By Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D.
Some 30 years ago, birth control pills were the be-all and end-all of the sexual revolution. Freed from the worries of pregnancy, women explored their sexuality, perhaps for the first time in history. Only a few years passed before the "magic" pill began to lose its luster. Discoveries that high-estrogen birth control pills contributed to breast cancer, embolisms and stroke made women begin to think twice.
Today, newer lower dosage birth control pills maintain high popularity, despite their continued serious health risks for women.
Let me give you my opinion in a straightforward manner: I don't advocate the use of birth control pills. Yes, they are effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies, but the risks far outweigh those benefits.
If you are currently using birth control pills of any kind, I cannot urge you strongly enough to stop taking them as soon as possible.
Presently, 16 million American women are using birth control pills, fueling a $2.8 billion industry. Many of us became familiar with the Pill in adolescence either because of a desire for sexual intimacy or due to painful or irregular periods. Both reasons are fundamentally flawed. There are numerous safe and effective ways to prevent pregnancy.
Cramping, painful and irregular periods are often due to a deficiency of progesterone and an excess of estrogen. So estrogen-alone birth control pills -- as are the most commonly prescribed pills on the market now -- often compound the problem.
That's why some women have intolerable estrogen-induced side effects when they are on birth control pills like:
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- Breast tenderness
What's Wrong With the Pill?
In simple terms, what's wrong with the pill (by the way birth control shots and patches are essentially the same thing) is it promotes continuous high levels of estrogen in a woman's body.
Science tells us this is dangerous.
A woman's natural cycle is composed of rising and falling levels of estrogen and progesterone. Birth control pills work by keeping estrogen at a sufficiently high level that they fool the body into thinking it is pregnant, therefore another pregnancy cannot occur.
They work by one or a combination of methods:
- Some pills prevent ovulation.
- Others prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the endometrium or lining of the uterus.
- Still others thicken the mucus around the cervix, making it difficult for sperm to penetrate.
There is even a new brand of birth control pill on the market that boasts woman can safely have a period only four times a year or they can avoid having periods altogether for years at a time without a break from the estrogen blast.
We certainly don't know everything about estrogen or estrogen dominance, as it is called when estrogen levels remain high without being balanced by progesterone, but among the effects we do know are:
In addition, the use of antibiotics has been shown to decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills.
What is not usually mentioned, or even known, is the metabolism of birth control pills by the liver requires extra amounts of the B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc. That means if you're taking birth control pills for years at a time, as are most American women, you're creating nutrient deficiencies. Weight gain, fluid retention, mood changes, depression and even heart disease can all arise from nutrient imbalance.
For example, we now know high levels of an amino acid called homocysteine cause heart disease. And high homocysteine occurs when there is a deficiency of B vitamins and magnesium.
In addition to all this misery, the continuous use of birth control pills like the new no-period pill has not been sufficiently studied. Women who use these methods -- that may be you -- are the "test subjects," if you will, for an ongoing experiment. We have no idea what the long-term effects of daily hormones will do to fertility or other aspects of our health.
The Pill and Yeast Overgrowth
The insidious yeast, candida albicans, generally makes its home in the human digestive tract. But, in a modern society where common lifestyle choices for women include birth control pills, antibiotics, a highly refined bread and sugar diet, coupled with high stress levels, candida overgrowth can have wide-ranging effects.
When the right set of risk factors occur, toxins from yeast overgrowth and their byproducts can adversely affect the entire body, causing problems far beyond the common vaginal infection.
Symptoms ranging from migraines to infertility, endometriosis, psoriasis, PMS, depression, fibromyalgia, digestive disorders and many other seemingly unrelated health problems have been attributed to yeast overgrowth. And evidence-based results show that treating the yeast overgrowth often alleviates these symptoms.
These symptoms can be so widespread that it is difficult for patients and most doctors to comprehend that this is a complex of indicators that could be related to one underlying cause.
