What you should know about the pill…

About 100 million women worldwide currently take birth control pills, and hundreds of millions of women have used them since they were first introduced in 1960. In the United States alone, 16 million American women are using birth control pills, fueling a $2.8 billion industry. A whopping eighty percent of U.S. women have used oral contraceptives at some point in their lives, and often, women are on them for years at a stretch, stopping only to conceive and have children.

The hormones in the Pill are synthetic, there is nothing natural about them, and it is not healthy to be exposed to them. Their long term use invariably compromises health and well-being. Women often use them out of convenience, with little regard of the serious health risks involved. The world cancer authority lists it as a Class 1 carcinogen! The listing was made in 2005 by the Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization. (3)

Initially, oral contraceptives were celebrated as the end of unplanned pregnancies and has been considered the major cause of the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Only a few years passed before discoveries of high estrogen birth control pills were linked to breast cancer, embolisms and stroke. After fifty years of usage, we now have more evidence than ever why this might not be the best choice in any woman’s health care, yet “the pill” continues to be as popular as ever.

Is preventing pregnancy more important than your health?

Consider the evidence:

  • The pill may increase your risk of cervical and breast cancer, and possibly liver cancer.
  • As carcinogenic agents, they are closely related to the listing of HRT drugs, which are very similar in their nature. When HRT use dropped by 68% between 2001 and 2003, breast cancer rates dropped by 11%, a decrease never before seen in breast cancer rates.
  • The Mayo clinic published a meta-analysis linking the Pill to cancer. The researchers looked at 39 studies published since 1980, and concluded that the pill increases the chance of breast cancer in young women by 150%.
  • One of the synthetic hormones – desogestrel – found in some pills more than doubles your risk of fatal blood clots and others may increase your risk of heart disease
  • Women who use the Pill have lower bone density than women who do not
  • It causes weight gain – by affecting insulin resistance, suppressing thyroid function and contributing to the deposition of cellulite
  • It impairs muscle gains from resistance weight training
  • It can increase your blood pressure
  • The pill has been shown to affect mood – and increases aggression and anxiety
  • It may damage your libido permanently by decreasing levels of testosterone
  • Pill use has been linked to autoimmune disease – one study showed a correlation between the use of oral contraceptives and a 50% higher risk of Lupus

How does the Pill work?

By consuming the pill, you ingest synthetic estrogens into your system that tricks your body into thinking it is pregnant. In simple terms, what’s wrong with the pill, birth control injections and hormone patches is it promotes continuous high levels of estrogen in a woman’s body. A woman’s body is designed to experience a natural rising and falling of levels of estrogen and progesterone throughout the cycle. At present, we do not have sufficient evidence to know what the long term effects of daily hormones will do to fertility or to health. What we do know is that fertility has decreased substantially in the last five decades, the same amount of time the pill has been in popular use. One thing most people do not consider is that part of the pill’s metabolism is that these estrogens are then eliminated by all of these women using them, entering our environment and water supply, and effectively estrogenizing the population at large – men and children included.

Newer versions of the pill tell women they can just stay on the medicines and thereby prevent having a monthly bleed altogether, or reduce the number of bleeds to four times a year. That means the person’s body never gets a break from the effects of the estrogen.

The bleeds you experience on the Pill aren’t a true bleed, they have nothing to do with your body’s natural hormonal balance. When you are on the Pill, your ovaries cease to secrete any of your own natural hormones – they are effectively shut off. The pharmaceutically induced monthly bleeds are more about reassuring women they still have a “period,” but of course, it is not a true period.

Why the pill isn’t effective for regulating your cycle

Irregular and painful periods is caused by a condition termed “estrogen dominance.” That means your body has more estrogen than it needs relative to progesterone. There are many reasons for this, one of which is there is a lot of estrogen and estrogen-like substances in the environment being used, especially in our food supply. So taking the pill for irregular periods actually adds to the underlying imbalance, not correcting it.

