Before I even touch on any science about this— I'm gonna be honest, I trust my gut with this one.
And my gut tells me that taking a prescription medication for years and years at a time prooobbbably isn't great for your health. I'm especially suspicious of something like oral contraceptives, aka birth control pills—a prescription drug that intentionally and directly influences your body's normal hormonal expression.
When reviewing the 13-year long Danish study on birth control pill use among 1 million women between the ages of 15-34, I can't say I was surprised by what the researchers found—or as they put it, a "relatively hitherto unnoticed adverse effect."
Oral Contraceptive Use Increases Risk of Depression, University of Copenhagen Study Finds
The research, published in 2016 in JAMA Psychiatry, confirmed a link between oral contraceptives and depression.
Specifically, their data revealed that women taking birth control pills containing estrogen and progeterone were nearly a quarter more likely to be diagnosed with depression compared to women who weren't on the pill. Additionally, women taking the so-called "mini pill" (progestin-only) were over a third more likely to have clinical depression. The increased risk was especially robust among adolescent girls.
I don't know about you, but I see this as a major problem. Depression is NO joke and affects an estimated 12 million women every year in the US alone (incidentally, the CDC estimates about 10.6 million American women are on the pill). I see no reason why we shouldn't strive to eliminate as many factors as possible which are contributing to mental health issues...
...Oh, and that's not all...
Additional Health Risks and Side Effects Associated With The Pill
As pointed out by organizations like Planned Parenthood, being on the pill increases your risk for rare but complications potentially serious complications including blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, and even certain types of cancer (e.g., breast, liver, and cervical cancer). And these risks jump if you have certain other health conditions or happen to smoke (ew).
Leaving aside the risk of adverse health consequences for a minute, let's not forget about the unpleasant side effects many women experience, including:
- Spotting in between periods and vaginal discharge
- Headaches and migraines
- Breast tenderness
- Weight gain
- Decreased libido
- Eyesight changes in women who wear contacts
I'm sure some will argue that the temporary unpleasantness of birth control pills is well worth the ability to control when and if you get pregnant—and maybe that's true. But if you ask me, why expose yourself to hassle (and potential harm) if there are so many other effective (and safer) contraceptive options out there?
Most of you know I love my functional medicine doctor Dr. Jim Lavalle. I hang on his every word because the man is brilliant, seasoned, and forward thinking. He has a few short but note worthy thoughts about birth control you may want to consider:
- Birth Control pills deplete B 6 which is needed to make serotonin. Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression. Serotonin is an important chemical and neurotransmitter in the human body. It is believed to help regulate mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function.
- There may be a link between serotonin and depression. 19-56 % of women on birth control pills have the tendency to get depressed (research on this cited above)
- Birth control pills can cause birth defects due to folate depletion. (this vitamin is important to the growth of the fetus's spinal cord and brain).
- He also warns that B6 should be given to counter the effects of birth control (more than what's in a daily vitamin as he notes that is not enough).
- Ideally women (when possible) should wait 6 months after stopping birth control before getting pregnant.
Let me also quickly direct you here for some more tasty bites of knowledge and awareness on birth control and how it can seriously effect your health-- it's a 40 minute podcast. Ross Pelton, Pharmacist & health educator talks about many of the problems from birth control and how the problems that can develop don’t always cause noticeable symptoms and can take years to develop.
He mentions how birth control can cause low energy, heart attacks, breast cancer & other cancers, weakened immune system, sleep problems, yeast infections, fluid retention, weight gain, sexual side effects, increased free radicals (causes accelerated aging) and more all related to the nutrient depletion birth control causes. It's a really good listen and is packed with info and talks about how to maintain good health while on birth control, if you choose to do so.
Do Better Birth Control Options Exist
I'm really happy that modern medicine has done so much to help women reclaim control over their reproductive health and their family planning, and I'm not about to poo-poo the major turn of events that the pill triggered back when it was first introduced back in the 1950's.
HOWEVER, a lot has happened since then—most notably, more and more research showing how oral contraceptives can be harmful to your health.
And guess what? You have so many other options for contraception!
- Condoms (up to 98% effective when used correctly)
- Diaphragms (up to 96% effective when used correctly)
- 'Non-hormonal' copper intrauterine devices, or IUDs (99% effective) *this could have it's own post though bc there is some concern here*
These options are affordable, they don't mess with your hormones, and they WORK. And sorry, I don't really care if it feels awkward to ask a guy (or your huz!) to use a condom. If you're mature enough to have sex, then you're mature enough to protect your reproductive health. Find what works for you and USE it.
By the way, I'm fully aware that birth control pills are often prescribed for medical reasons OTHER than preventing a pregnancy. For instance, your doctor may have prescribed you oral contraceptives to manage irregular or absent menstrual periods, severe menstrual cramps, severe acne, PMS, endometriosis, Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
If so, don't take this as a call to drop your medication or feel shameful about your current approach to managing any of these understandably uncomfortable issues. I AM NOT YOUR DOCTOR, and none of what I talk about in my little corner of the internet should be construed as medical advice-ever!
What I am though is a pre and post natal expert and this is a growing concern and question I get on the reg from my clients and community. In my event to help educate my community with knowledge (because that sh*t is power) I have gathered and shared what I interpret as reliable research and thoughts on this topic.
My main issue I have with this birth control that it's not natural and it does effect our hormonal health and depletes nutrients and I think we can collectively agree (either from personal or professional experience or both) that hormones and deficiencies directly effect pretty much every damn thing in our bodies from mood, to weight-loss, sickness, disease, the list goes on and on and on...
I simply want YOU to be aware of the best evidence I can find related to health and wellness, because I know it's hard to keep things straight in a world where 24-hour news cycles spit out all sorts of conflicting information.
I'm not an expert about things like PCOS, endometriosis, or, for that matter, YOUR body. All I ask is for you to speak up more, ask more questions, and work with your doc to figure out the best solution for you, no matter what your health needs and goals are.
And hey, if that includes getting off hormone-influencing pills—then I think we'll both be happier about that.
pill, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290196.php, and https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2552796