The use of birth control pills is a major risk factor for developing yeast overgrowth because it promotes estrogen dominance. Because birth control pills give a woman's hormonal system a continual stream of estrogen, an imbalance is created, Science has shown us that there is a close link between estrogen dominance and yeast overgrowth. Visiting The Yeast Connection Web site can help you learn about yeast and decide if you might have an overgrowth and give you tools to treat this condition.
What are the Alternatives?
I'm very aware that women (and their partners) want to avoid unplanned pregnancies. I concede that birth control pills have provided an easy -- but not safe -- way to accomplish this goal. There are numerous safe and effective ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Here are a few options to consider:
Male condoms: Most of us are familiar with male condoms, which, at a 98 percent effectiveness rate when used correctly, are nearly as effective as birth control pills. However, be sure to purchase lubricated condoms or use water-based lubricants like K-Y jelly or spermicidal creams to increase your protection. Many couples are unaware that lubricants like petroleum jelly actually cause the latex in the condoms to break down and increase the risk of pregnancy. An added bonus of condoms: They help protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
Female condoms: Most of us are unfamiliar with female condoms, but these thin, soft polyurethane pouches fitted inside the vagina before sex are 95 percent effective. Again, the rate of effectiveness is increased if a spermicidal jelly is used. The female condom has an inner ring that goes into the upper part of the vagina and an outer one, which should be visible outside the vagina. Female condoms are less likely to tear than male condoms.
Diaphragm: Diaphragms, which must be fitted by a doctor, are thin soft rubber mounted on a ring. When inserted into the upper part of the vagina to cover the cervix, they act as a barrier to sperm. If used correctly with spermicidal jellies, they are 92 to 98 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.
Cervical cap: This effective (91 percent), but underutilized, form of birth control has been available in the U.S. for decades. The heavy rubber cap fits tightly against the cervix and can be left in place for 48 hours. Like the diaphragm, a doctor must fit the cap. Proper fitting enhances the effectiveness above 91 percent.
Spermicides: Creams, jellies and suppositories contain chemicals that kill sperm. While they can increase the effectiveness of other forms of contraception, I don't recommend using them alone.
Finally, I highly recommend the Creighton Model Fertility Care System (CrM). It uses the science-based modality of NaPro Technology (NaPro), a women's health science that evolved from interpreting the biomarkers of the menstrual and fertility cycle, mainly, all the stages of cervical mucus and the length and intensity of the menstrual flow. (I'll write about this method in the future.)
Working with a trained doctor, a woman has many options with this technology:
You can learn more about NaPro Technology at their Web site.
Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., is health advisor to Woman's Health Connection at The Yeast Connection and is featured on the Web site's "Ask A Pro" page. Her latest books are The Miracle of Magnesium and Natural Prescriptions for Common Ailments.
Dr. Dean is a key health advisor to www.yeastconnection.com, a Web site I highly recommend to women based on the pioneering work of the late Dr. William Crook.
Dr. Crook, one of my first mentors and a friend was the author of the classic book, The Yeast Connection, and many other bestsellers that helped millions of women. He was instrumental in helping me recognize that there was a wide network of physicians who understood the importance of nutrition. He indirectly helped connect me to this network and I will be ever grateful for his guidance in this area as that was really the beginning of my journey into high-level natural health.
His great legacy is being carried on at www.yeastconnection.com, where you will find out all the latest insights on how candida yeast causes problems in your body, and how to alleviate them.
Traditional hormonal birth control methods work by releasing estrogen and progestin into the body, preventing the ovaries from releasing eggs. They also thicken cervical mucus, making it harder for sperm to enter the uterus.
There are a wide variety of hormonal methods on the market. The most important thing to remember about hormonal birth control solutions: These contraceptives are SYNTHETIC hormones and it isn't healthy for a woman to be exposed to them. In fact, their long-term use will invariably increase a woman's risk of developing serious chronic illness.
In fact, it is rarely justified to use birth control pills or synthetic hormones. In addition to increasing serious health risks such as blood clots, birth control pills can also deplete the more important nutrients, including vitamins B2, B6 and B12.