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In America and around the world, millions of women use birth control pills to serve as their primary form of contraceptive.
There is mounting evidence of the dangerous side effects of these pills, yet women still choose to take them.
Although many are aware of the side effects, around 25% of these women still decide to take the birth control pill.
This article will discuss the potential risks and side effects of the pill, and will then offer some ideas for safe and natural alternatives.
By the end of the article, you will have a full picture of how hormonal birth control can negatively affect your mind and body, and how you can use safe, effective contraceptive methods.
Many women choose to take birth control pills because they are simple and effective.
In fact, when taken regularly and correctly, the pill is 99% effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies.
However, despite its effectiveness, many women are now choosing not to take birth controls pills because of its many side effects. (2)
These side effects can include cystic acne, moodiness, anxiety, breast tenderness, weight gain, and depression.
For some women, the pill can even cause them to experience infertility once they are ready to get pregnant.
For some women, the risks associated with the pill are too great, so they turn to other, more natural methods, in order to avoid unwanted pregnancy.
In fact, studies show that 67% of women who are taking some form of contraception are taking impermanent methods, usually of the hormonal variety.
They include the birth control pill, patch, implants, injectable medication, and the vaginal ring.
Others use non-hormonal methods, such as an IUD or condoms.
Perhaps you use hormonal birth control, but you’re beginning to wonder if the negative side effects outweigh the positives.
If so, then it is time to consider natural alternatives.
If your aim is to not get pregnant, there are natural methods that do not alter your hormones.
These methods are safe, and they do not require you to take medication.
During certain days of your cycle when you are likely to get pregnant, you can always use condoms or abstain from intercourse.
These natural methods can prevent pregnancy without the harsh side effects of hormonal contraceptives.
Defining “the Pill”
Birth control pills can be defined as oral contraceptives that women regularly take to keep them from getting pregnant.
The majority of women take the pill to prevent an unplanned pregnancy.
However, some women also take the pill to help with other problems, such as acne or heavy, painful menstrual cycles.
Some women also take the pill to make their menstrual cycles more regular, or to stop them altogether.
In 2012, around 11 million women in the United States reported using the pill.
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And over 100 million women around the world reported taking the pill to prevent pregnancy.
These numbers do not accurately represent the number of women who have taken some form of contraceptive that alters their hormones—since they do not reflect the number of women who take the “morning-after” pill.
This pill is taken the day after intercourse to prevent a pregnancy; it gives the woman a high dosage of hormones.
In the United States, the morning-after pill has been available over the counter since the year 2000. Survey data has revealed that the women most likely to take it are:
- White teenagers or young women in their 20s.
- Women who are unmarried or living with a significant other.
- Women without children.
- Women who have graduated from college.
Types of Pills
There are many different brands and types of oral contraceptives, but most are either combined pills or progestin-only pills.
To understand how combined pills work, you must first understand how pregnancy occurs.
Once a month, a woman releases an egg. This process is known as ovulation.
For a day or two each month, she is fertile. On or around these days, she is most likely to become pregnant if she has intercourse.
If sperm fertilizes the egg, she will become pregnant.
Combined pills contain chemicals that imitate two of the female hormones: progestin and estrogen.
These two hormones are elevated in pregnant women, so taking them can make a woman’s body think she is already pregnant.
These two hormones can stop ovulation, which can prevent a pregnancy from occurring.
Combined pills stop ovulation and do other things to prevent pregnancy, such as thickening the cervical mucus and thinning the lining of the uterus.
These changes all involve an alteration of a woman’s natural hormonal balance.
When using combined pills, a woman usually takes 21 to 24 active pills each month.
She will then skip taking it for four to seven days.
Or she’ll take a placeholder pill for those days, just to stay on a regular schedule of taking pills.
The placeholder pill has no medicinal effect. Women usually menstruate on the days when they’re not taking any pills, or when they’re taking reminder pills with no hormones.
You cannot become pregnant on the pill, even on the days when you take no pill or a reminder pill.
There are two types of packs of combined pills.
With a conventional pack, a woman will menstruate once a month, mimicking a typical cycle.
An extended pack can contain up to 84 active pills.
Women may menstruate only four times year, or they may not have a period at all. Some skip their period entirely.
If a combined pill has less than 50 micrograms of ethinyl estradiol (a type of estrogen), it is a “lose dose” pill.
These pills are usually prescribed for women who find higher-dose pills to be too strong.
