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The value of ovulation to women’s health

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January 22, 2013

Wershler-LauraLOGOCALGARY, AB, Jan. 22, 2013/ Troy Media/ – Most women might think that their gynecologist best understands their hormones, but the work of a Canadian endocrinologist is prompting many to rethink this notion.

Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior, professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of British Columbia, has studied ovulation, the menstrual cycle, and the effect of hormones on women’s health for over four decades. Where gynecologists are primarily surgeons with training in the hormones of the pelvis, Prior says ‘that as an endocrinologist you have to be able to integrate everything, because hormones relate to the brain, the pituitary, the thyroid, bones, as well as diabetes and energy metabolism.’

In 2002, she founded the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research (CeMCOR), a UBC affiliated charity with the vision ‘to reframe scientific knowledge of the menstrual cycle and ovulation in a woman-centered context.’

Prior considers CeMCOR to be ‘a virtual family’ including health-care experts and collaborators from around the world, community advisory council members, donors who support its work, and all the women who write expressing their appreciation for the help they’ve received.

CeMCOR’s website, launched in 2003, offers women access to information, resources, research and treatment protocols that relate to their menstrual cycle and hormonal health. Since 2007, the site has had over one million unique visitors from 212 countries and well over two million page views, currently averaging over 1200 a day.

UBC endocrinologist Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior founded the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research in 2002

UBC endocrinologist Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior founded the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research in 2002

Women of all ages visiting the site are finding accurate information about flushes, osteoporosis, PCOS (which Prior calls AAE or Anovulatory Androgen Excess), sleep disturbances, painful periods, fibroids and insulin resistance. Most traffic is search engine driven, with the majority of searches related to the symptoms of perimenopause: heavy flow, very heavy periods and night sweats. The perimenopausal transition lasts from six to 10 years for most women, ending one year after the final menstrual period.

CeMCOR also provides articles and treatment resources specifically for health-care providers for use in their own practices, and Prior, who no longer sees patients herself, is willing to consult with physicians about their patient’s treatment.

What makes Prior’s perspective unique is its focus on the value of ovulation to women’s health, the idea that progesterone, the hormone produced in large quantities in the second half of the menstrual cycle after ovulation occurs, is critically important to women’s health. We are not just about estrogen. Ovulatory disturbances matter.

In an interview last March, as CeMCOR approached its 10-year anniversary, Prior told me: ‘As soon as I started learning about menstrual cycles I realized the big variability was ovulation, not cycling.’

After decades of clinical practice and scientific research, Prior has integrated knowledge and data relating to a broad range of women’s health issues to come to a bold, evidence-based conclusion:

Regular menstrual cycles with consistently normal ovulation during the premenopausal years will prevent osteoporosis, breast cancer and heart disease in women.

This belief is explained in The Preventative Powers of Ovulation, a series of articles posted on the CeMCOR website that provide a referenced primer on ovulation, including evidence for how consistent ovulation protects women’s breast, bone and heart health.

CeMCOR has also initiated and participated in research studies, several ongoing, related to menstruation and ovulation, osteoporosis, premenopausal breast cancer and perimenopause. CeMCOR does not conduct pharmaceutical-funded research.

Prior considers the biggest contribution CeMCOR has made is ‘simply asking scientific questions about the variability and normality of women’s menstrual cycles and ovulation. That was a closed box before. Everybody knew everything; we didn’t need more information.’

Now, from adolescence to menopause, women can log on to cemcor.ubc.ca to become students of their own menstrual cycles. They can download menstrual cycle diaries and handouts on bone health for each reproductive stage, learn about safe strategies to manage perimenopausal symptoms, and print out clinically proven treatment protocols for AAE, heavy bleeding, anovulation or coming off estrogen therapy to share with their doctors.

Prior sums up her commitment to the woman-centered approach in her work: ‘The feeling that women have, that their menstrual cycle belongs to a gynecologist or a GP or the pill, is wrong. Your menstrual cycle, just like every other bit, like your elbow, or your foot, belongs to you.’

Troy Media Health Columnist Laura Wershler is a veteran sexual and reproductive health advocate and women’s health critic. She blogs regularly for re:Cycling, the blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research. Follow her on Twitter @laurawershler

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