Whether to control painful periods or even acne, young women are increasingly being prescribed the contraceptive Pill and antidepressant drugs, despite the cost to their long-term hormonal and mental health.
MEDICALISING OUR DAUGHTERS
Being a teenage girl is challenging at the best of times. These days, it seems to be even tougher for both teenagers and their parents. Peer and social pressures, economic concerns, health problems, school work and family tensions all tilt the stress barometer into the dangerous red zone. Skipping meals, eating junk food and going on starvation diets is a way of life for teenagers these days. More than ever, teenagers seem to be burning the candle at both ends.
The behaviours and decisions that young women make directly affect their physical and emotional well-being for the short and long term. As a result, their hormonal health is under siege. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), painful periods, irregular or absent periods, ovarian cysts, polycystic ovaries, fibrocystic breast disease (lumpy, painful breasts), endometriosis, hormonal migraines, acne, allergies, fatigue and mood swings are occurring in young women at epidemic rates. Many girls try to ignore their health problems, hoping they will disappear.
Modern science, rather than perceiving hormonal imbalances as aberrations created by the many abuses of modern-day living, has convinced women that the underlying problem is menstruation itself and that natural reproductive cycles are dangerous and disease-producing and must be medicated. Women are also told that their reproductive system has become the enemy and is the primary cause for all their physical problems and emotional turmoil. The solution: shut it down. The method: steroidal hormones.MENSTRUATION IS A DISEASE
A recent syndicated column by a highly respected Australian medical doctor was titled “Period Disease”. A question from a reader was posed to him: “My doctor told me recently that monthly periods are now regarded by some as a ‘disease’ and totally preventable. Is this true?” His sagacious reply: “Why should women be burdened with loss of valuable blood each month, which is often not manufactured in similar amounts, often leading to anaemia and chronic tiredness? Taking the active ingredients of the oral contraceptive pill daily, with no seven-day break, solves the problems.” The short answer to that question of whether monthly periods are a disease was a wholehearted “Yes”.2
So, now that medicine has conquered menstruation and drug companies’ glossy marketing campaigns have succeeded in extolling the Pill’s ever growing virtuosity, what has actually been achieved for all the young women who are being seduced by these promises? Are women really healthier on the Pill? Has prolonged period suppression with Depo-Provera been perfectly safe over those 30-plus years? Is this really a great victory, or a catastrophe of unparalleled proportions for modern women?
SHOCKING FACTS ABOUT THE PILL
The Pill has been touted by the medical profession as one of the most effective and powerful preventive medicines around. But is it?
In December 2002, the US federal government published the 10th edition of its biennial “Report on Carcinogens”, which is mandated by Congress as a way for the government to help keep the public informed about substances or exposures that are known to cause human cancers. Added to the list of “known” human carcinogens were all steroidal oestrogens used in oestrogen replacement therapy and oral contraceptives.6 The gravity of this finding cannot be overstated: all oestrogens have now been proven, unequivocally, to cause cancer!
To make matters even worse, norethisterone, the most common progestin in progestin& oestrogen combination oral contraceptives, and other synthetic progestins used for injections and implants were listed as known human carcinogens by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences back in 1997.7
Is it arrogance or just plain ignorance to believe that “Women are often healthier if they are on the Pill”? The fact is that the ingredients of the Pill, whatever its formulation, are known human carcinogens. How can any carcinogenic drug be deemed to be health promoting? What cancers do these hormones cause? Studies have linked oestrogens and progestins to breast, ovarian, endometrial, cervical, skin, brain and lung cancers.
It is now recognised that, far from being safe and risk free, these steroid hormones are, in reality, dangerous and potentially life-threatening drugs that cause grave harm to women. Most women taking the contraceptive pill have little idea about what dangerous ingredients they are actually putting into their bodies, nor are they knowledgeable about the potential side effects.
The Pill literally stops natural menstruation. Bleeding only occurs each month because the synthetic hormones are not taken for seven days of the cycle, which causes a shedding of the uterine lining. The bleeding that occurs would be more accurately termed withdrawal bleeding, not menstruation. In fact, there is nothing natural about taking the Pill. The action of the Pill is in fact a female form of “castration” because it stops the natural reproductive cycle. Sometimes a woman’s ovaries will become permanently damaged, resulting in infertility.8
Fabio Bertarelli, a Swiss billionaire who owns Serono Laboratories, manufacturer of 70% of the world’s fertility drugs, has attested to this fact. He told the Wall Street Journal in 1993: “Our usual customers are women over 30 who have been taking birth control pills since they were teenagers or in their early 20s.”
Business is booming for the fertility business. The data from the journal Fertility and Sterility suggest that 6.2 million women in the US had fertility problems in 1995, compared to 4.5 million in 1982 and 4.9 million in 1988, and this number could be as high as 7.7 million women in 2025.9
SIDE EFFECTS OF THE CONTRACEPTIVE PILL
All contraception formulas may increase the risk of coronary artery disease, breast cancer, cervical cancer, skin cancer, immune dysfunction, liver toxicity, stroke, blood clot, osteoporosis, gum disease, high blood pressure and ectopic pregnancy. The side-effects include nausea, vomiting, migraine-type headache, breast tenderness, allergies, weight increase, changes in sex drive, depression, head hair loss, facial hair growth and increased incidence of vaginitis. Also, women with a history of epilepsy, migraine, asthma or heart disease may find that their symptoms worsen. Many of these effects may persist long after discontinuation of the Pill.
