interest in skipping periods

page updated: 28-Jul-2004

There has been some discussion around, lately in Cosmo, regarding using birth control pills to skip your periods at will. The idea behind this is to simply take pills continuously, instead of having a week's break between each set of 21 active pills.

Besides the convenience and fun of avoiding the mess, bloating, cramps and moodiness associated with the week's drop in hormones, there is a medical health justification being tossed about. The premise is that humans did not evolve under conditions where women had frequent periods, so that this recent change may now be compromising our health. Stone age ladies were frequently pregnant or nursing, and they had nowhere near as many periods as modern ladies, what with our family planning, late marriages (like later than 12) and earlier periods (for reasons that are still being debated, but probably have to do with modern diets).

This is among the first applications of evolutionary medicine that I've seen in the news. An excellent general book on the topic, with lots of fun examples is Why We Get Sick, by Drs. Randolph Nesse and someone else (sorry Dr). The article version of the book is also online.

The pill puts the body's hormones in a state which mimics pregnancy and is more controlled. This already shows evidence of reducing cancer rates in the reproductive tract. It has been supposed that maintaining this fake pregant state all the time would be of even more benefit.

None of this has been studied very extensively, nor were birth control pills approved for this kind of use until the introduction of Seasonale in September 2003. Doctors don't seem very concerned about risks of menstrual suppression, and my own doctors have casually recommended it to me, unsolicited. I suspect my doctors got the idea from pill manufacturers.

Popular literature gives some practical tips for effective and convenient suppression of periods using birth control pills. Make sure to take your pill at the exact same time every day while skipping periods or you risk breakthrough bleeding. Use a home pregnancy test now and then since you don't have your period to tell you whether you're pregnant or not. Check with your doctor before embarking, and monophasic pills are probably a better choice than multiphase pills for this use.

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The Canadian Women's Health Network has produced a printable poster about menstrual suppression drugs. I'm not the only one who is wary of corporate motivations and scanty research.

Susan Rako, M.D., maintains a website and has published a book called No More Periods? about the potential risks of skipping periods.

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