At the center of the discussion was the importance of identifying health issues linked to the menstrual cycle, as well as clarifying any misconceptions. "The menstrual cycle is a window into the general health and well-being of women, and not just a reproductive event," said Paula Hillard, M.D., professor of obstetrics & gynecology and pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. "It can indicate the status of bone health, heart disease, and ovarian failure, as well as long-term fertility. Therefore, if a woman is not having her period, it is the first sign that something else could be going on."
Doctors and scientists also discussed the long- and short-term effects of irregular or interrupted periods (amenorrhea) brought on by over-training of female athletes and excessive dieting and exercise, as well as oral contraceptives designed to suppress the monthly cycle. The experts called for more research to determine the impact of menstrual suppression and its potential side effects on future fertility and long-range health.
"The most important thing to emphasize about menstrual suppression is that the long-term effects are simply unknown," said Jerilynn Prior, M.D., professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and board member for the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research. "Whether a woman is electing to do so with new birth control products, or it results from excessive dieting or exercise, we as a society are allowing the one vital sign unique to women to go unmonitored, which could ultimately lead to an enormous uncontrolled experiment with a woman's health."
The clear message of today's forum was the importance of the relationship between women and their menstrual cycles. "Regular and effective health screenings and an open dialogue between women and their health care providers are critical to their overall health," said Lawrence Nelson, M.D., M.B.A. president of Rachel's Well, Inc.
The "Menstrual Cycle is a Vital Sign" scientific forum, supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Procter & Gamble, consisted of the following nationally recognized physicians and researchers:
- Sarah L. Berga, M.D., professor and chair, Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Emory University School of Medicine.
- Siobán Harlow, Ph.D., associate director of the International Institute, professor of epidemiology, University of Michigan
- Paula Hillard, M.D., professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Department of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati, College of Medicine
- Julie Isphording, former Olympic runner and patient representative
- Elizabeth A. Kissling, Ph.D., professor of communication studies and women's studies, Eastern Washington University, board member, Society for Menstrual Cycle Research
- Jerilynn C. Prior B.A., M.D., FRCPC, ABIM, ABEM, professor of endocrinology and metabolism, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
- Evelyn O. Talbott, M.P.H., Dr.P.H., professor, Department of Epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh
- Michelle Warren, M.D., professor, Department of Medicine and Obstetrics and Gynecology, Columbia University, medical director, Center for Menopause, Hormonal Disorders and Women's Health
About Rachel's Well, Inc.
Rachel's Well, Inc. is a non-profit 501c3 organization that aims to improve access to health services for uninsured women and develop a model of healthcare delivery that will improve women's health overall. The organization was founded by Dr. Lawrence Nelson, research gynecologist, and a dedicated group of professionals, who feel that there is a need for increased capacity to provide preventative healthcare services for women. Rachel's Well, Inc. initiated the development of "The Menstrual Cycle is a Vital Sign" to establish an educational platform through which the role of menstruation as a unique indicator of a woman's overall physical health can be communicated. "The Menstrual Cycle is a Vital Sign" is a registered trademark of Rachel's Well, Inc. Through a panel of nationally-recognized healthcare experts, Rachel's Well, Inc. is building relationships on a greater scale to improve communication about significant women's health issues. Rachel's Well, Inc. seeks to become a respected source of accurate information about women's reproductive health and a credible authority on these issues for mainstream America. The organization hopes to create a model of healthcare delivery that could have a significant impact on policy-making decisions and improve the health of women. For more information about Rachel's Well, Inc., visit www.rachelswell.org.
About the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research
The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research is a nonprofit organization founded by a multidisciplinary group of women who were pioneers in understanding the centrality of menstrual cycle research to women's health. The organization consist of researchers, health care providers, policy makers, and students who share an interest in women's lives and health needs as they are related to the menstrual cycle. Their mission is to be the source of guidance, expertise, and ethical considerations for researchers, practitioners, policy makers and funding resources interested in the menstrual cycle. They do this by offering a network of communication and support that spans discipline, professional responsibilities, and geography to provide woman-centered perspectives on menstrual experiences. For more information about the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, visit www.pop.psu.edu/smcr.
Please call 212-598-4400 for details on a webcast of this event.