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To Bleed Or Not To Bleed

When I was a kid, and for a few years after that, the food company Del Monte ran adds which featured the tag line "It's not nice to mess with Mother Nature". Needless to say that was meant to assure consumers that the product was as near fresh picked as could be possible for something bought in a can.

It's just a pity that the same catchy slogan can't be stapled to the foreheads of people in the employ of pharmaceutical companies. They seem intent on seeing how far they can push the human body away from the natural order of things. This is especially true in the case of women's menstrual cycles.

The latest attempt comes from the pharmaceutical giant Wyeth and their new birth control pill Anya which would complete eliminate a woman's menstrual cycle. Unlike previous versions of the pill that had a seven-day off period that allowed for a woman's period, Anya would be taken every day for the course of the cycle preventing menstruation.

Instead of releasing the traditional almost 50mg of estragon a pill, Anya would release 25mg, but over a longer time. Thus preventing the menstrual cycle without increasing the amount of estragon being taken by the patient. Currently the only drug on the market that is available for women that will stop their period is Depo Provera a three-month hormone shot.

Initial informal polls done at the Museum of Menstruation in Maryland showed that four out of five women who visited liked the idea of not ever having to have a period again while 50% of the women polled in the medical magazine Contraception also shared that opinion. (The Menstruation Museum closed its doors in 1999 and exists online only and this poll was conducted online as a request for letters in response to the question, "Would you stop Menstruating if you could?" The only references to Contraception Magazine I was able to find online were either offers for magazine subscriptions – over $200.00 per year – and references to articles being published in the magazine.)

Naturally there is some debate among the medical and research profession as to the value and dangers of this product. According to Dr. Robert Reid, a professor of obstetrics and genecology at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario there is no more risk in taking Anya than in taking regular birth control pills; if you're a smoker it will increase your chances of stroke and heart attack for example.

He also sees nothing wrong with a woman stopping having a monthly menstrual flow, and said in Saturday June 24th's Globe and Mail that a woman's period actually might increase her chances of infection each month and that "there's no evidence that you're getting rid of toxins in your body"

Dr. Jerilynn Prior, an endocrinologist and the scientific director of the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research at the University of British Columbia is highly critical of this pill, and in same article explains that most of her concerns come from the fact that we still don't know the extent of the side effects caused by the original pill. She also brings up the whole "Don't mess with Mother Nature argument."

She points out that menstruation is an "intricate cycle… and a vital sign of our health." Messing with it at this level, she believes is a horrible thought. She thinks that the continuous use pill is just a way for the pharmaceutical companies to jazz up an old product.

What it sounds like is that Health Canada will approve this drug with certain provisos. The basic one being that all women who take the drug will have to enrol in a program where they have to have medical follow-ups every six months. There is no mention about how long that program will in place for, or what Health Canada deems to be long enough to gauge whether or not their will be any ill effects felt by women.

Not being a woman it may not seem appropriate for me to comment on this product, but being appropriate has never been a problem for me before so it's not going to stop me now. I'm sure the appeal for most women will be the convenience; no more having to worry about what you can and can not wear for one week out of every month, no more horrible cramps, no more having to strap on or insert something inside of you every month to mop up blood.

Put like that it sounds just great doesn't it? Free of the curse, as it has been so nicely called by some segments of society. No more thinking of yourself as unclean once a month as so many societies call it. The stigma that's been attached to a woman's cycle for so many years has reduced one of the major distinguishing characteristics of being a mammal to being something dirty that's not talked about in proper society.

There have been many societies where this has not been the case, where a woman's cycle has been taken as a sign of her power of creation, not as a curse. In some Native American nations the women were released from all responsibilities during their cycle. They would gather in a special lodge set aside for them so they could spend the time away from the cares of their day-to-day existence and do whatever they wanted.

If that meant sleeping, sitting up and talking, or praying, it didn't matter, and was left up to the individual person to decide. Instead of trying to hide the fact that women bleed it was recognized as being part of life and accommodated. It was understood that they might need to rest, that their hormones would be out of balance, but most of all they weren't made to feel dirty or unclean.

But a whole industry has been built around convincing women that one week out of the month they are less than perfect, there is something wrong with them, and they have to take steps to ensure that no one knows. Imagine growing up having that being driven into your head all the time?

Think about it guys, how would you feel if something you had no control over made you, at best, an object of derision every month, down on through being told that you have to hide away a part of what defines your gender. What is it about that one bodily function that makes people so uptight and afraid? Everybody always talks about the miracle of birth, but nobody seems to want to admit that it might be because of a woman's bleeding every month that it happens.

Well you know what, I'll let you in on a secret; you can't have one without the other. Shocking news isn't it. If a woman doesn't menstruate she won't have babies. Okay so that's a little sarcastic, but sometimes you have to wonder if the sellers of all this stuff covering up or preventing menses don't want you making the connection between the two.

Why else would they make it something you want to hide, or get rid of, like it serves no purpose? Perhaps because if we admitted how important menstruation was in the grand scheme of things we might end up not treating it with such disdain and actually according the cycle of life some sort of respect.

So that brings us back to the whole issue of stopping a woman's menstrual cycle through the use of drugs. These drugs somehow prevent the woman's uterus from producing eggs and negating the need for the sloughing off of the extra tissue that's produced each month because of it.

If there is no need for the cycle why is it that women who are on estragon therapy have to go in for routine D and C's to clean out the build up in the uterus? I've known women who have had to take Depo Provera for medical reasons and they swell up like balloons because of water retention and some have had their blood pressure go through the roof as a result.

How can stopping a body's normal process from occurring before it is time to stop be said to be without risk if we've never done it before? Nobody has been on it for long enough to know yet what's going to happen to them if they ever want to have a baby afterwards. What effect will it have on a woman's cycle when she wants to start it up again?

When my wife and I got together we knew we weren't going to have children, so I went out and had a vasectomy so she didn't have to take the pill. It took close to six months for her cycle to start to return to normal, and ever since it has been heavier and more debilitating then it was before she went on the pill.

I know that's only one person, and strictly anecdotal evidence, but than how much more proof do any of the companies offer that there will be no problems down the road with something like Anya. Or how about Yasmine, which went on the market in the States in 2002 amid promises that it would reduce a woman's weight. Despite evidence that proofs it has no real effect, women continue to buy it without even considering what about it could cause the weight loss.

The human race doesn't have exactly an exemplary record when it comes to our attempts to mess around with the natural order of things. What evidence is there to support anyone's claims that anything we do makes things better instead of worse? There was probably a good reason for our bodies being designed to function the way they do. There's a lot to be said for the old adage "If it ain't broke don't fix it"

Perhaps that's the other saying the pharmaceutical companies need stapling to their foreheads.

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