Risks of Hormonal Birth Control
When most girls are prescribed the birth control pill it's done flippantly and with little information. Before I delve into the numerous risks of short and long term hormonal birth control use, I would like to credit the pill with regulating periods, alleviating cramping and acne, preventing unwanted pregnancy, and reducing the risk of ovarian cancer.
28 different studies have linked an increased risk of cervical cancer with prolonged oral contraceptive use. More than 50 studies have shown a small increase of risk for breast cancer from prolonged oral contraceptive use. For women over 45, the risk for breast cancer increased by one and half times (144%) more than for women who never used the pill. A study published in the British Journal of Cancer revealed that out of every 100,000 women on the pill for 10 years or more, there are 50 extra cases of breast cancer. In both cases, the risk is reduce after 10 years of discontinuation.
2. Blood clots
This is probably the most talked about risk. Estrogens can cause the liver to produce clotting factors. About 40 out of 100,000 birth control users develop blood clots, a small amount of which lead to fatalities. Most of these will happen within the first year of use.
3. Autoimmune disease
Estrogen can negatively impact the body's immune response, triggering a predisposition to autoimmune disease. A British study published in 2009 found women taking the birth control pill had a higher risk of developing lupus. Another study from McGill University in Montreal reviewed the data of 1.7 million women who had prescriptions for the birth control pill. After an eight year follow-up, the researchers found that hormonal birth control had increased the risk for developing lupus by up to 2.5-fold. The risk was lower for women taking oral contraceptives which had lower doses of estrogen.
3. Heart Attacks & Strokes
Several studies, including one published in MedLink Neurology, have found that women who take any kind of oral contraceptives are twice as likely to have a stroke than those who don’t. This risk is increased in women who get migraines with a visual aura, smoke, or have high blood pressure. A study from the University of Belgium found that the chance of finding artery-blocking plaques increased by up to 30% for every 10 years of pill use.
4. Fertility Problems
Prolonged use of hormonal birth control can damage the cervical crypts that produce cervical fluid. The production cervical fluid is vital during ovulation for it creates a hospitable travel and living environment for the sperm. It can take years for the body to heal and begin producing good quality cervical fluid. In rare cases, the damage to the cervical crypts is irreversible.
5. Depletion of Nutrients
Studies have indicated that women taking the birth control pill have a different type of vitamin B-6 in their system. Many claim long term hormonal contraceptive use can lead to B-6, B-12, and folic acid deficiency. This can be a problem as these nutrients metabolize homocysteine, a compound which if elevated can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies dating back to the 70's have documented the pill being responsible for depleting vitamin C, magnesium, selenium, zinc and the amino acid tyrosine. Having these vitamin deficiencies increases the chance for heart disease, depression, a child with birth defects, a weakened immune system, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, blood clots, muscle cramps, weakness, anxiety, depression, cardiovascular problems, and insomnia.
6. Decreased Bone Density
The decrease of normal estrogen levels can negatively impact bone density. Several studies, including recent ones published in Contraception and The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism have found that women under 30 who have taken oral contraceptives for 2 or more years show bone density loss. The loss was more significant in women taking low-dose estrogen birth control pills.
7. Gallbladder Disease
Both estrogen and progesterone increase chances of gallstone formation by increasing bile production and impeding bile flow. Several studies have discovered an increased chance of gallbladder disease among users of oral contraceptives. The risk is most significant in women taking pills containing a form of progestin called drospirenone found in the Yaz and Yasmin brands.
8. Poor Milk Production
Hormonal birth control containing artificial estrogen has been shown to decrease milk production and milk nutritional value in nursing mothers.
9. Impaired sex drive & decreased sexual enjoyment
This is the ironic side effect of the pill. Women take birth control to gain sexual freedom and are instead left having passionless and painful sex. Unfortunately low libido is one of the most common side effects of hormonal contraceptives. The pill can prevent the female body from effectively using testosterone (due to increased levels of sex-hormone binding globulin) which can significantly decrease sex drive. Women on the pill tend to have less sex, fewer orgasms and have a harder time attaining arousal. Long term oral contraceptive use has been found to decrease libido even after discontinuation of use. More research needs to be done to determine whether this is a permanent effect or not.
