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How Safe is the Pill?

birth control pillThe birth control pill was first introduced to the American public for contraceptive use in 1960. By 2002, 11.6 million U.S. women were on the Pill, making it the nation's leading method of contraception.

But oral contraceptives can have negative health effects. The Pill’s relationship with blood-clot risk and stroke is well-documented, and that risk increases when a woman is a smoker, particularly a smoker over age 35. In addition, studies in recent years have found that birth control pill use:
• Impairs muscle gains in young women
• Increases the risk of breast cancer in pre-menopausal women
• Increases the risk of cervical cancer
And the Pill may interfere with a protein that keeps testosterone unavailable for women's physiologic needs, thus causing long-term health problems, including sexual dysfunction.

Since 2000, death rates have increased in women between the ages of 35 and 44. All other age groups, meanwhile, have seen a decline. Research on this fact cites the significant increase in the use of birth control pills as a possible contributing factor.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Eighty percent of U.S. women have used oral contraceptives, commonly referred to as “the Pill,” during their lives, according to research in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

In my opinion this is a tragedy, as the Pills’ benefit of convenience is largely outweighed by serious health risks. In fact, their long-term use will invariably increase a woman's risk of developing serious chronic illness. Yet they are passed out like expensive candy at most gynecologists’ offices, with little regard to these potential long-term effects.

The most important thing to remember about hormonal birth control methods such as the Pill is that they are synthetic hormones. It isn't healthy for a woman to be exposed to them.
What are You Risking if You Take the Pill?
While many drugs do provide some benefit in certain situations, birth control pills are rarely, if ever, necessary or beneficial. In exchange for the convenience of preventing pregnancy (which you can do naturally just as well, and I’ll explain how below), you are putting yourself at risk of:
Cancer: Women who take birth control pills increase their risk of cervical and breast cancers, and possibly liver cancer as well.

Fatal blood clots: All birth control pills increase your risk of blood clots and subsequent stroke. And if your prescription contains the synthetic hormone desogestrel, your risk of fatal blood clots nearly doubles!

Thinner bones: Women who take birth control pills have lower bone mineral density (BMD) than women who have never used oral contraceptives.

Impaired muscle gains: A recent study found that oral contraceptive use impairs muscle gains from resistance exercise training in women.

Long-term sexual dysfunction: The Pill may interfere with a protein that keeps testosterone unavailable, leading to long-term sexual dysfunction including decreased desire and arousal.

Heart disease: Long-term use of birth control pills may increase plaque artery buildups in your body that may raise your risk of heart disease.
These are the more serious, chronic health risks. On top of these, many women also report awful more immediate side effects including:
• Migraines and nausea
• Weight gain and mood changes
• Irregular bleeding or spotting
• Breast tenderness
• Yeast overgrowth and infection
Despite this long and varied list of risks, many physicians recommend the Pill because studies have shown it may lower your risk of ovarian and uterine cancers and ease the symptoms of PMS. But even a simple side-by-side comparison shows that the risks are clearly greater, particularly since using the Pill is not a necessity by any means to begin with.

In fact, because the risks are so high, and other safer options exist, nearly all patients who visit my Natural Health Center are asked to stop hormonal contraceptives like birth control pills as soon as possible.

If you're using birth control pills for reasons other than birth control, such as to regulate your menstrual cycles or treat irregular bleeding, cysts or endometriosis, you are not treating your underlying dysfunction, simply covering it up with a potentially dangerous drug.

In these situations, it is essential to balance your adrenal glands, as cortisol levels modulate and control the female hormones, especially progesterone. The Pill only treats the symptoms instead of the disease, and causes its own side effects as your body continues to remain in an unhealthy state.

For those of you using the Pill for its original purpose, birth control, rest assured there are natural options for you as well.
Natural Birth Control Options That Really Work
There are two routes to take when using natural birth control, barrier methods and natural family planning methods. Using the latter, many women feel empowered and more in touch with their bodies as they learn to track and notice subtle signs of fertility and ovulation. However, although natural family planning can be very effective, it is not always foolproof, especially when you’re still learning the process.

So if preventing pregnancy is an absolute must for you, you may want to use barrier methods such as the following as well:
Male condoms: Condoms have a 98 percent effectiveness rate when used correctly. A water-based lubricant will increase the effectiveness; do not use an oil-based lubricant, however, as they break the latex.

Female condoms: These thin, soft polyurethane pouches fitted inside the vagina before sex are 95 percent effective. Female condoms are less likely to tear than male condoms.

Diaphragm: Diaphragms, which must be fitted by a doctor, act as a barrier to sperm. When used correctly with spermicidal jellies, they are 92 to 98 percent effective.

Cervical cap: This 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.
Many people are familiar with these barrier methods, and less familiar with natural family planning tools. Again, these are methods a woman uses to track when she is ovulating, and then avoids sex during that time (or does so only using a back-up barrier method). Of course, these tools can be used the other way around as well, to help couples who are trying to get pregnant. Some of the most popular methods include:
Calendar Method: Abstention from sex during the week the woman is ovulating. This technique works best when a woman's menstrual cycle is very regular. The calendar method doesn't work very well for couples who use it by itself (about a 75 percent success rate), but it can be effective when combined with the temperature and mucus methods described below.

The Temperature Method: This is a way to pinpoint the day of ovulation so that sex can be avoided for a few days before and after. It involves taking your basal body temperature (your temperature upon first waking) each morning with an accurate "basal" thermometer, and noting the rise in temperature that occurs after ovulation.

Illness or lack of sleep can change your body temperature and make this method unreliable by itself, but when it is combined with the mucus method, it can be an accurate way of assessing fertility. The two methods combined can have a success rate as high as 98 percent.

The Mucus Method: This involves tracking changes in the amount and texture of vaginal discharge, which reflect rising levels of estrogen in your body. For the first few days after your period, there is often no discharge, but there will be a cloudy, tacky mucus as estrogen starts to rise. When the discharge starts to increase in volume and becomes clear and stringy, ovulation is near. A return to the tacky, cloudy mucus or no discharge means that ovulation has passed.
As you transition over from the Pill to natural methods of birth control, there are many resources available to help, on the Internet, in a classroom setting and in books. Three great choices to start with are:
1. The Ovulation Method: Natural Family Planning, by John J. Billings

2. Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health, by Toni Weschler

3. Honoring Our Cycles: A Natural Family Planning Workbook, by Katie Singer
No matter which method for birth control you use, opting for one that does not involve hormonal manipulation of any kind will be one of the best steps you can take for your health.

+ Sources and References