The Pill – What You Need to Know
Often we end up on the Pill because it seems like the most obvious thing to do.
It is one of the easiest drugs to get a script for and is used mainly for contraception, period problems and skin conditions.
The Pill is said to be one of the most commonly used drugs of all, taken by more than 300 million women worldwide at some time in their life.
Currently around 100 million women take this drug every day and tens of millions are using injections, implants or other forms of chemical contraception.
The oral contraceptive pill was offered to women as a safe alternative to other methods of birth control.
It promised sexual liberation and the ability to choose when you wanted to have children. In theory, it was a major milestone in medicine and women’s rights.
Unfortunately, the contraceptive pill also does a few things to the female body that are often not acknowledged or recognised.
As widespread use of the Pill crosses generations we see signs of specific side effects as well as the accumulation of depleted wellbeing. Our rising infertility epidemic is one such area where the use of the Pill may have significantly contributed.
The Arrival of the Pill
The Pill, as a vehicle for us to make love not babies, has undoubtedly been part of our collective evolution.
It has allowed us to explore our sexuality and sexual relationships with greater freedom than ever before.
Like the Madonna of pharmaceuticals, the Pill became an icon soon after its release in the early sixties.
The Pill, when it became available in 1960 in the USA, and 1961 in Australia and the UK, did indeed cause a massive switch in the type of contraception people were using.
It also brought a substantial shift of emphasis with women taking greater, or sole, responsibility for contraception.
(Interestingly, family size didn’t change much.)
Doctors’ attitude toward contraception changed dramatically at this time, as they were now able to prescribe the Pill and contraception has largely become the prerogative of the medical profession ever since.
There were however, enormous problems with the higher dose pills available up to 1975 with people experiencing all sorts of horrendous effects, including blood clots causing strokes, amputations, permanent disability and death.
The current third generation oral contraceptives have been tweaked but still have considerable side effects.
The Effects of a Never Ending Pregnancy
Many of the usual side effects of the Pill are alarmingly similar to some of the unpleasant symptoms that can accompany pregnancy.
This makes sense when you think about it, as to be an effective contraception the Pill induces a biochemical state in the body more like pregnancy than normal fertility.
It does this by stopping ovulation and making cervical mucus impenetrable and the lining of the embryo of the uterus unreceptive to implantation by an embryo.
However, the Pill’s hormonal influence doesn’t stop there.
How Does The Pill Work?
The synthetic hormones in the Pill mimic your natural hormones.
They alter your hormonal balance to make you temporarily infertile and to do this they act on your endocrine system.
Your endocrine system produces lots of hormones that are sent from one part of your body to another and act as messengers – conveying what is going on in your body and triggering specific responses.
During a normal menstrual cycle your sex hormone levels fluctuate considerably.
This creates measurable changes in most of your body functions including your temperature, metabolism, nutritional uptake, blood sugar levels, blood acidity, your heart rate, your urine, the size of your pupils, your pain threshold, your brain waves, your senses of sight, sound and smell, your breasts, cervical mucus secretion, the size, position and colour of your cervix and the size and colour of your vulva, sexual interest and your sleep and energy cycles (to name a few).
As you peruse this list you won’t be suprised to learn that while the Pill induces the hormonal effects of infertility, its impact IS NOT limited to your ovaries and uterus. The Pill has an influence on ALL of the above body functions mentioned.
The Pill alters at least 150 bodily functions, and affects all your organs.
Recognising Side Effects
Side-effects from the Pill, implants and other hormonal contraceptives are real, common and can be devastating.
In packets of the Pill you’ll find warnings and information about possible side effects. With other forms of hormonal contraception you’ll be given information to read.
Manufacturers are required by law to include lists of known side effects and so often we glance over these scary lists
thinking ‘Yes, but it wont happen to me’.
This thinking may be encouraged by careful wording in leaflets that suggest these side effects are rare and can happen to women who don’t take the Pill as well.
So who can really say why you get depressed or put on weight after starting the Pill? …For drug companies it can simply be good business for women to doubt that it is the Pill that is causing their distress.
Common side effects women experience while on the Pill include:
- Urinary Tract Infections or Cystitis
- Lower genital tract infections
- Weight changes
- Fluid retention
- Appetite changes
- Food cravings
- Blood sugar dysregulation
- Eye disorders
- Skin discolouration
- Fungal infections and tinea
- Mouth ulcers
- Hair loss
- Facial and body hair growth
- Varicose veins
- Loss of libido
The Pill & Depression Link
A newly published study from the University of Copenhagen has confirmed a link between hormonal contraceptives and depression. The largest of its kind, with one million Danish women between the ages of 15 and 34 tracked for a total of 13 years.
Researchers found that women taking the combined oral contraceptive were 23% more likely to be diagnosed with depression and those using progestin-only pills (also known as “the mini-pill”) were 34% more likely.
Teens were at the greatest risk of depression, with an 80% increase when taking the combined pill, and that risk is two-fold with the progestin-only pill.
More alarmingly, other hormone-based methods commonly offered to women seeking an alternative to the pill – such as the hormonal IUS/coil, the patch and the ring – were shown to increase depression at a rate much higher than either kind of oral contraceptives.
