The Astounding Lessons from 50 Years of the Birth Control Pill…

birth control pillThe birth control pill, which the FDA approved 50 years ago, was the first medicine designed to be taken by people who were not sick. In 1999, it was called the most important scientific advance of the 20th century by The Economist.

Many women still question whether the health risks outweigh the benefits.

In the article linked below, Time Magazine explores the Pill in depth, eventually concluding that:

“As the conversation of the past half-century makes plain, science alone will not resolve questions that reach this deep into our relations with one another.”

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

The birth control pill has been the subject of heated controversy ever since its FDA approval in 1950. Would access to birth control spark a sexual revolution? Would it, as Time reported, lead to promiscuity, adultery and the breakdown of family?

Or, on the contrary, would giving women access to birth control, a topic that was once so taboo it was illegal, free women to leave the home and enter the workforce, and actually “strengthen marriage by easing the strain of unwanted children”?

The truth is that forms of birth control have existed since ancient times. Long before the invention of the Pill, both men and women used various herbal, barrier and timing methods to alter their chances of conception.

But never before in history could women achieve this feat simply by popping a pill in the morning. And that is what made the Pill so revolutionary … and at the same time so dangerous. As Time magazine put it:

“It was the first medicine ever designed to be taken regularly by people who were not sick.”

Artificially Manipulating Your Hormones is a Risky Proposition

For the sake of argument, let’s remove the Pill from its primary purpose as a birth control agent for a minute, and instead look at it as a method that alters your hormones artificially.

Most birth control pills are a combination of the derivatives of the hormones estrogen and progestin. They work by mimicking the hormones in your body, essentially fooling your intricate hormonal reproductive system into producing the following effects:

  • Preventing your ovaries from releasing eggs
  • Thickening your cervical mucus to help block sperm from fertilizing an egg
  • Thinning the lining of your uterus, which would make it difficult for an egg to implant, should it become fertilized

However, it is naïve to believe that these are the only impacts the synthetic hormones are having. Your reproductive system does not exist in a bubble … it is connected to all of your other bodily systems as well. The Pill, too, does not only influence your reproductive status; it’s capable of altering much more.

Well-Documented Risks of Synthetic Estrogen and Progestin

If you’re on birth control pills, which I strongly advise against, it is important to understand that you are taking synthetic progesterone and synthetic estrogen -- something that is clearly not advantageous if you want to maintain optimal health.

Back in 2002, one of the largest and best-designed federal studies of hormone replacement therapy was halted because women taking these synthetic hormones had a greater risk of breast cancer, heart attack, stroke and blood clots.

The news made headlines because millions of women were already taking these synthetic hormones, but fortunately it prompted many of them to quit. And what do you think happened a year after millions of women quit taking hormone replacement therapy? Incidents of breast cancer fell dramatically -- by 7 percent!

What does this have to do with the Pill? Birth control pills contain the SAME type of synthetic hormones -- estrogen and progestin -- that were used in the ill-fated study!

There’s no question that nearly all medicinal estrogen is unhealthy and can cause more problems than it prevents. Studies have found that HRT increases your breast cancer risk by at least one percent per year, and HRT with progestin increases your risk by eight percent per year, potentially going as high as 30 percent after just four years of use.

Is Convenience Worth These Serious Risks?

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’ major benefit – convenience -- is largely outweighed by serious health risks.

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:

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
  • reast tenderness
  • Yeast overgrowth and infection

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.

Excellent Natural Birth Control Methods

Many women take the Pill because they’re unaware of the other effective birth control methods out there. The following options, which include both natural family planning and barrier methods, are effective ways to prevent pregnancy without damaging your health.

  • 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.
  • Cervical sponges: The sponge, made of polyurethane foam, is moistened with water and inserted into the vagina prior to sex. It works as a barrier between sperm and the cervix, both trapping and absorbing sperm and releasing a spermicide to kill them. It can be left in for up to 24 hours at a time. When used correctly, the sponge is about 89-91 percent effective.

Many people are familiar with these barrier methods, and less familiar with natural family planning (NFP) tools, which a woman uses to track when she is ovulating, and then avoid sex during that time (or does so only using a back-up barrier method). Many women feel empowered by NFP because it allows them to get in touch with their fertility cycle.

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.

There are many alternatives to the Pill out there, and my advice to women is to avoid all birth control pills like the plague. Instead, I encourage you to become actively involved in fertility awareness, and embrace natural family planning or barrier methods that will not interfere with your hormones and health.

Some excellent reading to get you started on this path include:

  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

+ Sources and References