Hormonal birth control isn’t just for preventing pregnancy. Many women (and young girls) are prescribed hormonal contraceptives, like a birth control pill or shot, to take care of other problems. The hormones in birth control, when taken in the correct dosage, could help clear acne or ease painful, heavy periods. And while birth control doesn’t prevent the spread of STDs, it does protect women of all ages against unwanted or accidental pregnancies. But do the benefits of birth control outweigh the negative effects it can have on your body?
Recent medical research suggests that the answer is no.
Birth control is often touted as a way to regulate a woman’s hormones and, thus, her period (and the many other functions that hinge upon our hormones). Yet hormonal birth control actually suppresses a natural period and can, ultimately, compromise a woman’s health.
Hormonal contraceptives are exactly what the name suggests—artificially produced hormones that inhibit pregnancy. Oral contraceptives in particular consist of steroids that imitate naturally occurring hormones, estrogen and progesterone, in the body. While you’ll read and hear that birth control improves hormone imbalance to prevent pregnancy, it is worth noting that you are not ingesting real, natural hormones, but rather an artificially produced product that does the following:
° Suppresses your body’s release of real hormones that initiate ovulation;
° Stimulates the production of thick mucus in the cervix, which prevents sperm from traveling to an egg in the fallopian tube in the event of ovulation;
° Disables the cilia from moving a fertilized egg to the uterus in the event of fertilization; and
° Inhibits implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus by preventing the buildup of blood- and nutrient-rich uterine lining. (Source) But this is why you’re taking birth control, right? To prevent pregnancy? Perhaps to clear up your acne or help with weight regulation? Unfortunately, the hormonal changes that inhibit pregnancy and potentially lead to these benefits by disrupting your natural cycle of menstruation carry more serious risks than pimples and a few extra pounds. In fact, a meta-analysis of case studieson the association of oral contraceptives with pre-menopausal breast cancer found that women who use oral contraceptives are indeed at increased risk of developing pre-menopausal breast cancer. This analysis further found that women who have a family history of breast cancer; use the pill for more than 2 years; and use the pill before their first full-term pregnancy are at even greater risk of developing this disease. And while the use of birth control may, in some cases, decrease a woman’s risk of cervical cancer, a study by the World Health Organization found that the risk actually increases for women with human papilloma virus (HPV): those who have been taking oral contraceptives for 5 to 9 years are three times more likely to develop this disease than non-users, and those who have taken it for 10 years or more are four times more likely. Since HPV affects one third of all women in their 20s, this isn’t a statistic to take lightly.
Born from the Catholic Church, Natural Family Planning (NFP), also known as Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM), has begun losing its religious connotations as it gains popularity among women seeking natural alternatives to hormonal birth control. For many women, FAM is a method to help them conceive, but it also appeals to a growing number of women who don’t like the idea of being pumped full of synthetic hormones. Some criticize FAM, saying it’s a random method of predicted fertility based only on the lengths of a woman’s cycle. But advocates of FAM argue that it’s a much more careful and involved process, which ultimately requires women to understand and keep track of their bodies’ signals in order to understand their own fertility. For example, a woman using FAM will take her basal body temperature each morning. An increase in temperature signals ovulation, so by charting daily temperatures, it’s possible to tell whether ovulation has occurred. If you’re detail oriented and particular about keeping track of your health statistics on a daily basis, FAM can have a 99.4–99.6% effective rate, which is just as good as—if not better than—hormonal contraceptives, and without the side effects. In fact, a 2007 study found that, of 900 women consistently using FAM over a 20 year period, only 2% of them had an unintended pregnancy. FAM may seem overwhelming at first because it requires users to chart their basal temperatures, fluid consistency, and cervix position on a daily basis. Thanks to smartphones and advances in social media technology, however, many women’s health appsmake tracking these health statistics easier. Importantly, using an app like Kindara, Ovuline, or Glow also offers women using FAM a community that they can turn to for support and information, since many women who use FAM report a lack of support from friends and family in their choice of birth control method. You might consider using certain herbs as contraceptive methods, but unfortunately even herbs can cause hormonal problems and exacerbate imbalances in the same way as synthetic hormonal contraceptives. FAM is a safe and natural method of birth control if used properly. Be sure to do your researchand speak with afertility instructor or specialistto fully understand the natural birth control alternative that is right for you.