While oral contraceptives were originally developed to be a method of birth control, they are now prescribed by doctors as a solution to almost every complaint a woman could possibly have.  According to a  study by the Guttmacher Institute done in 2011, 18% of women between the ages 18-44 take oral contraceptives.  In the same study it was reported that 58% of women take oral contraceptives for reasons other than preventing pregnancy (That’s over half!), with women citing menstrual pain, irregular periods, heavy bleeding, and acne as the leading reasons for taking the pill.

I constantly see oral contraceptives being glorified in the media as the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to women.  These portrayals worry me because women’s rights have come to be equated with the ­­­­right to oral contraceptives in many cases.  However, I believe that women have the right to receive the best health care and have informed consent about what they are putting in their bodies.  The decision to take oral contraceptives for birth control or for other reasons should be empowering to women so they can live their best lives.  That’s why I have written this article, so you can know the truth about the dark side of oral contraceptives when you make the decision for your own body.

Like many other women from my generation I have long been on oral contraceptives for reasons that are not related to “birth control”.   I started my period pretty late at age 13 and from then on it was month after month of hell.  As a teenager I suffered from debilitating cramps that had me missing school, irregular periods, heavy bleeding, cystic acne, and horrible mood swings.   Of course my doctor put me on birth control to regulate my periods.

Over the years I had many strange symptoms including migraines, anxiety, fatigue, digestive issues,  frequent urination, and weight gain.  During this time I went to doctor after doctor trying to figure out what was going on.  One after the other told me that there was nothing wrong with me and didn’t offer any solutions.  I was put on antidepressants to deal with the anxiety.    I tried and tried to lose weight. No one believed me that I hardly ate anything and kept gaining weight.  I tried running, weight lifting, interval training, yoga, swimming and rock climbing  for exercise. I tried diet plan after diet plan.  I counted calories.  All of this resulted in little success. Doctors continued to tell me to try to lose weight through diet and exercise.  I could tell they didn’t believe me when I tried to tell them what I ate and how much I exercised.  I felt pretty hopeless and didn’t know what to do.

Not once in those 10 years did a doctor ever suggest that the culprit behind all of these symptoms could be my oral contraceptive pill.  I even asked doctors if birth control be contributing to these symptoms. They all dismissed my concerns. It wasn’t until I started doing my own research that I discovered the dark side of the pill.  Oral contraceptives have serious side effects. An oral contraceptive pill is usually NOT a cure for hormonal issues or period problems. When I went into my doctor as a teenager with my heavy painful periods and acne I was put onto birth control to “regulate” my periods.  Birth control does not “regulate” your hormones.  It turns them off and replaces them with synthetic hormones.  It turns off your cycle, it doesn’t regulate it.  When you come off the pill chances are that the symptoms and porblems that you had before will come back.  These symptoms are your body trying to tell you something is wrong.  By taking birth control you are only masking these problems, not fixing them.  Of course, this only applies to women who take oral contraceptives for reasons other than preventing pregnancy.

Cons to Taking Oral Contraceptives
  1. Birth control contains synthetic hormones. Most people explain that birth control contains estrogen and progesterone.  This is a lie!  Birth control pills contain synthetic versions of  estrogen and progesterone. These synthetic hormones are not the same as the ones your body makes.  Some of the synthetic hormones in birth control are  ethinylestradiol and progestin.  The effects of many of these synthetic hormones are negative and can be dangerous.  For instance, one of the side effects of the synthetic progestin drospirenone in the birth control Yaz is responsible for the increased risk of blood clots.  Natural progesterone has no such risk.
  2.  Long term use of oral contraceptives leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the body. This is a little known side effect of long term use of birth control pills that can take years for you to start noticing.  It has been shown that oral contraceptives deplete your body of many vitamins:

    In fact, many of the side effects of birth control come from this long term vitamin and mineral deficiency.

  3. Oral contraceptives have small side effects that aren’t negligible. Birth control also has many other effects which are not considered to be “serious” by medical establishment. However, that doesn’t mean these side effects are negligible to the woman taking them. Many times when I would ask my doctor about the risks of birth control I was told that the only side effect I should worry about was blood clots and since I wasn’t a smoker I shouldn’t worry.  But there are many side effects of birth control which are very real and affect women every day that doctors largely ignore and don’t tell women about.  These include depression, anxiety,  fatigue, hair loss, skin problems, weight gain, low libido, changes to your sense of smell, insomnia, trouble building muscle, digestive issues, reduced bone density, gum disease, and lower thyroid hormones. This article “How The Pill Can Seriously Affect A Woman’s Health”  has a nice breakdown of these side effects and studies that have proven the link between these side effects and oral birth control usage.
  4. Oral contraceptive use has been linked to serious diseases such as cancer. There are studies that show elevated levels of estrogen (that you get when you take the pill) can lead to an increased risk for the development of breast cancer, cervical cancer, and thyroid cancer.
  5. Development of hormonal imbalances and other diseases. Ironically, the oral contraceptives are often prescribed by doctors to treat hormonal balances can actually cause them or worsen symptoms of them. Long term use can cause hormonal imbalances such as PCOS, estrogen dominance, hypothyroidism, and insulin resistance.

My intention with this article was not to condemn the use of birth control pills, but only to draw attention to very real effects.  Many women these days that receive prescriptions for birth control aren’t really practicing informed consent as many of these effects are never mentioned. Some doctors may not even be aware of some of these problems as they do not cover women’s hormones in detail in medical school (I say this based on my own conversations with people who have gone through medical school).  There has also been a recent political push to make oral contraceptives even more accessible to the public.  I believe that this could lead to even more women being put on these pills without truly knowing the risks.

After learning these truths about oral contraceptives, I have made the informed choice to not put these compounds into my body. Someone else may make a different decision based on the information. What is important iis that you know the real risks and benefits before making that choice.

 

Citations

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24067390
Nutrients. 2013 Sep 16;5(9):3634-45. doi: 10.3390/nu5093634.
Biological variability and impact of oral contraceptives on vitamins B(6), B(12) and folate status in women of reproductive age.
McArthur JO1, Tang H, Petocz P, Samman S.

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23852908
Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2013 Jul;17(13):1804-13.
Oral contraceptives and changes in nutritional requirements.
Palmery M1, Saraceno A, Vaiarelli A, Carlomagno G.

 
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061030143351.htm
Oral Contraceptives Increase Risk For Breast Cancer In Some Women, Meta-analysis Finds
October 31, 2006
Mayo Clinic
 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4442279
Contraception. 1974 Mar;9(3):305-14.
Thyroid functions of women taking oral contraceptives.
Barsivala V, Virkar K.
 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20814444
Obstet Gynecol Int. 2010;2010. pii: 925635. doi: 10.1155/2010/925635. Epub 2010 Aug 9.
Effects of oral, vaginal, and transdermal hormonal contraception on serum levels of coenzyme q(10), vitamin e, and total antioxidant activity.
Palan PR1, Strube F, Letko J, Sadikovic A, Mikhail MS.