Did you know that millions of women currently take some form of hormonal birth control?
Whether it’s to clear up bad skin, control cramps, regulate heavy periods, or to prevent pregnancy, taking birth control pills isn’t something that should be taken lightly.
Simply looking through the pamphlet that comes with the pill will give you a quick glimpse of the many side effects that can come with taking the pill (and possible strike fear in your heart as you wonder why anyone would willingly put this in their body!).
There is spotting, nausea, breast tenderness, headaches, weight gain, mood changes, vaginal discharge, vision changes, among others. And to be honest, this is just the beginning of what birth control pills can do to your body.
What a Normal Cycle Looks Like
Okay, let’s take a step back and discuss what a woman’s natural cycle actually looks like.
The first half of the cycle is called the follicular phase. It is typically around 14 days, but it could be less or more. This phase is where the ovaries begin to “ripen” and produce follicles that are filled with oestrogen. So as the follicles begin to ripen, oestrogen rises.
Studies have linked birth control pills with an increased risk of breast cancer. According to breastcancer.org, “There are concerns that because birth control pills use hormones to block pregnancy they may overstimulate breast cells, which can increase the risk of breast cancer.”
The second half is called the luteal phase, and oestrogen levels will now begin to fall as progesterone will start to rise. Around mid-cycle, more hormones are released from the pituitary grand and the hypothalamus, which trigger the dominant follicle to ovulate. Typically, ovulation happens around day 14 but as mentioned earlier, it does vary. The egg is released from the dominant follicle and drawn toward the fallopian tube into the uterus.
Women are considered fertile for about 24 to 48 hours during ovulation. Progesterone levels will continue to rise if the egg remains unfertilised. The egg will eventually be reabsorbed into the body and the progesterone levels will start to fall.
Around day 28, progesterone levels will be at its lowest and that’s when menstruation occurs. Once menstruation is over, oestrogen begins to rise again and the cycle starts all over.
Now that we have our little science lesson on the way, let’s look at how birth control works.
How Hormonal Birth Control Pills Work
Birth control pills work by introducing some synthetic form of hormones, either oestrogen or progesterone or both.
Different types of pills work differently. Some will prevent ovulation by using synthetic hormones to stabilise the natural hormones and prevent an oestrogen spike, and thus stopping ovulation from occurring.
Other forms of pills will prevent a fertilised egg from implanting in the uterus. And others might thicken the mucus that surrounds the cervix, making it nearly impossible for sperm to penetrate and get to the egg.
While the outcome may sound desirable to anyone trying to prevent pregnancy, let’s step back and think about what birth control pills are really doing. They are messing with your natural cycle and what your body is supposed to be doing. And it’s doing it by introducing a bunch of synthetic hormones.
By now you might be thinking, that can’t be good?
You’re right. It’s not.
The Scary Side Effects of Birth Control Pills
Besides the side effects mentioned earlier, here are further, even more dangerous, side effects you need to be aware of.
Increased Risk of Cancer
Studies have linked birth control pills with an increased risk of breast cancer. According to breastcancer.org, “There are concerns that because birth control pills use hormones to block pregnancy they may overstimulate breast cells, which can increase the risk of breast cancer.”1 The World Health Organization also classifies oral contraceptives as a carcinogen.2
Higher Chance of Blood Clots
If you smoke, are overweight, or over 35, and take the pill, you have a higher risk of developing blood clots. According to a study from Denmark which looked at women between the ages of 15 and 49 and followed them for 10 years, “The overall absolute risk of venous thrombosis per 10,000 woman years in non-users of oral contraceptives was 3.01 and in current users was 6.29.”3
Increased Risk of Heart Attack
Types of pills that contain oestrogen and progesterone (which is most of them – progesterone-only pills are typically only taken after a woman gives birth and is still nursing) have been correlated with heart attacks and strokes. The risk seems to be pretty low, but there is still a risk there.
Depletion of B Vitamins
B vitamins help boost memory function, reduce the chances of heart disease, and reduce stress. Unfortunately, birth control pills are known to decrease the amount of B vitamins in your body, which can lead to a weaker immune system.
Higher Blood Pressure
While it’s more common in women who are overweight and have a history of high blood pressure, there still is a direct relationship between birth control pills and higher blood pressure.
Increased Risk of Developing Benign Liver Tumours
According to the American Liver Foundation, hepatocellular adenomas, a type of benign liver tumour, is found most often in women around childbearing age. These types of tumours were linked to oral birth control pills that contain high doses of oestrogen.4
An Overgrowth of Yeast
Because birth control pills are so high in oestrogen, it messes with a woman’s hormones. Obvious, right? But this leads to an imbalance in the body, which can lead to yeast overgrowth. This overgrowth can occur in multiple places in the body, typically in the gut or in the vaginal area.
While women decide to take hormonal birth control pills for a myriad of reasons, it’s important to take a step back and think about what the pill actually does. By introducing a bunch of fake hormones, the pill alters your body’s natural cycle. Now, is that something you really want happening?
What’s your experience of the hormonal birth control pill? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.
- (Anonymous). (2014). Is There a Link Between Birth Control Pills and Higher Breast Cancer Risk? In BREASTCANCER.ORG. Retrieved from http://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/study-questions-birth-control-and-risk
- (Anonymous). (2005). Carcinogenicity of Combined Hormonal Contraceptives and Combined Menopausal Treatment. In World Health Organization. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/ageing/carcinogenicity_hrt/en/
- Lidegaard, Ø., Løkkegaard, E., Svendsen, A.L., et al. (2009). Hormonal Contraception and Risk of Venous Thromboembolism: National Follow-up Study. In British Medical Journal 339, b2890. Retrieved from http://www.bmj.com/content/339/bmj.b2890
- (Anonymous). (2015). Benign Liver Tumors. In American Liver Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/benigntumors/.