No tampons, no super-sized maxi pads, no cramps… Any Pamprin-pressed woman could rant off endless positives of a period-stopping birth control pill. But is this new menstruation vanishing drug safe and can it still provide acne protection?
What is “period-stopping”
Well, first the period ending contraceptive called Lybrel does not actually stop the period. As the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals points out, birth control induced period stopping is really “menstrual suppression”. The body’s response to the seven day absence of birth control hormones after the typical 21-day birth control cycle triggers withdrawal bleeding, not a true period.
Regardless of what it’s called, this week’s Food and Drug Administration approval of the period skipping contraceptive spawned enough unanswered questions about safeness to fill a month of morning talk shows.
Period suppressing Lybrel comes in a 28 day-pill pack. The pills contain 90 micrograms of a progestin, levonorgestrel, and 20 micrograms of an estrogen, ethinyl estradiol. These active ingredients are similar to and work like other FDA approved contraceptives. Except, you skip the placebos.
Levonorgestrel stops the body’s monthly release of an egg from the ovary and thickens cervical mucus which makes it harder for sperm to fertilize an egg.
Lybrel and acne control
Besides preventing pregnancies, Lybrel can also elicit an acne preventing effect. The ethinyl estradiol component of the pill can reduce circulating levels of testosterone and ultimately limit facial oil secretion- one of several factors implicated in provoking acne.
But how will menstrual suppression using Lybrel effectively treat acne?
A study sponsored by Lybrel manufacturer Wyeth does support the acne preventing power of levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol. Yet, ironically, possible side-effects of levonorgestrel include oily skin and acne. If you do experience acne while using an contraceptive containing levonorgestrel, inform your doctor, because commonly prescribed acne antibiotics like tetracycline can make levonorgestrel less effective.
Further study on menstrual suppression needed
While the words “stop your period” may sound melodious to millions of women, to University of New Hampshire professor of the sociology of gender and medical sociology
Jean Elson, they sound more like the prelude to a horror movie.
Elson feels, “Employing hormones to curtail normal menstruation strikes me as a very odd mix of feminism and medical authority – women are offered the opportunity to control their own bodies, but what are the real implications?”
Moreover, Elson finds that menstruation has transformed from a biological issue into a social matter and proposes that women, “… might not find their periods so inconvenient if schools and workplaces provided opportunities for people to rest.”
Like Elson, Margaret Freda a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and women’s health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, has doubts about menstrual suppression.
This past August, Freda told the American Journal of Nursing, “The jury is still out on total menstrual suppression,” until long-term studies of its safety are done.
A study published in Contraception tested the safeness of continuous daily usage of Lybrel on over 2,000 healthy women who had normal menstrual cycles. Among the participants, Lybrel side-effects were comparable to those reported for 21-days on and 7-days off oral contraceptive regimens.
However, Dr. Camelia Davtyan, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, did notice one problem with the study. Davtyan told HealthDay News that, “… the rate of uterine bleeding-related complications is quite high.”
Granted some woman have practiced menstrual suppression for years, it could take five to twenty years before medical studies ultimately concur on the overall safeness of this practice. In the meantime, women will once again need to rely on their intuition and personal health needs to decide what is the best way to prevent pimples and pregnancies.
Archera, David F et al. Evaluation of a continuous regimen of levonorgestrel/ethinyl estradiol: phase 3 study results. Contraception; December 2006, vol 74, no 6, pp 439-445.
Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. Health Matters: Understanding Menstrual Suppression. October 2006.
HealthDay News. New Year-Round Contraceptive Pill Safe and Effective. December 13, 2006.
Potera, Carol & Maureen Shawn Kennedy. Choosing Not to Menstruate: A trend for adults and some adolescents. Is it safe? American Journal of Nursing; August 2006, vol 106, no 8, pp 19.
Thiboutot, Diane. A randomized, controlled trial of a low-dose contraceptive containing 20 μg of ethinyl estradiol and 100 μg of levonorgestrel for acne treatment. Fertility and Sterility; September 2001, vol 76, no 3, pp 461-468.
University of New Hampshire. Expert: New Birth Control Pill That Eliminates Periods Is A Bad Idea. Newswise; May 22, 2007.