For some women, even the low-dose pill has too many harmful side effects.
Progestin-only pills are also known as mini-pills.
They only contain progestin, and do not have any estrogen.
These pills are usually prescribed to women who have harsh side effects due to estrogen.
Progestin pills are not as effective as combined pills, because these pills do not stop ovulation.
They only thicken cervical mucus, and thin the lining of the uterus.
As these pills are not as effective, there are not as many brands available.
They also have the side effect of breakthrough bleeding, which is when a woman bleeds outside of her menstrual period.
There are other side effects associated with the mini-pill as well.
Birth Control Side Effects
Many birth control medications manipulate a woman’s hormones.
In a woman’s natural cycle, her estrogen and progesterone will go up and down over the course of a month.
A woman’s body is designed to manage the different levels of hormones during the month.
However, birth control keeps the hormone levels high for the entire month—which is not natural and can be dangerous.
These high hormone levels trick a woman’s body into thinking she is pregnant.
Since the body thinks it is already pregnant, it does not ovulate, so an actual pregnancy does not happen.
If you keep your estrogen levels elevated for the entire month, it can have some potentially dangerous side effects. (4)
These side effects may include:
- Higher chance of breast cancer
- Higher chances of blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes
- For overweight women on the pill, the chances of blood clotting are exceptionally higher.
- Headaches and migraines
- Gallbladder or liver issues, and even benign tumors in the gallbladder or liver
- Higher blood pressure
- Weight gain
- Mood changes
- Some women even have problems with anxiety and depression.
- Some experience nausea, cramping, and breakthrough bleeding, which occurs when a woman spots outside of her menstrual period.
- Sore breasts
In addition to side effects, the pill only prevents pregnancy.
It does not prevent any sexually transmitted diseases.
Thus, for women using the pill, they must also use another form of protection to avoid exposure to an STD.
The same synthetic hormones that women in menopause take are used in the birth control pill.
Doctors have now seen enough research about the harmful side effects of these drugs that they no longer prescribe them to menopausal women.
If this damage is true for menopausal drugs, it is certainly true for birth control as well.
Therefore, many doctors now see the pill as unsafe, and are urging their patients to seek other forms of birth control.
However, others still prescribe and consider it to be a safe, effective form of birth control.
In addition to taking the pill to prevent pregnancy, some women take the pill to help reduce the symptoms of PMS and make their periods become more regular.
While the pill does help some women with these symptoms, reports show that for many women, the pill does significantly impact PMS symptoms.
In fact, for some women, the pill only makes their symptoms worse, due to the high levels of hormones.
However, some women do have good results with certain pills and doses.
For many women who have menstrual problems (such as cramping and irregular periods), the issue is caused by too much estrogen in their bodies, and not enough progesterone.
While taking a combined pill will help with the progesterone deficiency, it also further increases their estrogen, which in turn can cause even more problems.
It does not make sense to take more estrogen if your problems are originally caused by too much estrogen.
Furthermore, a woman’s sex hormones influence 150 body systems.
When a woman takes the pill, these systems are influenced as the hormonal balance changes.
In fact, the endocrine, neurologic, and immunologic systems can be affected by taking the pill.
So when you take the pill to prevent pregnancy, you must be aware that you are doing much more to your body than just preventing an unwanted pregnancy.
Your hormone levels are affecting all aspects of your body, and you may have problems with energy levels, motor skills, adrenaline, metabolism, memory, and concentration.
Deficiency in Nutrients
When you take the pill, your body must metabolize it.
In order for the liver to carry out this process, it has to have additional amounts of B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc.
Since many women in the US start taking the pill in their teens, there is a higher risk of nutrient deficiency over a prolonged period of time.
This impact can include magnesium and zinc, which can put you at risk of some diseases.
Thus, if you take the pill, you must make sure to consume extra nutrients, in order to keep your liver healthy and avoid problems like muscle pain, exhaustion, indigestion, and sleeping problems.
Candida albicans, also known as candida, is yeast that is usually found in the digestive tract.
But certain factors (such as taking the pill or eating foods that are high in simple carbohydrates) can cause an excess of yeast.
This excess will move from the digestive tract to other parts of the body, and will lead to problems with candida.
Problems with candida are linked with an excess of estrogen in a woman’s system.
Since hormonal birth control methods (such as the pill, patch, and ring) all increase the estrogen in a woman’s body, researches have determined that taking hormonal birth control may increase a woman’s chances of candida. (5)
While candida can cause annoying vaginal infections, it can also cause many other health problems that can be much more serious.
