John Rock’s Error: What the co-inventor of the Pill didn’t know about menstruation can endanger women’s health.
I just read this absolutely fascinating article on the development of the birth control pill and its ramifications for women’s health. It completely debunks the idea that having a period every month is in any way “natural”. You all should read it. Seriously. Even you men. (Well, I guess the gay ones are excepted, but you still might find it interesting.)
It starts off talking about Dr. John Rock, the Catholic doctor credited with inventing the Pill, and his belief that the Church would approve it as a “natural” method of contraception. After all, human females already have a safe time each month where they can’t conceive, and all the Pill does is provide more of the body’s own hormones to extend that time frame. The Church already approved the rhythm method and Dr. Rock saw the Pill as merely a regulator and helper for that. As we all know, the Pope didn’t quite agree.The second part of the article is about the research of Beverly Strassmann, who travelled to Africa in the 80’s and lived with a tribe for two years. They use no contraception and live as they did thousands of years ago. She reckoned that by observing the women’s reproductive lives she’d be able to see what really was “natural”. In the end, her records showed that healthy women spent most of their lives not menstruating (either from pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause). These “natural” women had on average 100 periods over the course of their lifetimes. Western women average around 350-400. From the article:
In other words, what we think of as normal–frequent menses–is in evolutionary terms abnormal. “It’s a pity that gynecologists think that women have to menstruate every month,” Strassmann went on. “They just don’t understand the real biology of menstruation.”
The last part of the article delves into the health problems menstruating causes (and we’re not talking PMS here). Every time you have cell division, there’s an increased risk of cancer. The monthly hormonal fluctuations caused by menstruation result in a lot of cell division. Researchers have long wondered by Japanese women have a much lower risk of breast cancer than Western women. Two scientists named Pike and Henderson were able to correlate this increased risk with a number of hormone and period-related factors: age of first period, weight, and diet. Japenese women weigh less, eat less fat, and start menstruating later in life. This means on average they produce 75% of the estrogen Western women do. Pike reckons that by limiting the amounts of progestin women have (which is augmented by the Pill), their risk of breast and ovarian cancer would fall dramatically. He’s now working on a new contraceptive inhaler that would do just that.
The article concludes by returning to Dr. Rock, who felt so let down by the Church’s decision about the Pill that he lost his faith entirely. He died poor and alone. I was left feeling sorry for him but amazed at the effects of his work. We modern folks tend to think that we’re so advanced but in reality we’re just bumbling and stumbling. Our knowledge of one of the vital processes of life is laughably vague. Sure, we don’t necessarily have to sit in a menstrual hut every month anymore, but modern women are still exposing themselves to unnecessary trials and risks.