Many women also report awful side effects from the pill, which are undoubtedly due to the artificial hormones running through your body. These include:

  • Migraines and nausea
  • Weight gain and mood changes
  • Irregular bleeding or spotting
  • Breast tenderness
  • Problems with orgasm and painful intercourse
  • Yeast overgrowth and infection

Additionally, using the Pill also contributes to nutrient deficiencies of B vitamins (especially B6 and B12), folic acid, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc. Weight gain, fluid retention, mood changes, depression and even heart disease can all arise from nutrient imbalance.

What about contraception?

There is no doubt that birth control pills have provided an easy and convenient way to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but their safety is questionable at best. Many women are on the Pill simply because they are unaware of safer options available.

Contraceptive methods and devices fall into different categories, as follows:

  • Hormonal methods come in the form of pills, injections, patches and a vaginal ring. They work by preventing the release of the egg. They are by far, the worst choice in contraception, from a whole health perspective.
  • Barrier methods include male and female condoms, the diaphragm, the cervical cap and contraceptive sponge. They work by preventing the sperm from reaching the egg. When used correctly, the diaphragm boasts a 96% effectiveness rate, whereas condoms are 98% effective (the Pill is considered to be 99% effective in preventing pregnancy). Condoms containing spermicide are shown to be no more effective than non-spermicidal condoms and are not recommended.
  • Spermicides come in the form of foam, jelly, cream, film and suppositories. They contain chemicals the kill/disable sperm before reaching the egg. They are not well suited for individuals with chemical sensitivities, and they also kill beneficial bacteria in the vagina, leaving the woman more susceptible to urinary tract infections and yeast infections. They are toxic and therefore, not recommended.
  • Intrauterine Devices , commonly referred to as IUDs, are available in two forms, non-hormonal and hormonal. An IUD is a small, T-shaped object that is placed inside the uterus to prevent sperm from joining with an egg. It does this by obstructing sperm and by changing the lining of the uterus. The non-hormonal IUD, in my opinion, is the best option for many people. It has no influence on a woman’s natural cycle. Newer designs have decreased the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, once associated with the use of this device. They are 99.9% effective and do require insertion by a qualified medical doctor. In Calgary, there is a womens’ clinic available for patients who currently have no GP. See www.newomensclinic.com for more details.

For reasons discussed previously, I do not recommend the use of hormonal IUDs, or any synthetic hormonal delivery system.

  • Natural Family Planning, also called the symptothermal method, uses various physiological clues such as changes in cervical mucus and temperature to determine when a woman is fertile in the month, a duration of 5-6 days per cycle. Abstinence and/or alternate methods of contraception are used during the woman’s fertile time. One study showed this method to be at least, if not more effective than the Pill in preventing pregnancy. New computer fertility monitors will make this method of birth control even easier to use. A qualified accredited instructor of natural family planning can be found at www.billingsnaturalfamilyplanning.org.

One drawback is that these methods are really only effective for women with regular cycles. They should not be relied upon for the first 2-3 months after coming off the Pill or for irregular cycles. It is best for persons interested in this method to receive formal instruction. It is, by far, the most healthy choice in contraceptive methods.

  • Sterilization is a permanent option for people who are certain that they are not having any more children. In women, it is called tubal ligation where the Fallopian tubes are clipped via laparoscopic surgery under general anaesthetic. There is some evidence that it may, over time, decrease a woman’s production of progesterone, which can cause symptoms similar to PMS and uterine fibroids. It is possible to reverse these symptoms with the use of a natural bio-identical hormone cream.

For men, vasectomy is a minor in office surgical procedure where the tubes that transport the sperm are cut, thereby making it impossible for the sperm to reach the penis. There are complications for this procedure. It is estimated that within one year of vasectomy, 60-70% of men develop antibodies to their own sperm, which can lead to other health issues, from local inflammation (epididymitis), to the development of local granulomas (benign lumps). There is some evidence that it may lead to a form of dementia called primary progressive aphasia (PPA), which can be mistaken for Alzheimer’s.

In many Western countries, many women use the Pill simply because they are unaware of any other choice. The aim of this article is to educate you on making the best health decisions possible, based on solid unbiased knowledge. There are so many reasons to choose an alternative method of contraception, your long term health being the one of primary importance. Hopefully, this information has made it easier to find the one that is right for you.

Tasleem Kassam