Many women also experience vaginal dryness which causes painful sex and leads to decreased sexual enjoyment. Eventually this pain can become the focus of the sexual experience, resulting in her dreading sex, and both parties often feeling frustrated and guilty. The birth control pill can also effect the production of androgens, which directly influence pleasure during intercourse. The saddest part of this side effect is that couples rarely attribute it to the pill. Women often feel that they are doing something wrong or something is wrong with their body for no reason.
10. Depression, PMS and Severe Mood Swings
Many women have reported experiencing emotional side effects after taking the pill, ranging from exacerbated PMS to severe depression. Some have reported feeling like a completely different person while taking the pill.
Often women don't realize that the pill is behind these symptoms until they go off their hormonal contraceptives and their mood stabilizes. This may be due to the fact that the pill is advertised to help reduce PMS, which for some it does. Women experiencing depression brought on by the pill will often be prescribed anti-depressants, which can add another layer of side effects, subtracting from their quality of life. An Australian study conducted in 2005 found that pill takers had an average depression rating of 17.6 compared to 9.8 in non-users.
These emotional side effects can have serious implications in the long term. They can effect work, relationships, self esteem, and overall well-being. Women of all ages have reported feeling like a completely changed individual after discontinuation of the pill.
11. Impaired Muscle Growth
The pill, specifically the synthetic version of progesterone (progestin) inhibits the production of muscle-building hormones and increases cortisol, which breaks down muscle. Birth control containing lower doses of progestins has not shown to have any negative effect on building muscle.
12. Less Desirable to Men
When a woman ovulates, not only does she feel sexier and more easily aroused, but men are actually more attracted to her. On a very primal level, a man can sense when a woman is fertile. Single women who chart their cycles have reported that they wait until they're ovulating to go out because they find it easier to attract sexual partners during this time.
A study done by the University of New Mexico discovered that fertile strippers make up to $30.00 more per hour than their on the pill counterparts, with earnings peaking during the time of ovulation. Because the pill prevents ovulation from occurring, men may subconciously view women taking oral contraceptives as infertile, therefore finding them unsuitable for mating.
13. Impaired Partner Selection
The pill can suppress your natural ability to pick sexual partners that are genetically different from you. A study done in the U.K. documented the men women chose before and after going on the pill. The results showed that that after going on the pill, the women chose men that were genetically closer to them than before they were on the the pill. Since genetic dissimilarity increases the probability of having healthy children, this side effect may be worth taking seriously.
14. High Blood Pressure
Several studies have demonstrated a direct link between oral contraceptives and an increase in blood pressure. When paired with factors such as smoking, obesity, and age, the pill can significantly increase the overall risk for cardiovascular disease.
15. Yeast Infections, Candida Prevalence, & Vaginitis
A strong relationship has been established between the use of hormonal contraceptives and vaginal infection. Certain types of Candida can have up to 70% prevalence in women that take the pill. Studies have shown that Candida prevalence (with several types of Candida documented) is higher in women taking birth control than women who are not. Oral contraceptives have also been found to be the most common cause of vaginitis when compared to any other type of hormonal birth control.
One of the most widely reported side effects is feeling nauseous right after taking the daily dose of the birth control pill. The severity of this ranges from woman to woman and usually disappears within the first year of use.
17. Trouble Sleeping
If the pill causes the depletion of vitamin c and/or magnesium, the woman is more likely to develop insomnia or another sleep disorder.
The following symptoms have been known to be improved by as well as caused by the pill, depending on the woman:
Weight loss or gain
Emotional sensitivity before period (PMS)
Acne – the pill has been popularized to improve acne yet very few brands of oral contraceptive have been approved for acne treatment. Taking the wrong pill can actually increase breakouts for some women.
Headaches – women who suffer from headaches that are specifically caused by hormones (usually around the time of their period) are sometimes prescribed the pill to help alleviate symptoms. For women who experience other types of headaches, the pill can exacerbate the pain and frequency. Women who suffer from migraines with a visual aura and take oral contraceptives, run an increased risk of stroke.
Hair Thinning – artificial progesterone can impede hair growth in two different ways: triggering the shedding of hair before a new growth cycle can be achieved, and increasing hair loss in already genetically predisposed women. Pills containing higher levels of estrogen are sometimes prescribed to improve hair loss symptoms. Unfortunately, elevated levels of estrogen can cause many other side effects.