Women who experience problems with yeast infections have been shown to also have problems with migraines, infertility, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, psoriasis, PMS, depression, and digestive issues.
Studies have shown that once the yeast infection is treated, the other problems usually go away as well.
For women who take birth control, the mini-pill has been shown to cause fewer yeast infections, as it does not contain estrogen.
Mood Swings, Anxiety, and Depression
There is a question about whether or not taking birth control can lead to depression, or if it just increases conditions that already exist.
Since the estrogen and progesterone in the body are at unnatural levels, it makes sense that the brain is altered as well, since it deals with an excess amount of hormones.
This impact can cause psychological side effects.
Some women experience sadness, loss of appetite, and low sex drive while taking the pill.
However, many doctors tell them it is not a result of the pill, and that those feelings are not real.
In one study involving over 1 million women in Denmark, researchers discovered a marked difference in women who were and were not taking the pill.
The women who were taking the pill were much more likely to report symptoms of depression than the women who were not on the pill.
Women taking the progestin-only pill, the transdermal patch, and the vaginal ring tended to have a higher occurrence of depression and antidepressant prescriptions. (7)
However, some studies have not had the same results.
Others have found little or no relationship between the pill and tendencies toward depression.
Certain research is now showing that the correlation between the pill and depression may be the result of increased stress—from trying to avoid pregnancy while being sexually active.
For the regular population, statistics show that the risk of breast cancer is about one in eight (9).
Some studies are now showing that women who were on the pill before having children have an increased risk of breast cancer.
Their chances are increased by 44%, which means that women on the pill have a one in five chance of getting breast cancer, as opposed to one in eight.
The synthetic hormones used in the pill may have a side effect that stimulates the breast cells and creates an increased risk of cancerous cells.
Perhaps you are already at high risk for breast cancer because of a family history, or you have already been found to have abnormal cells in your breast.
If so, then you increase your risks by taking the pill. (10)
For years, researches have been finding relationships between breast cancer and hormonal birth control.
One study discovered a higher risk for breast cancer for women who took pills with a high dose of estrogen.
In 1996, researchers did a review of 54 studies.
Their findings included indications that women taking pills with a combination of estrogen and progesterone have a higher risk of breast cancer.
These women also have this increased risk for 10 years after they have stopped taking the pill.
In 2010, another study found an increased risk of breast cancer in women taking the triphasic pill, which increases a woman’s hormones three times during a menstrual cycle.
In light of these findings, it seems that doctors would warn their patients of the increased risk of breast cancer, but that is not always the case.
Lots of different organizations have a stake in the proliferation of birth control pills, including drug companies and governments.
These entities allocate tax dollars to allow people to have free access to contraceptives.
These studies can have a negative affect on the public’s perception of these organizations, so they often try to keep the findings away from the public.
Blood Clots, Pulmonary Issues, Embolism and Thrombosis
Over 20 years ago, doctors found a relationship between increased amounts of estrogen and the threat of developing blood clots in the veins, which is known as venous thromboembolism.
In the years since then, many studies have shown the following: As dosages of estrogen get higher, the threat of embolism gets higher as well. (11)
Deep-vein thrombosis occurs when a clot develops deep in a vein, usually in the leg.
If that clot makes its way to the lung, it is known as a pulmonary embolism.
A pulmonary embolism can be very serious, and it is fatal 10 to 20% of the time. (12)
Estrogen has been shown to make clotting more likely.
Mini-pills that contain the progestin hormone desogestrel are more likely to cause blood clots.
Pills with drospirenone are among the most prescribed types of the pill, and include brands such as Yaz, Yasmin, Beyaz, Ocella, and Zarah.
Some symptoms of blood clots include difficulty breathing, chest pain (especially with deep breathing), coughing up blood, or leg problems (including pain, redness, warmth or swelling).
You may already be at risk for blood clots, due to smoking, being overweight, immobility, or family history.
If so, you should discuss which types of birth control may be right for you with your doctor.
Natural Birth Control Methods
Since the pill was only developed in recent history, there are many other ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and many methods that have been practiced throughout human history.
These methods are often safer than the pill, and have been proven to work.
Science is beginning to research some of these natural birth control strategies, and the results are positive.
These methods are natural, and do not involve taking synthetic hormones. Some of these strategies include:
Condoms have been shown to work almost as well as the pill.
