Monday, May 6, 2013

Moon Cycle pt.1 - Birth Control

recently, i've just finished up a physical anthropology class on a biocultural approach to human variation. one interesting thing i learned from the textbook from the course, was on a section discussing fecundity, fertility, and menstruation. here is the excerpt:

In U.S. women, weight loss as a consequence of caloric restriction dieting and high energy expenditure as a consequence of voluntary aerobic exercise are associated with increases in menstrual irregularity and lower hormonal indices of ovarian function. both are also associated with diminished fecundity [which differs from fertility in that fertility is the number of children a female has produced, whereas fecundity is the reproductive ability to reproduce] in epidemiological studies. in a study in Washington State, for example, it was found that women who exercise more than 1 hour a day or who are less than 85% of conventional weight-for-height standards [BMI] are five to six times more likely to be unable to conceive within a year of trying than non-exercizing, normal-weight women. the degree of weight loss or exercise necessary to produce a measurable effect on ovarian function does not need to be severe either. although highly trained endurance athletes may show profound suppression of ovarian function, often to the point of amenorrhea [loss of menstruation], moderate energetic stress appears to produce moderate suppression of ovarian hormone levels in a dose-response manner, often without any change in menstrual regularity. The effects are also readily reversible on weight gain or cessation of exercise regimes. 
similar effects can be observed in other populations in which variations in energetic state are not matters of individual choice and where energy expenditure occurs in the context of traditional subsistence work, rather than recreational exercise. In the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nepal, for example, weight loss has been associated with reduced ovarian hormone levels, whether occasioned by low energy intake or high energy expenditure. the Lese women of DRC are subsistence farmers. in many years, if conditions have not been good, they experience “hunger seasons” preceding the next year’s harvest, which begins in November  in populations studied in Nepal, workload is a primary factor; these women live in the Himalayas and travel with heavy workloads among fields situated at different altitudes. Polish farm women and rural Bolivian agropastoralists also show variation in ovarian function during seasons of heavy manual labor; the degree of ovarian suppression correlated with average workload. variation in female fecundity due to energetic stress can translate into variation in fertility, both for individuals and for populations. the age at first pregnancy among Maya women in rural Mexico declined from 21.2 to 19.5 years after the introduction of new, labor-saving technology into an agricultural community. the new machines markedly reduced the physical labor required to grind maize into corn flour and to collect water. in Ethiopia, drilling water wells in rural areas reduced the time women spent carrying water from 3 hours to 15 minutes per day. it also caused the median time interval between births to drop by about 6 months…
the sensitivity of female fecundity to female energetics is likely a product of natural selection. the energetic investment that a woman must make in reproduction is both substantial and relatively inelastic. studies of the energetics of pregnancy and lactation have shown that women must make physiological needs to meet the demands of reproduction. thus, the ability to meet these demands and the cost that must be paid in meeting them is at least partly a function of energetic state. a woman hard-pressed to meet her own metabolic needs is less likely to reproduce successfully without paying too high a price in terms of her own survival probabilities.”

what's interesting about this is that i've spoken with numerous women, and one just a few weeks prior to reading this, about her irregular cycle and maybe the fear that she didn't know what was going on coupled with an aversion to going to an ob/gyn. i personally (and politically) have issues with the medical system as a whole. the medical system in this society (biomedicine) has a host a issues existent on multiple levels. aside from the fact that biomedicine is based on a faulty, exploitative, and euro-centric foundation, it is a business. and in a capitalistic setting such as this country, anything ran under a business model (education, healthcare, etc.) is bound to have vultures who are more interested in profit than helping those seeking their services. the pharmaceutical industry alone, is a billion dollar industry that consistently sends out under-researched medicines, doctors and nurses who only think inside the mold (classic medical diagnoses and "cures"), in junction with detached patient-doctor relationships.

take the birth control pill, for example. although women have been complaining about everything from abdominal pain to excessive bleeding with IUD's, rings, and other methods, the pill also has its share of drawbacks. mood swings, hormonal imbalances, excessive bleeding, no menstruation, menstruation for extended amounts of time (i've heard or women being on their periods for 2 months straight), low libido, headaches, depression, and even issues with fertility when getting off the pill (see here, here, here (a study linking bc use to prostate cancer), here, here (what happens when you go off the bc pill after years of having been on it), and here). anything that rids your body of menstruation (unless you are inter-sex or have genetic issues that affect your reproductive system) is doing some damage to your body. there is no safe alternative.

i think there is a thread within western thinking that makes us believe not only that we can control nature; natural occurrences, but also that we should, in some sense. this conquering and dominating mentality is existent within everything from colonialism to the ways in which we see the human body. we believe that there are no consequences to this manipulation, when there most certainly, and generally, ALWAYS, is. there are drawbacks to wanting to control the earth, to wanting to control all the peoples on the earth, to wanting to control something as inevitable death. the same goes for the human body - when you try to manipulate, control, dominate, and change natural occurrences in your body, you put yourself at risk for a host of issues, ailments, and reproductive damage (sometimes irreversible). the idea that we can have sex without the fear for a child is a great one, but it shouldn't be achieved at the expense of our health.

with all that in mind, take a look back at the quoted portion. how many women know that exercise effects our menstruation and ovulation? how many women have gone to their gyno with irregular periods, caused by exercise or other strenuous activities, and been thrown on a pill as opposed to being informed about the effects certain activities have on one's cycle? why do doctors seek to put us on pills as opposed to informing us about natural occurrences of our bodies?

but on another note, can we not see this knowledge with the potential to be a form a birth control? with a few clinical trials researching what types of exercise effect the cycle and in what ways, it can potentially replace the pill, no? for example, if we found that working out 4 times a week for an hour using a medium level intensity could offset one's ovulation by 40-50% and combine this knowledge with herbs and foods that induce menstruation (such as Black Cohosh), we can have a strong birth control method. it probably won't be 98% effective (which is the supposed effectiveness of the pill), but again, that level of control comes with drawbacks. herbalists, mid-wives, and healers from indigenous societies have this knowledge. it simply has to be tapped into and given its due respect. understanding and working with the body is where we need to be headed in reference to health (amongst other things). and with that, i think there will be less occurrences of all the issues we see relating to menstruation and birth control.

beyond these proposed birth control methods, however (which goes into a post a did a while back), this society needs to be more welcoming and supportive of women and couples that have children they may not be ready for in one way or another (be that emotional, financial, etc.). after all, the reason that most women are on the birth control pill is not because they do not wish to have children, but because of external constraints they have to adhere to (finishing up a degree within a certain time, obtaining a certain job, or just generally having a trainwreck of a life).

comment. think. criticize. peep the pt. 2