From a scientific viewpoint, the downside to taking the pill must be considered, especially when it comes to breast cancer. While there is conflicting data on this topic, the most recently published study concluded that there is a slight but measurable increased incidence of breast cancer for women on the pill—a risk that not only lasts for 10 years after they stop, but also increases with age. The risk of this cancer at 20 years old is one in 5,000; on the pill it’s one in 4,000. At 40, the risk is one in 250. The pill increases this number to one in 200. And while there is currently no direct proof that taking the pill now will later cause infertility (in the form of missed periods), it is still a viable hypothesis worthy of more research. It seems logical that if something is suppressed long enough, the body loses the memory of how to do it.
Of course, there are some health benefits to birth control pills, too. They reduce the formation of cysts in women prone to them; they ease endometriosis pain and reduce the negative effects of polycystic ovaries; and they can even reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. But these come with nutritional consequences. The steroids present in pills depress levels of riboflavin, pyridoxine, vitamin B12, ascorbic acid, and zinc, and also put strain on the liver, which has to metabolize these synthetic molecules.
In the end, no matter how unnecessary periods might seem to some women, cycling every month is a fundamental biological principle.
Tori Hudson, N.D., is a professor of gynecology at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine and medical director of A Woman’s Time, a women’s clinic in Portland, Oregon. Author of Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Keats, 1999), she was named Naturopathic Physician of the Year in 1999.