The pill, also known as the birth control pill or the combination pill, is a hormonal contraceptive that delivers both estrogen and progesterone (two types of hormones) into the female body to prevent ovulation.
The way it does that is by taking over or hijacking the normal processes of your body and mimicking your menstrual cycle. So, although it may seem like you're having a normal cycle, complete with a period, the constantly high levels of progesterone and estrogen actually abolish the normal hormonal cycling that underlies ovulation. As for your menstruation while on the pill, it's not a "real" period. It's known as breakthrough bleeding and is caused by the sudden drop in hormones that happens when you stop taking the pill or replace it with the placebo pill, as instructed, for seven days.
It is one of the most effective contraceptives on the market when it comes to preventing unwanted pregnancies; when taken correctly and as instructed, it’s over 99% effective. Doctors also often prescribe the pill to women who suffer from painful periods, hormonal acne, and PCOS because of the way it affects the female body and its ability to mask certain symptoms.
However, recent research has linked the pill with a number of health issues. In order to help you make an informed decision about what is right for you, we’ve listed the pill’s pros and cons.
The Pros of the Contraceptive Pill
- When taken correctly, the pill is highly effective at preventing pregnancy. It also reduces the risk of ectopic pregnancies.
- Unlike many other birth-control methods, it also allows for sexual spontaneity.
- The pill reduces cramping and bleeding during periods, so it’s often prescribed to women with heavy and painful periods and endometriosis. It also reduces pain during ovulation.
- The contraceptive pill reduces the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, fibrocystic breast changes, and ovarian and endometrial cancer.
- The pill may reduce acne, unwanted hair growth, and other symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is why it’s often prescribed to women with the condition.
The Cons of the Contraceptive Pill
- The pill's effectiveness can be reduced by a number of factors, such as taking certain antibiotics and medicines and failing to take it every day as prescribed. What's more, it does not protect against STIs.
- Because the pill creates a mimicked cycle, it can mask issues with your ovulation, period, or hormones.
- Similarly, while it can mask the symptoms of PCOS or PMS, it is not a real treatment for reproductive health issues. Once you come off the pill, it is likely that the symptoms will return.
- It has a number of minor but common side effects. They include mood swings, nausea, breast tenderness, and headaches – although these usually settle down within a few months. Women may also experience weight gain, although this is often just water weight.
Serious Side Effects to Note
- If you’re over 35 years old and a smoker, your risk of developing blood clots as a side effect of the pill increases significantly and this method of contraception is therefore not recommended for you.
- There's a very low risk of serious side effects like breast cancer and cervical cancer. However, ten years after you stop taking the pill, your risk of breast cancer and cervical cancer goes back to normal.
- It may cause depression and a change in sexual desire.
- While the pill has not been proven to cause infertility, it can mask abnormalities in your cycle, which would have otherwise indicated to your doctor that you may have fertility issues.
- Hormonal birth control can impact your body's absorption of micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals, including B vitamins and magnesium.
- The pill suppresses the natural process of ovulation. Ovulation has been shown to protect women’s long-term health, especially when it comes to avoiding issues like osteoporosis, heart disease, heart attacks, and breast cancer.
Remember, if you’re not looking to get pregnant, a contraceptive method is always better than none. It’s just about finding the one that works for you, your lifestyle, and your body. Whether and how you choose to use contraception, the decision is yours to make.
Disclaimer: If you're thinking of starting hormonal contraception or are concerned about the impact it's having on your body, consult a gynecologist.
- FLO Living
- Harvard University