Side effects of birth control (hormonal contraceptives):
Did your doctor provide you with a full run through of side effects when they prescribed you hormonal birth control? Were you fully informed?
Hormonal contraceptives are handed out like sweets, yet there's rarely sufficient conversation about the side effects.
There's a huge amount of side effects that can come with hormonal contraceptives that women endure every single day, but we can only get pregnant for 6 days a month.
Am I saying women shouldn't use this type of birth control? No. That's a decision for each individual. Although if women are fully informed, I suspect many more would NOT use this method of birth control. I certainly wouldn't have. Luckily, I only used it for a few years on and off. Although that was more than enough to cause negative effects.
If you haven't already, check out my previous post which explains why hormonal contraceptives are so effective. So, let's move on to talk about the side effects. Please note this information highlights some possible side effects.
1. Impacts gut health
Hormonal contraceptives can disrupt the healthy bacteria in the gut and create the perfect environment for harmful bacteria to multiply. They can affect oestrogen metabolism which can increase endotoxin, can cause inflammation which can be associated with conditions such as Crohn's. And of course, leaky gut can occur due to the out of balance bacteria causing increased intestinal permeability, leading to autoimmune conditions and other states of dis-ease.
2. Low libido
Hormonal contraceptives can lower libido for many reasons, but the main one is that it lowers testosterone levels. Testosterone plays an important role in sexual desire and hormonal birth control has been shown to lower testosterone by an average or 61%. This can occur due to hormonal contraceptives suppressing ovarian and adrenal testosterone production and increasing sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) levels.
3. Depression and anxiety
Adolescent girls are most at risk, but it can affect all women. Hormonal contraceptives impair your body's ability to metabolise tryptophan normally, by rapidly depleting vitamin B6. This decreases serotonin levels which increases the risk of depression.
4. Nutrient deficiencies
Hormonal contraceptives are linked to the depletion of key vitamins and minerals. B vitamins and trace minerals are particularly susceptible to depletion, amongst a long list of other nutrients. Not only this, but hormone contraceptives can raise blood serum levels of copper, calcium, iron and cadmium.
5. Choosing the wrong partner
Yes, you heard that right! As you approach ovulation, you're more likely to prefer certain individuals based on how they smell! This is known as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). Hormonal contraceptives alter your MHC response and affect your choice of partner based on scent and attractiveness. You'll be more likely to choose a partner whose genetic makeup is more like yours and whose characteristics are more feminine.
Hormonal contraceptives inhibit your body's ability to fight off HPV (human papillomavirus) which over 80% of women will contract by the age of 50 (psssssst our bodies are full of viruses and all sorts which is completely normal - they usually cause us no harm!). Chronic HPV infections increase the risk of cervical cancer, as chronic cervical infections can cause more extensive tissue damage. Breast, liver, ovarian, colorectal cancers are also linked. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified combined oral contraceptives as a group one carcinogen.
7. Blood sugar
Hormonal contraceptives can cause impaired glucose tolerance and low beta-cell function in the pancreas, which can cause insulin resistance, and so increases cortisol and therefore can increase the risk of diabetes. This can occur due to higher instances of inflammation, in which the body responds by increasing cortisol, which in turn increases blood sugar. What can cause inflammation? PUFAs.
Hormonal contraceptives are well known for being loaded with iron. As iron is usually measured in the blood serum (in modern medicine), not the tissues, people can be wrongly diagnosed with low iron, when in fact it can be stuck in the tissues. So an overload of iron can can cause failure of beta-cells, which produce insulin. Insulin helps to balance glucose. PCOS is associated with insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.
It is really important that women are educated, informed and empowered to do whatever is best for them. To have the opportunity to decide what is best for them, given all the facts. Some women may never use it and some for a shorter amount of time. Whatever decision women make, it's important that that decision is fully informed and coming from a place of empowerment.
What is an alternative option? The fertility awareness method. If you'd like to learn more about this and feel empowered around your reproductive system, I highly recommend reading 'Taking Charge of your Fertility' by Toni Weschler. It is a big read but worth it to feel so empowered and take charge of your fertility!
This is not medical advice but for educational purposes only. And we should always make an informed decisions about what is best for us personally, whatever that decision may be.