Thursday, June 01, 2006

More on Menstruation Management

Several comments on the menstruation cessation (sounds like a Schoolhouse Rock song, doesn't it?) post reminded me that I didn't say all I wanted to on the subject. I am persuaded by arguments that women today menstruate much more than our forebears did. As sumarized nicely on the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals website, "Preagricultural women had about 160 lifetime menstrual cycles, attributable to late menarche, high parity, extended periods of breastfeeding, and early menopause. That number has almost tripled to about 450 cycles for contemporary women who live in industrialized Western nations."

We bleed sooner, have fewer children, breastfeed for less time, and experience menopause later in life. Our poor uteri are perpetually riding the egg ripening and releasing roller coaster. In that sense, reducing the number of periods we experience, would more closely mimic the situation we have evolved to experience.

I am a hypochondriac who rarely goes more than six months without convincing myself that I have breast or ovarian cancer. The argument that all this ovulating makes us more susceptible to cancers of the reproductive organs resonates with me. In fact, if chemically relieving the body of its monthly cycle was shown to reduce the risks of ovarian/uterine/breast cancer without increasing other risks, I would be first in line for treatment.

But I tend to think of ovarian/uterine cancer risks and breast cancer risks often being in opposition to each other. The elevated estrogen that helps supress ovulation increases breast cancer risk.

But I digress. What is interesting to me is that the notion of what is "normal" for our bodies again comes back to a cultural context.

In my last post on the subject, I said, in essence, women should let their bodies bleed monthly because that's how our bodies are designed to work. Yet the historical perspective is that our bodies are designed to bleed only when they are not gestating or feeding children. In the absence of birth control, that would be approximately every two years.

It is only our recent control of fertility and the rise of alternatives to breastfeeding that have made monthly menstruation seem normal.


Blogger I am a Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... said...

VERY well said; much better than I did in my comment. :)


11:22 AM  
Blogger Sandy said...

I love the graphic that you used for this. It is very interesting.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Sandy said...

The topic, I meant, though of course the graphic is interesting too.

8:32 AM  

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