It’s easy, it’s effective, and it’s harmless – at least, that’s what they tell us. But do we really understand what popping those small white pills day after day is doing to our body, behaviour, and self-confidence? I know I didn’t. I had to reach the brink of depression before digging into ‘The Pill’ and finding out some surprising facts, and stories from other women brave enough to tell me about their experiences, which made me realize I wasn’t crazy for wanting to come off it.
Here are 8 things you might not have heard about The Pill:
1. It’s The Most Commonly Used Drug In The World
There are currently well over 100 million women on the Pill, and it has been used at some time by 300 million. Tens of millions more use injectables, patches, and implants which contain similar levels of hormones. Girls as young as 12 are prescribed the Pill, not only for contraception, but also for heavy periods, acne, or ‘hormone imbalances.’
“I got put on the Pill at 16 for heavy periods. It helped make them more manageable, but my emotions became a roller coaster. I was up and down so much I started to think I was losing the plot. I came off a couple of years later and felt like myself again.”
2. It’s A Billion-Dollar Industry
In the U.S., the Pill makes pharmaceutical companies approx. 2.8 billion each year. Eyebrows have certainly been raised over how much they’re downplaying potential side-effects and issues with their products – for example, a recent study for the Inspector General’s Office of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services found that 7 out of 10 advertisements for contraceptive pills were “misleading or unbalanced.”
3. The Pill Works By Keeping You In A Constant State Of Pregnancy
As women, our natural cycle is composed of rising and falling levels of estrogen and progesterone. What the Pill does is keep your levels at a constant high point – basically tricking your body into thinking that it’s already pregnant, so pregnancy can’t occur. These levels are approx. 3-4 times higher than they naturally occur at the peak of your cycle.
4. You Can’t Absorb Nutrients Properly When On The Pill
Taking the Pill every day places a really heavy load on your liver, which has to metabolize all the synthetic hormones. It affects your ability to absorb vitamins B2, B6, B12, C, riboflavin, thiamine, and folic acid – as well as depleting minerals zinc, copper, selenium, potassium, and magnesium. It can take months or years for the effects of this malnutrition to become apparent, but it’s amazing how many ‘small’ problems such as insomnia, cravings, skin infections, headaches, weight gain, anxiety, fatigue, constipation, and irritability can all be linked back to use of the Pill.
“I never used to get headaches, or infections. I considered myself a really healthy person, but in my first year of being on the Pill, I got thrush three times and had headaches on and off. Only after I’d stopped taking it I connected the headaches to the days when I was on the sugar pills – basically in ‘withdrawal’ mode from the Pill. I had headaches coming off it too, but they’re over now.”
“After going on the Pill, with no changes to my diet or exercise, I gained 7kgs in 2 months! I decided shortly after to stop taking it – and let me tell you, that weight took a lot longer to lose than it did to gain.”
5. The Pill Suppresses Testosterone – Bye-bye Sex Drive!
It’s been found that women on the Pill produce up to seven times more of a sex hormone-binding globulin; a protein which binds with testosterone and takes it out of circulation. Lack of testosterone leads to low libido and less fun in the bedroom. Australian Professor Lorraine Dennerstein, who specializes in researching female sex hormones, says that “The Pill flattens out natural estradiol highs and suppresses free testosterone, potentially delivering a double libido blow.”
“I started taking the pill when I was 19 as a means of birth control and also to help with really heavy periods. That was 9 years ago. It definitely improved my menstrual cycle (and I obviously did not get pregnant), so I just assumed it was now a permanent part of my routine. I never thought about it again, taking the pill was just a regular part of my life, as normal as breathing.
A couple of years into it my sex drive started to flag. I had always maintained a very healthy sexual appetite, so it was very noticeable. I never attributed the problem to what I was doing to my hormones though. I assumed it was a part of getting a little older, being in a committed relationship, all the things you’re told will happen when you get comfortable with someone. Then I started noticing that my periods were becoming very irregular. If I missed a pill, or took it late (even by a couple of hours), my period would begin a week early and continue through its full duration – meaning I was menstruating for two weeks at a time. So I tried the pill where you only get your period every three months. That was followed by spotting at random times and intense stomach cramps. I quit that pretty quickly and tried a few other brands of the regular pill before settling on one and continuing on with my life.
Then last year I started noticing that almost every period was turning into the two week irregularity, with plenty of water retention and PMS to boot. My sex drive was also as low as it had ever been. I started doing some research into birth control and discovered not only that it was likely causing my low sex drive, but could lead to a whole host of health problems I had never considered before.
