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“Natural Hormones” for Reproductive Health | Catholic Life

“Natural Hormones” for Reproductive Health

Some people have asserted that even if there is no proof that “the Pill” causes abortions, it is still wrong for women to use it because there are “natural” hormonal options which will help women. While I am a huge fan of holistic medicine, I have always been suspicious of “natural” options being proclaimed as superior for prolife reasons.

When I was 9 years old my mother went to the healthfood store for something or other to help with her menopause symptoms. But for some reason she hesitated to actually start her new regimen. It turned out that she was pregnant, and my childhood was shaped by my mother’s expressions of thankfulness that she had delayed her natural remedies since it was extremely likely that they would have ended her pregnancy before she even knew about it.

In high school and college I read feminist literature of all sorts, and that included information about ancient, natural means for “interrupting pregnancy.” I cannot find any of the websites now, but the more legitimate looking ones included disclaimers and statistics of this or that method having been observed to work 30-50% of the time, but that it was at least worth a shot before one went to an abortion clinic.

So I tend to view “natural” ways of dealing with gynecological problems with at least as much suspicion as modern medicine. And I am quite bothered by those who tell others that using the pill for menstrual problems is sin, but give carte blanche to all “natural” remedies.

But I am still shocked to see what seems to me to be pretty stinking obvious indications that natural remedies are far more likely to result in abortion/miscarriage than the pill.

I recently read What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause. It is completely against the pill and instead offers suggestions of natural remedies to deal with various women’s health issues. The section on endometiosis begins with the statement that “endometriosis is very difficult to treat” which filled me with optomism since it seemed as if they were taking it seriously. Then came:

Dr. Lee has successfully treated endometriosis using relatively high doeses of progesterone cream to create a pseudopregnancy state from day 5 to day 28 (or whenever yoru normal cycle ends) of the menstrual month. This involves using 40 to 60 mg progesterone daily during those days, or 960 mg per month. This will often cause the pain to subside by the third or fourth month. In some patients with particularly stubborn endometriosis, he has increased the daily dose to 80 mg per day. Once the pain has been reduced, the dosage may be reduced gradulally each month to find a dose that keeps the pain away.

Progesterone, at doses similar to the first month of pregnancy, limits the endometrial tissue buildup caused by estrogen. By preventing the monthly release of blood in the endometrial islets, the inflammation that previously flared each month will subside, and the healing forces of nature will return the endometrial islets back to normal tissue.  (Source pages 192-193)

That all sounds great, right? It does the same thing as the pill, except it is natural!

Except, of course, for the fact that unlike the pill, it hasn’t actually been tested to prevent ovulation, so you have no idea how the pseudopregnancy state is actually working in your body, and taking the week-long break is setting your body up for miscarriage. In short, you are much more likely to be conceiving and then miscarrying using this method than using the pill. And the troubling thing is that is obvious to anyone who actually reads the entire book. It isn’t exactly a secret.

In the section on infertility, the book offers this advice:

If you want to be pregnant and you’re using progesterone cream, it’s very important to keep using progesterone until you find out whether you’re pregnant. (You can take a pregnancy test a few days after your period would normally be due.) The sudden drop in progesterone levels created if you stop using the cream can cause what is, in effect, an abortion, by bringing on menstruation. This is the same concept used in the so-called morning-after pill, only in that case a very potent synthetic progestin is used in high doses.

So the advice given to women with endometriosis is, according to the infertility section, setting them up to “cause what is, in effect, an abortion, by bringing on menstruation” each month!

And I am no more impressed by the other suggestions that I have seen for herbs to use. For instance, one list of herbs recomended is:

  • 4 capsules vitex
  • 2 capsules blue cohosh
  • 2 capsules milk thistle
  • 2 capsules wild yam root
  • 2 capsules dandelion root
  • 2 capsules pau d’arco

You do not need to look up everything on the list unless it interests you, but “everyone” knows that vitex (also called chasteberry and who knows what else) is contraindicated during pregnancy because of what it does to the uterus, and blue cohosh? That only shows up on all the lists of abortion-inducing herbs. Nothing to worry about. Oh, except for the fact that since you have no idea what strength you’re taking you may overdose and seriously hurt yourself as well.

This should not be taken as an indication that I oppose herbal remedies. I do not oppose herbs or other natural remedies. I just happen to think that “natural” remedies are much more likely to both allow a pregnancy and then harm it than any pill taken as prescribed. So please do not tell me that “there are effective, natural alternatives to the pill” without telling me exactly what it is you’re so excited about. And if you want to combat reproductive health treatments that might possibly harm babies, you should probably focus on condemning “natural” remedies, not the pill.

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11 Responses to ““Natural Hormones” for Reproductive Health”

  1. Tara Meghan 05. Jan, 2011 at 7:23 pm #

    Woo! What an enlightening post. Herbal remedies *can* be a great thing, but misinformed nonsense is never, ever a good thing. Thank you for adding some information to the mix.

  2. Michelle 06. Jan, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    This post makes perfect sense to me. You know why? Because I have luteal phase defects when not pregnant which is called a severe progesterone deficiency when I am pregnant. I am a woman who takes takes pregnancy tests a couple of days BEFORE my period is due because I NEED to know whether I need to start progesterone supplementation sooner rather than later to avoid miscarriage. With my third child, I was on oral supplements of Prometrium (progesterone) until 17 weeks gestation. With my fourth child, I was on vaginal suppositories of the same until 24 weeks gestation. This time (baby number 5) I am on progesterone injections PLUS vaginal supplements because my body just doesn’t make enough progesterone to get through the first trimester. Supposedly the placenta makes it’s own plentiful supply of progesterone during second trimester. We’ll see how long I have to keep supplementing this time.

    Anyway, when I am not pregnant, I have to be VERY careful about when I start taking the prometrium. My NFP doc was very clear to warn me that if I started it before I clearly had ovulated (by my charts) I ran the risk of an unintended miscarriage (or as they call it in the medical world, “spontaneous abortion”)

    I am still skeptical of the pill mainly because I know of many “pill babies”…their moms took their pills correctly and still got pregnant. And it DOES make me wonder how many conceptions take place that are “spontaneously aborted”. And the insert of the pills I was on before my conversion of heart on the matter stated quite matter-of-factly that breakthrough ovulations happen 1-2 times in 12.

    Good post, Rae. Thanks.

    • Rae 06. Jan, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

      Good thoughts. My underlying view is that these things all require a lot of thought and research and individual decisions for the women impacted, and it isn’t helpful to have broadly crushing generalizations made by those who don’t understand.

      So I’m not actually a fan of the pill but I’m also not convinced that it is any less “pro-life” than the alternatives. The logic of many I’ve encountered would imply that it is somehow wrong for you to be sexually active since you have a higher chance of miscarrying, and clearly that is absurd.

      In any case, I’m glad that you’ve figured out what you need to be healthy yourself, and thus keep your babies healthy!

  3. Melody 07. Jan, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    My mom and grandma were into alternative health before it was popular, so I guess I kind of inherit my interest in it. But if one reads carefully about herbal remedies it is plain that there are dangerous things out there as well as helpful ones. I had read that blue cohosh was one of the dangerous things. (I tried black cohosh for hot flashes, it didn’t do anything for me.) I am surprised they suggested that for endometriosis.

  4. Helen 08. Jan, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    I wonder why people think the didache prohibits abortions. What do they think people were using to have those abortions?

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