They have a 98% rate of effectiveness, which is comparable to the pill’s 99% rate of effectiveness.
This tactic is not as common.
It is a small cup that goes inside the vagina.
It catches the sperm, and stops it from going all the way into the body and causing fertilization.
The female condom is 95% effective, and does not tear as easily as a male condom.
This tactic is another form of female contraception.
They are made of a thin rubber, which is mounted on rings that are placed in the upper vagina.
Like the female condom, a diaphragm prevents the sperm from entering the cervix. As diaphragms are more fitted, they must be sized by a doctor.
Diaphragms have been shown to be anywhere between 92 and 98% effective.
This cap must be inserted by a doctor.
It can be left inside the cervix for up to 48 hours.
Cervical caps are made of durable rubber, and have proven to be 91% effective at preventing pregnancy.
In this strategy, a woman keeps track of her cycle, and determines when she is fertile.
She can also use this tracking to deal with symptoms of PMS and stress.
This method involves a woman tracking her cycle and determining her most fertile days.
She and her partner then refrain from having sex for a span of time (which begins a few days before those days, and ends a few days after), in order to decrease chances of fertilization.
This method works best for women who have a very regular cycle. In other words, there are always the same number of days between menstruations.
This strategy has been found to be about 75% effective, but it is even more effective when combined with the temperature method and the cervical mucus method below.
Before ovulation, you often have a spike in your body temperature.
The temperature method requires you to track your temperature spikes for several months.
You take your temperature when you first wake up, in order to get your basal body temperature.
After taking your temperature for a few months, you should see a pattern, and know which days you ovulate on.
You can then use this information to avoid sex before, during, and after those days.
This method is not highly effective on its own, due to other factors that can cause a change in temperature.
So it has a reported 98% effective rate when used in conjunction with the mucus method.
Many women rely on monitoring changes in their cervical mucus, in order to determine when ovulation will occur.
In most cases, the cervix produces mucus a few days before ovulation.
Once the mucus is stringing and resembles egg whites, ovulation is ready to occur.
Women then avoid sex during those days.
For some women, birth control is even more risky than the side effects that were previously listed.
Your medical history, age, current health issues, medications, and other factors can make birth control pills even more dangerous for you—even pills with smaller doses of estrogen and progestin.
In order to make sure you are following the healthiest plan for contraception, you should always discuss any concerns with your doctor.
In particular, you should be careful taking the pill if:
- You are pregnant or breastfeeding. The pill may have harmful effects on your baby. If you are not sure if you are pregnant, you need to see a doctor before taking the pill.
- You are over the age of 35.
- You smoke cigarettes, use tobacco, or use any type of recreational drug.
- You have a history of certain diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, deep-vein thrombosis, or pulmonary embolism. The pill may exacerbate these diseases.
- You or someone in your family has had breast cancer.
- You have complications with diabetes that impact the circulatory and nervous systems.
- You have recently had a major surgery, and are still recovering.
- You take St. John’s Wort, anticonvulsant, or anti-tuberculous agents.
Do’s and Don’ts
- When possible, use a natural form of birth control before resorting to the pill.
- Ask your doctor about risks associated with the pill.
- Ask your doctor about safe, effective, natural alternatives to the pill.
- Don’t continue taking the pill or using any form of birth control that you feel is causing health issues.
- If you are having issues with PMS or irregular periods, don’t think that the pill is your only option. There are other ways to resolve these issues, which don’t involve using a synthetic hormone.
- Don’t take the pill if you have preexisting health conditions, such as a history of breast cancer or high blood pressure.
- Don’t rely on the pill to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. It only prevents pregnancy. You will need to use another form of protection to avoid STDs.
- Don’t exclusively use the basal body temperature method. Your temperature can fluctuate for reasons other than ovulation. Use it in conjunction with other methods, such as monitoring cervical mucus.
- Don’t smoke or use recreational drugs while on the pill.
Recent research has shown that there are many risks associated with hormonal birth control.
Although the pill is taken by over 100 million women around the world, the side effects from an excess of estrogen can be potentially dangerous.
Birth control has been linked to breast cancer, blood clots, and depression.
Fortunately, the pill and other hormonal contraceptives are not the only options that women have for preventing unwanted pregnancy.
There are many natural methods of contraception that are as effective as hormonal birth control, such as using condoms and tracking your cycle.
Work with your doctor to find the best birth control method for you.
And remember that you have options when it comes to preventing an unwanted pregnancy.