Pill-users have an increased risk of two painful types of inflammatory bowel disease: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. In addition, the Pill causes serious nutritional deficiencies of vitamin B1, B2, B6, folic acid, B12, vitamins C, E, K, zinc, selenium, magnesium and the amino acid tyrosine, which is essential for proper thyroid function. Oestrogen increases copper levels, which causes depression.10
Even more alarming is the fact that the earlier a woman uses the Pill, the greater her risk of developing breast cancer and also having a worse prognosis. One disturbing study showed that the Pill caused chromosomal aberrations in the breast tissue of young female users. This research was further backed up with a study showing that there was a 100% increased risk of breast cancer which extended from 10 years of Pill use down to just three months of use! So, it is of no surprise that women as young as 17 and 19 years old are now being diagnosed with breast cancer.11
The breast tissue of young teenage girls is still developing and is particularly sensitive to the over-stimulation from synthetic oestrogen. In one landmark study, researchers found that women who took the Pill before the age of 20 and were later diagnosed with breast cancer had tumours with worse prognoses than did breast cancer patients who started taking the Pill at a later age or had not previously taken it.12 Another study found this most terrifying result: the younger the women were at the time of breast cancer diagnosis, the greater the possibility that they would be dead within five years.13
Progestins make their own mischief. As well as being carcinogenic, they raise “bad” cholesterol and blood pressure, distort sugar metabolism, compromise the immune system and create undesirable masculinising effects. So it is no wonder that Depo-Provera should be of great concern to women. It was reported that women who used it before the age of 25 increased their relative risk of breast cancer by 50%, and that women who used it for six or more years raised their risk significantly to 320%. (Dr Coutinho, the enthusiastic advocate for the elimination of menstrual cycles using the continuous low dose Pill, was the developer of Depo-Provera.) Of further concern are studies showing that both oral contraceptives and Depo-Provera contribute to bone loss in adolescents.14, 15
Needless to say, the pathologising of women’s menstrual cycles and hormonal imbalances through the pervasive and persuasive advertising campaigns initiated by both the medical profession and pharmaceutical industries is seriously jeopardising the physical and emotional wellbeing of young women.
It is truly terrifying to think that drug companies are enthusiastically targeting young women, teenage girls and now children as young as eight as a lucrative market for their SSRI drugs. If we continue to allow ourselves and our children to be hypnotised by the rhetoric and trickery of the medical and pharmaceutical profession, great health disasters and human tragedy await us.
The real goal (in terms of the main theme of this article) is to restore girls and young women to health. Menstruation is a powerful expression of a woman’s true self. The female reproductive system is delicate and can easily teeter out of balance when deprived of adequate nutrition or put under duress.
Our daughters, instead of resorting to taking a pill to mask important warning signs, must be taught to make healthy choices through diet and lifestyle. Competent holistic health practitioners are important allies in regaining hormonal health.
Even more challenging is the task of healing deeply held cultural myths. If women are truly to regain and maintain their health and love for their bodies, old myths and superstitions must be exorcised from our collective unconscious mind. The erroneous conscious and unconscious beliefs that are held about the female anatomy are passed on from generation to generation. Our daughters are the recipients of this legacy–unless we choose to teach them otherwise.
By healing these misconceptions, women can truly honour and appreciate their bodies–an important prerequisite for overall hormonal balance.
1. Angier, Natalie, Woman: An Intimate Geography, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1999, p. 94
2. Wright, Dr James, The Gold Coast Bulletin, Wednesday, June 26, 2002, p. 31
3. Coutinho, Elsimar M. and Segal, Sheldon J., Is Menstruation Obsolete?, Oxford University Press, USA, 1999
4. James-Enger, Kelly and Brown, Emma-Charlotte, “Which Pill Can Stop Your Period and Prevent Cancer?”, She Magazine (Australia), April 2002, p. 107
6. National Toxicology Program, “Report on Carcinogens”, Tenth Edition, http://ntp-server.niehs.nih.gov
7. Website http://ntp-server.niehs.nih.gov/htdocs/8_RoC/RAC/Norethisterone.html
8. Wilks, John, A Consumer’s Guide to the Pill and Other Drugs, Freedom Publishing Company Pty Ltd, Australia, 1996, p. 16
9. Fertility and Sterility 1998;70:30-34
10. Naish, Francesca, Natural Fertility, Sally Milner Publications, Australia, 1996, p. 14
11. Thomas, D.B., “Oral contraceptives and breast cancer”, Journal of the National Cancer Institute 1993;85:359-64
12. Olson, H. et al., “Proliferation and DNZ ploidy in malignant breast tumors in relation to early oral contraceptive use and early abortions”, Cancer 1991;67:1285-90
13. Wilks, John, ibid., p. 59
14. Kass-Wolff, J. H., “Bone loss in adolescents using Depo-Provera”, J Soc Pediatr Nurs 2001 Jan&endash;Mar;6(1):21-31
15. Contraception 1998 Jul;57:231-235.
About the Author:
Sherrill Sellman http://www.ssellman.com is the author of the best-selling book, Hormone Heresy: What Women Must Know About Their Hormones. Her new book, Mothers: Prevent Your Daughters From Getting Breast Cancer, will be released in April 2003.
Extracted from Nexus Magazine, Volume 10, Number 2 (February-March 2003) www.nexusmagazine.com