After being told three times in the last two months by a gynecologist or otherwise vagina-related medical person that I should go on the pill, I decided to write a post on this ubiquitous pharmaceutical. My PA, MD, and med tech’s heavy-handed suggestions to start taking hormonal contraception came as a surprise to me every time, especially because my visits to these people had absolutely nothing to do with potential babies.
I think I actually made them slightly angry, or at least surprised them back, by telling them that I would “rather get pregnant than take hormones.” With that—and only with that—they all left it alone.
I know that other women have similar experiences, but many of them walk away from a simple pap smear with a package of pills they suppose are harmless and necessary, instead of declining the offer. What many women don’t know is that the pill may not be so harmless.
And we’re talking about a LOT of women taking the pill. According to the Guttmacher Institute, of the 67 million women in the U.S. of childbearing age in 2010, about 20 percent—or 13.2 million of them—were taking some sort of hormonal contraceptive, whether it was a pill, an injection, or a ring. The pill is the most popular form of contraception, the second being female sterilization.
The pill is not only prescribed for anti-baby-making purposes. It’s also given to women for endometriosis, skin problems, PCOS, PMS, pelvic inflammatory disease, heavy periods, and moodiness, to name a few. It’s effective for assuaging the symptoms—not the root cause—of most of those things if you find the right dose and cocktail of hormones. (Hmmm… I think I know of a diet that might help with those symptoms, too…) But it’s long been known that the pill often comes with side effects, not the least of which is stroke. Among the other side effects are acne, mood swings, weight gain/loss, decrease in libido, increase in breast size, increased yeast infections, depression, cancer, and problems conceiving after stopping the pill.
Mark Sisson recently did a really great job of rounding up the pros and cons of the pill in this blog post. I highly suggest you read it. However, I think he left out a few important points. Let’s discuss these.
Mark goes over cancer in his post, but here’s an interesting addition to what he said. In a 2010 article in the journal, Human Reproduction Update, they reviewed the research involving cancer and oral contraceptives (OC’s from now on) and found that the use of OC’s increased the chances of breast cancer, cervical cancer, benign liver tumors, and liver cancer. They found a decrease in ovarian and endometrial cancers. However, they conclude that, “Women wishing to use combined OC [OC that contains both progesterone and estrogen] can be reassured that their decision is unlikely to place them at higher risk of developing cancer.” Huh?
Sometimes women find it difficult to conceive when they get off the pill. When you introduce synthetic hormones into your body, you stop creating your own progesterone and estrogen. You indefinitely trick your body into thinking you’re pregnant (that sounds weird, doesn’t it?). So after a stint on the pill, some people’s periods don’t come back for a while or they come back erratically, which means they have unreliable ovulation. This can last months or years. Some people have problems conceiving after they go off the pill because they went on the pill in the first place for erratic or abnormal periods. So for those people, there’s probably an underlying problem that the pill only masked. For them, I suggest cleaning up their diet and trying to heal that issue naturally. Getting the proper amount and types of fats, not creating a super insulin and sugar-charged environment, and having good hormonal balance are the things pregnancy calls for. You know where I’m going with this.
Candida (Yeast Infections)
Here’s the deal. Candida albicans is a nasty little fungus, or yeast, that lives in your body all the time. It’s only when the environment is just right that it can take over and start causing problems, not the least of which is an itchy, burning vagina. The hormonal changes during pregnancy increase the amount of glucose in the vagina, and yeast runs rampant when there’s plenty of sugar for it to eat. According to the book, Biology of Women (pg. 253), by Ethel Sloane, it’s thought that the same thing happens when you’re on the pill. It’s also believed by some that estrogen stimulates the yeast to glom onto the vaginal walls and wreak havoc, whereas in the absence of estrogen it just kind of harmlessly hangs out in there. Whatever the cause, it’s been shown that the risk for yeast overgrowth doubles for women on the pill. By the way, if you suffer from yeast infections, I can tell you from personal experience that eating Paleo can work wonders for this life-wrecking problem.
A lot of studies, including this one, are pointing to the pill as a cause of insulin resistance. Do we really need anything else in our daily lives tempting us to create insulin resistance? Aren’t the donuts enough?
To be clear, I’m not saying that everyone should get off the pill immediately. Well, if I dared to be politically incorrect, I would actually say that, but that’s like me saying I want all pitbulls to be removed from Boulder, and I would never say that… But seriously, my main message here is this: Think before you take the oral contraceptive your doctor shoves into your hands. Maybe even accept them and then go home and do some serious research on the topic before you actually put them in your mouth. It may not be worth it. Yeah, you may have cramps or swollen breasts before your period. You may even have terribly painful periods, zits, or even PCOS, but that’s just your body telling you that the food you’re eating isn’t optimal. As you improve your diet, you can use those symptoms as a gauge for how much you’re improving your health. Yes, I realize that the pill is a good way to avoid pregnancy, as well as improve those symptoms. And no, I don’t want millions more unplanned babies on this planet. But I also hate to see a woman suffer needlessly just because her boyfriend doesn’t want to wear a condom. Or because her trusty doctor says she should take a pill.