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    Why menstruate?

    Short RV

    Healthright. 1985 Aug; 4(4):9-12.

    The pattern of reproductive activity displayed by early hunter-gatherer ancestors, before the dawn of civilization, must have been vastly different from today's pattern. In the absence of contraception such women would have spent the greater part of their reproductive lives either pregnant or in lactational amenorrhea. In developing these ideas further it was estimated that a hunter-gatherer woman would have spent about 15 years in lactational amenorrhea, whereas just under 4 years would have been occupied by her 5 pregnancies, and she would only have had about 4 years of menstrual cycles. The total number of menstrual cycles she would experience in her entire life would be no more than about 50. This is in marked contrast to the situation today in a typical Western woman using contraceptives and experiencing menarche at 13 and the menopause at 50. Allowing her 2 years' respite from cycles during her 2 pregnancies, each followed by only a token period of breastfeeding, this leaves 35 years during which she would experience about 420 menstrual cycles. The conclusion is that an excessive number of menstrual cycles is an iatrogenic disorder of communities practicing any form of contraception. Thus, it is important to note that even the condom or vasectomy have important repercussions on the female's reproductive cycle. Since 99.9% of human existence has been spent living a nomadic hunter-gatherer life, this high frequency of menstrual cycles is a new experience, one that humans may be genetically ill-adapted to cope with. In fact, there are a number of "diseases of nulliparity" whose incidence is markedly increased in women with few or no children and who are therefore experiencing an increased number of menstrual cycles. These diseases include carcinoma of the breast, endometrium and ovaries, and endometriosis. As part of the effort to develop contraceptives that promote a healthy state of fertility, it is necessary to ask the question, "is a period really necessary?" To learn if women women accept a contraceptive method that reduced the frequency of menstruation, a clinical trial of an oral contraceptive was conducted. The OC was administered in such a way as to produce a withdrawal bleed only once every 3 months. This was termed the tricycle pill regimen. 196 women attending a family planning clinic in Edinburgh, Scotland, volunteered to participate, although 89 of them subsequently withdrew from the trial for a variety of reasons before it was completed at the end of a year. Overall, 82% of the women positvely welcomed the reduction in the number of periods; 91% of the women who completed the trial even refused to revert to a standard monthly OC regimen thereafter. The findings were in complete contrast to the results of a World Health Organization survey of patterns and perceptions of menstruation. But the WHO sample was highly biased in favor of women having regular menstrual cycles, and hence quite unrepresentative of the population as a whole. In sum, even the most pessimistic estimate of the WHO's menstruation survey shows that a proportion of women in every country investigated were prepared to accept amenorhea as a by-product of contraception. Reversible amenorrhea might become an increasingly popular form of contraception, and it might also confer significant health benefits.
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