On the Pill and Pregnant – When the Pill Fails
Failure rates quoted in Pill leaflets are around 0.2 to 1 pregnancies per 100 women per year.
This is the ‘perfect-use’ rate and it relates to when the Pill is used perfectly in laboratory conditions.
However ‘user’ failures (that is, women using the Pill in real, everyday life) can be as high as 6.2 per 100 women per year.
This means six or more pregnancies per 100 women on the Pill for one year.
So why is this – what reasons do we know increase our chances of falling pregnant while on the Pill?
A recent Australian study of women aged 18 to 39 on the Pill found that women who weighed 70 kilos or more were 60% more likely to have their birth control pills fail than women who weighed less.
Another study found that in a group of 175 ‘overweight or obese’ adolescent girls receiving Depo-Provera shots every three months for an 18 month period, eighteen (just over 1 in 10) fell pregnant.
It’s estimated that each year almost two million of the more than 60 million women in the United States and Europe who use the Pill become pregnant because of missed Pills (with an average of three missed Pills per month).
If you are on the Pill for contraceptive reasons, consider this research.
Six out of ten women in an Australian study were using a form of contraception when they had an unplanned pregnancy – of these, 43% were on the Pill.
Off the Pill but Not Pregnant – When the Pill Affects Fertility
Often women who go off the Pill ready to have a baby find that their cycles and fertility are slow to bounce back – and sometimes they never do.
The Pill works by making you temporarily infertile however, there are many ways in which hormonal contraception can affect your fertility even after you stop taking it.
Nutritional status – The Pill affects your general and reproductive health through alterations in nutritional status. Nutrient deficiencies contribute to infertility and poor health of children when they are conceived.
Cervical mucus – One of the ways the Pill works is to change the production of cervical mucus and this effect often lingers after the Pill has stopped. This makes it harder for sperm to swim along the female reproductive tract.
Researchers have found that long term use of the Pill ages a woman’s cervix and the cervical canal can become narrower. In this way, the cervix of a 33 year old (otherwise fertile) woman may have difficulty conceiving due to her cervix becoming like that of a 45 year old.
Candida – Women on the Pill tend to have a weakened immune response, which may allow overgrowth of Candida to develop. This can seriously affect fertility and reproductive health. This is why you should always consider regular use of a quality Probiotic while on the Pill.
Hormonal balance – Hormonal balance is affected for some time after stopping the Pill and you can see this in the slow return of regular cycles for many women.
Smell and Immune System – Women in the most fertile phase of their cycle are found to be the most sensitive to the smell of male sweat and the male sweat they are sexually attracted to is from males with a different immune profile to theirs.
When partners who smell different from each other have children, their children have a wider range of immunity – ah the wonders of pheromones!
The problem is though, that women on the Pill have been found to have an opposite smell preference and they often choose mates with a similar smell to theirs.
This gives any children they have together later a narrower immune profile AND may make it harder for them to fall pregnant.
Malnutrition – A Side Effect for Everyone
There are two major causes of side effects from the Pill. The first is hormonal.
The second is nutritional disturbance caused by the effects the Pill has on your metabolism. This causes many nutrients to become depleted and others to be over abundant – functionally causing malnutrition.
These imbalances can lead to all sorts of issues and supplementation is usually necessary.
Speak to Your Emed Practitioner today about which supplementation is right for You.
If you’re taking the Pill to handle your menstrual difficulties, PMS, period pain, PCOS, or acne, it is important to realise that the cause of your symptoms hasn’t actually gone away, it’s been repressed – and this can lead to further difficulties down the track.
However, it IS important to note that this relief of symptoms can sometimes bring the necessary relief and give you the space to think about your options.
If you need help in this area, we recommend booking in for an EConsult with one of Emed’s qualified and experienced practitioners.
Are You Thinking About Coming Off the Pill?
It is important to note that all chemical contraceptions are different.
You can stop taking the combination Pill at any time in the cycle because there is no real cycle to interrupt (similarly with the Patch and vaginal ring).
A breakthrough bleed will occur a day or so after and although this isn’t actual menstruation, you can think of it as the first day of your cycle for the purpose of observing your cycles.
If you’re using the mini-Pill you will need to complete the pack you’re on because it doesn’t prevent ovulation. So rather than interrupting your cycle it’s best to use your mini-Pill cycle as a blueprint for the natural cycle you want to reestablish.
If you are using a LNG-IUD or IUS, have it removed by a trained medical doctor just before your period is due.
If you’ve been using Depo-Provera, you’ll simply need to wait out its effect and not have any further injections.
Implants can be removed at any time but this does need to be done by a doctor.
So if the Pill is not as safe and effective as you have been led to believe, then what else can you use for contraception?
If Not the Pill, Then What? How to find the best contraception for YOU.
The more information you have on, and experience you have with different forms of contraception, the more you will be able to choose appropriately, lovingly and safely for YOU and your circumstances.
Emed’s book The Pill – Are you sure it’s for you? explores your options when it comes to contraception and contains some fantastic and eye-opening information on the subject.