No More Periods?: New Drugs May Eliminate Menstruation

Karin Sawyer’s sister was getting married in less than a week and Sawyer’s period was due in three days. On top of going to work and completing her regular errands, she had to prepare for a bridal shower, make alterations to her dress, and help her sister with last minute obligations.

Dealing with menstrual bleeding was the furthest from Sawyer’s mind. She decided to do what many in her situation have done. Using her monthly birth control, Sawyer, 23, skipped her scheduled placebo pills and began her new month’s prescription. Doing so would direct her body to skip her period.

“Being able to have one less worry was a plus and not having to change my pad gave me extra time to do other important things,” Sawyer said.

Women for years have used birth control to manage their hormonal cycles. With the introduction of new contraceptives such as Seasonale and other menstrual suppression drugs, they are questioning the value of monthly bleeding. Scientists, now entering, what is called, the anti-period movement are making it easier for women to do without what is a distinguishing feature between the sexes.

A new set of drugs, called progestin antagonists, being developed would eliminate menstruation altogether, while still allowing women to get pregnant. One type would eliminate both periods and pregnancy. The drugs block the action of progesterone, a hormone responsible for thickening the uterine lining to make a home for a fertilized egg.

If successful in humans, these drugs could treat women with painful symptoms of endometriosis, a build-up of too much uterine lining that affects more than five million women in the United States. Women who have painful cramps or other problems with menstruation might also be candidates for the drug.  

“The agents tested here have potential to make a big impact on the lives of women,” said Dr. Anthony Dobson, a reproductive endocrinologist at the University of California at San Francisco. “Not only will women be free from the monthly bleeding episode, they will not have the cramps, bloating, and mood swings.”

A study underway at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center is investigating whether a variation on the traditional oral contraceptive pill can prevent periods easily, safely, and effectively.

Richard S. Legro, M.D., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Penn State College of Medicine, was recently awarded a $562, 500 grant from the U.S. Department Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, to conduct a six-month study exploring the risks and benefits of continuous combined oral contraception to eliminate menstrual bleeding and its symptoms.

“Not only is menstrual bleeding often an inconvenience, but it can also be a serious quality of life concern for many women,” said Legro. “The idea of giving the pill a 28-day cycle with 21 active pills and seven hormone free pills was based primarily on the desire of the pill’s founder to mimic the natural menstrual cycle and reassure women and their doctors that the women weren’t pregnant.”

A major obstacle in widespread use of such a drug is the fear of harsh and negative effects on the female anatomy and reproductive organs.

Some doctors believe that long term loss of periods could lead to permanent sterility, increased risk of blood clots, endometrial atrophy (shrinking of the womb), and possibly a greater risk of cervical cancer.

“It just sounds dangerous. Messing with the nature of a woman’s body can only lead to negative effects. Why mess with the work of God?” said Tina Cohen, mother of two and resident of Fairfax, VA.

“To intentionally suppress our hormones is asking for trouble,” said 26-year-old Teresa Rall,

“Many women believe that having a monthly period is necessary for their well-being,” Dobson said. “This belief dates back to the Dark Ages when people were bled for just about any ailment, and it should remain there. Women have a period to prepare themselves for pregnancy, nothing more.”

While some women question the benefits of menstrual suppression, other women are celebrating the movement.

“Periods have always been excruciating for me. Anything that can make the pain go away is a good idea to me,” said Brittany Smicks, 19, of Washington D.C.

“If the FDA approves it, I’ll use it,” said Sawyer.

In an April 2001 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal, women were encouraged to use birth control to prevent their bodies from menstruating. The article admitted that the FDA has not approved the pill for this use, but that doctors routinely prescribe it for such use.

A leading advocate of the no-period movement, Dr. Robert Brenner said: “Some will consider it unnatural, but this is an issue of choice and a voluntary decision… this research could give women a new choice in controlling menstruation.”