So in January I stopped taking the pill, and the difference was like night and day. I lost a couple of pounds, my periods went back to normal (though heavy again), and best of all, my sex drive had returned. I felt like a teenager again (which makes sense considering I started taking the pill when I was 19). Now, several months later, I can still feel my body readjusting to a natural cycle. My sex life has done nothing but improve steadily these last few months.”
6. Your Chances Of Depression Double
You might have seen depression listed as a possible side-effect on your Pill packet. It may be more serious than we’re lead to believe though – one study conducted by women’s mental health specialist Professor Jayashri Kulkarni on a large group of women over 18 years old, with no clinical history of depression, found that the women on the Pill were twice as likely to suffer from depression as the others. In another on-going study of 23,000 women on the Pill, one third stopped taking it because of depression.
“I tried about 6 different contraceptive pills over 4.5 years, hoping I’d find one that worked. I had horrible mood swings and long ‘low’ times on all of them, eventually gave up on the Pill and switched to a non-hormonal method. My friends said that they’d missed me and it was good to have me back again.”
7. You Risk Breast Cancer, Cervical Cancer, Stroke, Bone Density Depletion, Blood Clots, & Ovarian Cancer
You’ve probably heard about some/most of these warnings before, but we all have a tendency to think, “Oh, that wouldn’t happen to me.” Studies have found that the hormonal changes the Pill produces in our bodies (which leads to the previously mentioned nutrient absorption issues) increase risks significantly in these areas – even though it may not become an issue for some time.
“I went on the pill in my late teens to deal with periods so painful that for one day a month, all I could concentrate on was lying on the couch clutching a hot water bottle. When I figured out that amounted to 12 days a year — almost two week of lying around and groaning! — I went to my doctor for advice and was told the pill was the best solution. The pain vanished immediately, my periods became much, much lighter, and I didn’t experience any of the side effects I was warned about. Ten years later, I’ve just been told by my doctor that I’ll need to take a break from the pill because long-term use raises the risk of ovarian cancer. I had no idea this was a side effect.”
8. It’s Linked To Infertility
When you think about the fact that the Pill creates a state of permanent pregnancy in your body and therefore the inability to become pregnant, it’s not so surprising that women who have been on it for many years then struggle to have a baby when they want one. Interestingly, it doesn’t just make women infertile – Britain is dealing with an expensive problem of fish dying off due to pollution in the water-ways, thought to be mainly from pill excretions. The Guardian reported: “More than 2.5 million women take birth control pills in the UK. Their EE2 [Ethinyl estradiol, the synthetic form of estrogen in contraceptive pills] content is excreted and washed into sewage systems and rivers. Even at very low concentrations, this chemical has harmful effects on fish. Males suffer reduced sperm production, with severe effects on populations. In one recent trial, in a Canadian lake, researchers added EE2 until levels in the water reached five parts per trillion, a minute concentration. Yet fish populations suffered severe problems with one species, the fathead minnow, collapsing completely.”
The Pill changes your cervical mucus production, which over time can cause the mucus-producing cells to atrophy… effectively aging your cervix and narrowing the cervical canal. A study conducted in 2004 found that “time to pregnancy” following long-term pill use was two to three times longer than after condom use.
- The Pill alters 150 bodily functions, and affects all your organs
- Over 100 million women are currently taking the Pill
- Only one third of 147 countries recently surveyed by a medical journal require a prescription for getting the Pill
- There are new, ‘no period’ pills being released in the U.S that have no break intervals – the long-term affects of these have not yet been properly tested
- Women on the pill do not secrete couplins – a volatile fatty acid in the vagina that stimulates male sexual interest
If Not The Pill, Then What Are My Options?
- Condoms are affordable and have a high success rate when used properly – between 95-98%
- Natural fertility – practiced carefully, this has a 97% success rate and requires no devices – although some very smart tools such as the “Lady-Comp” and newly released “Leaf” necklace from Bellabeat are beginning to make tracking your ovulation down to the exact day really easy
- Barrier methods such as diaphragms/cervical caps are reusable, and can be worn in advance to allow some spontaneity
- Spermicides – best used with condoms or other barrier methods
- Sterilization (i.e., getting your ‘tubes tied) – must be considered very carefully as it is very difficult and costly to reverse
Study in Human Reproduction journal about how condom users get pregnant faster than pill users