6 Little Known Secrets About Hormonal Birth Control Every Woman Should Know
The birth control pill was approved for use in the United States by the FDA in 1960. Today, 11 million women in their reproductive years are taking birth control pills in the US, while methods like the IUD have gained more usage and popularity in recent years. Because hormonal birth control is so widely used in the US and other countries, women should be aware of the following risks and side effects.
Two categories are hormonal and non-hormonal birth control methods. This article will cover hormonal birth control. Different types of hormonal birth control include:
- Oral Contraceptives aka “The pill” with combined or uncombined hormones
- Intrauterine Devices aka IUD, rings, implants, sponges
- Birth Control Injection like Depo Provera
Cardiovascular and cerebrovascular strokes are among the top causes of death in the US. Therefore, minimizing risk is obviously extremely important. According to the American Stroke Association, women who take even a low-estrogen birth control pill may be twice as likely to have a stroke than those who don’t, and the risk may increase if other risk factors are present (1). It’s important to do all that we can in our control to avoid serious conditions like stroke.
Many factors influence our risk of cancer. According to the cancer.gov website, research has shown a correlation with birth control use and certain cancers. A large Danish study in 2017 reported breast cancer risks associated with more recent formulations of oral contraceptives (2). “Overall, women who were using or had recently stopped using oral combined-hormone contraceptives had about 20% increased relative risk of breast cancer compared with women who had never used oral contraceptives.” The association between “the pill” and cervical cancer was even greater. Women taking oral contraceptives from 0-5 years had a 10% increased risk of developing cervical cancer. For women who’ve been taking birth control for over 5 years, the risk skyrockets to 60%, and doubles after 10 years of use (3).
Headaches can occur for a number of different reasons. They have been linked stress, cardiovascular health, nutrient deficiencies, and hormonal imbalance (3)(4). Most medical providers can only offer prescription drugs that may partially mitigate the pain of headaches at the expense of side effects. If you suffer from migraines or other types of headaches, it is extremely important to have your hormones and nutrient levels tested by a functional medicine practitioner who will help you look for the root of the problem.
This 2016 study showed an association between hormonal birth control and increased risk of depression, especially among adolescents (5). The study suggests that those who were on hormonal contraception were more likely to subsequently be taking antidepressants. In fact, the women with a uterine implant had a 2.1 fold risk of needing an antidepressant.
Long term (and even short term) use of oral contraceptives can lead to depletion of micronutrients that are vital for numerous cellular functioning. One study showed that females on oral contraceptive pills for at least 3 months experienced decreased serum zinc, altered tissue uptake of zinc, as well as decreased bone turnover (6). Zinc is essential for cardiovascular health and immune function. Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization, use of birth control pill has been shown to deplete key nutrients like folic acid, vitamins B2, B6, B12, vitamin C and E and the minerals magnesium, selenium and zinc (7). These nutrient deficiencies can lead to headaches, joint pain, inflammation, and other chronic diseases that have become so commonplace in today’s Western societies.
Post Birth Control Syndrome
Post Birth Control Syndrome (PBCS) is a lesser known consequence of birth control but can be a significant challenge for some women. PBCS is a collection of symptoms women experience after coming off “the pill” that may include (but not always) difficulty getting pregnant, hormonal dysregulation, missed periods, irregular bleeding, acne, cramps, and other hormone-related issues.
Most women, even younger females in their 20’s and 30’s, may not realize that they do not have to live with these symptoms. Oftentimes, having your hormones testing using the most accurate and up-to-date testing, as well as looking for any nutrient deficiencies can clear up most, if not all symptoms of PBCS.
The reality is that most women are currently taking, or have been on some form of birth control, at some point in their lives. Just because it is common for women to take birth control, doesn’t mean that women should assume that it doesn’t have any consequence on their health. There are many risks from stroke to migraine headache, depression to hormonal dysregulation. In future posts, we’ll cover how other hormones and body systems are effected by disrupting the balance of sex hormones.
The good news: Many of the issues caused by birth control use can be addressed easily by lifestyle and behavioral modifications. To achieve optimal wellness, ensure that your birth control isn’t causing hormone problems or nutrient imbalances by talking with your alternative healthcare provider about nutritional strategies and testing.