Pill does not regulate your menstrual cycle: why we facilitate normal hormonal cycling to support menstruation and treatment of symptoms.
The menstrual cycle, also known as the moon cycle exists as the result of an orchestrated symphony involving many hormone pathways from the brain to the ovaries. There is a natural fluctuation in the hormones every month that includes an estrogen dominant follicular phase, followed by ovulation and then a progesterone dominant luteal phase. When these fluctuations become imbalanced, symptoms such as heavy bleeding, missed periods, lack of ovulation, bleeding between periods, premenstrual symptoms (bloating, mood changes, back pain, breast tenderness), and acne can occur. Abnormal functioning of other endocrine systems (thyroid, adrenal glands) as well as the gastrointestinal tract can also contribute to a disruption in normal sex hormone cycling. This is one of the greatest benefits of taking the time to do a thorough history, physical exam and lab testing with patients to better direct treatment and lifestyle changes when these symptoms are occurring.
Often times, I see female patients in the office who have been prescribed oral contraceptive pills (OCP’s) in order to “regulate” their cycles and correct some of these symptoms. The truth is that when on OCP’s a cycle is no longer occurring. The reason is that the body is falsely put into a pregnant state and is no longer ovulating as a result. The synthetic hormones (often a combined estrogen and progesterone pill) cause progesterone levels to be higher than estrogen levels consistently for 21 days. On day 22 when the synthetic hormones are discontinued for 7 days a “withdrawal bleed” occurs. Some contraception options (depo provera, continuously taking OCP’s without a break, and often the Mirena IUD) result in a lack of any type of bleeding. A passion for me is to educate people of all ages about the variety of contraception options available as well as to inform about the effects of synthetic hormones in the body. OCP’s do not come without side effects and can include: spotting between withdrawal bleeds, vaginal infections, bloating, changes in weight, depression, and mood swings. Additionally, it’s important to honour the incredible function and benefit that the menstrual cycle provides to women. The menstrual blood is rich in immune cells and is very cleansing for the vaginal canal due to its antibacterial and antiviral properties. We cannot forget it provides us the very beautiful gift of childbearing.
Instead of masking an underlying hormonal imbalance it’s important to determine the cause of it. Symptoms may be pointing towards an underlying hormone imbalance, nutrient deficiency, or even a benign space-occupying lesion (fibroids or cysts). It’s important to begin to address the cause(s) of these symptoms in order to support the natural hormonal rhythm. Ways to address this may be through implementing nutrition and lifestyle changes as well as nutraceutical and herbal support where needed. Lastly, I think it’s important to weigh out the pros and cons of contraception options before choosing one that works for you.
To find out more about your own menstrual cycle and alternative forms of contraception get in touch with your naturopathic physician. Happy cycling!
Claudia Welch. (2011) “Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life”.
Cacchioni, Thea. (2015) “Big Pharma, Women, and the Labour of Love”.
Novak,B. 2011 Berek and Novak’s Gynecology 14th ed.