Artificially controlling your menstrual cycle with birth control pills (BCPs) may seem like an ideal method for highly effective, relatively inexpensive and easily reversible birth control. After all, they come in these cute, little pink packs and they’re given to 13 year-girls, so they must be safe, right? Think again. You need to know that BCPs have been linked to numerous, serious health risks, so it’s important to carefully weigh the benefit of this convenience against its considerable risks.
Artificially Manipulating Your Hormones is a Risky Proposition
The pituitary gland, a small pea-sized gland at the base of brain, is in charge of regulating all hormone production in your body. Most birth control pills, patches, vaginal rings, and implants contain a combination of synthetic derivatives of the hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Young women are astonished to learn that the dosage of these synthetic drugs in BCPs is ten times higher than is seen with natural hormones given to menopausal women! Understand that your reproductive system does not exist in a bubble. All the different hormones and organ systems “talk” to each other. When your pituitary sees these high hormones, it perceives that your body is in an “overdose” situation. Therefore, the logical response from the pituitary is to send a signal to the ovary to stop ovulation, the primary source of estrogen production! If there’s no ovulation, you can’t get pregnant, which is the whole goal of BCPs.
It would be fine if the only role of estrogen was for reproduction. However, you need to know that estrogen has over 400 actions on different tissues in your body! Women on BCPs often have NO detectable levels of natural estrogen in their body! These low levels of natural estrogen can have variable results. Some women seem unaffected…others develop headaches, sexual dysfunction or gain weight around their waistline. Young women may hesitant to question their doctors or may not realize these are BCP side effects. Read on to educate yourself on the risks of BCPs.
Well-Documented Risks of Synthetic Estrogen and Progestin
Because hormonal BCPs contain synthetic estrogen and progesterone,
they have the same well-documented risks, including an increased risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack, and breast cancer. With HRT, these risks are primarily seen with oral estrogen pills especially when combined with a synthetic progestin. It’s important to emphasize that these risks increase with higher doses and with longer duration of use. Recall, the doses used in BCPs can be ten times higher than those in HRT! If BCPs are used for one to two years before starting a family, risk is probably minimal. However, many young women start BCPs as young as twelve or thirteen and may take them for twenty years or longer!
For the convenience of contraception (which you can do naturally just as well, and I’ll explain how below), you are putting yourself at risk for the following:
Cancer: Women who take birth control pills increase their risk of cervical and breast cancer, and possibly liver cancer as well.
Fatal blood clots: All birth control pills increase your risk of blood clots and subsequent stroke. And if your prescription contains the synthetic hormone desogestrel, your risk of fatal blood clots nearly doubles!
Thinner bones: Women who take birth control pills have lower bone mineral density (BMD) than women who have never used oral contraceptives.
Heart disease: Long-term use of birth control pills may increase plaque artery buildup in your body increase plaque artery buildup that may raise your risk of heart disease.
Impaired muscle gains: A recent study found that oral contraceptive use can impair muscle gain from resistance exercise training in women.
Decreased cognition and memory
Long-term sexual dysfunction: BCPs may interfere with a protein that keeps testosterone unavailable, leading to long-term sexual dysfunction including decreased desire and arousal.
Weight gain and mood changes
Yeast overgrowth and infection
Newer Hormonal Birth Control Methods May Be Even Riskier
Two of the newer hormonal contraceptives—the hormone-releasing vaginal ring, NuvaRing, and the combination pills Yaz and Yasmin, that also contain the hormone drospirenone in addition to estrogen and progestin—may be of even greater concern than the older “classics.”
The NuvaRing is a flexible vaginal ring that is replaced once a month. It releases estradiol and desogestrel. The latter is known as a “third generation” progestin, desogestrel, which has been linked to serious health concerns and may double your risk of blood clots when compared to second generation contraceptives. The NuvaRing delivers a relatively high dose of this hormone.
Other types of birth control also contain this third generation hormone, including some implants. More than 4,000 lawsuits have been filed against Bayer for serious side effects suffered by women taking the newer birth control pills Yaz and Yasmine. The four most common adverse effects are blood clots, gallbladder disease, heart attack and stroke. The first trial is scheduled to begin in September, and according to some legal estimates, the number of lawsuits filed may at that point reach 30,000.
So faced with these dire risks, what’s a woman to do for contraction? See my next blog entry that gives you guidance on natural options for birth control.