Hormonal Birth Control: What You Need to Know.

22 October 2015
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From www.kidshealth.com (Yes, you read that right: KIDShealth) about birth control pills:

“Hormones are chemical substances that control the functioning of the body’s organs.”

Where do I even start?  There is absolutely nothing okay with this statement. How are women, and TEEN women, still given these pills daily?

The birth control pill was approved by the FDA in 1960.  Regarded as a hero drug among women, the pill gave women the freedom to have sex without worrying about becoming pregnant.  Very few people questioned the side effects and risks of hormonal birth control, and still today, the pill is given as a “right of passage” to most teens. Yet, study after study leads us down a road of questions and worry.

The quote above is completely accurate.  Hormones ARE chemical substances.  The body produces them regularly and maintains a natural balance that allows the organs to function as they are meant.  Estrogen and progestogens are essential steroid hormones. In women, they are required for normal development of female sex organs and secondary sex characteristics, regulation of the menstrual cycle and reproduction, and many other essential physiological functions in the bones, brain, breasts, adipose tissue, and uterus. Synthetic versions of these hormones (estrogen and progestogens) placed in the body then overthrow the natural balance and take control of the organs, tricking and manipulating them into functioning in different ways than they should.

All hormonal contraceptives have at least three mechanisms of action. Artificial female hormones are the active ingredient in all hormonal contraceptives (estrogen and progestin). Some products contain both hormones and others progestin only (Mini-Pill). Using both hormones together is somewhat more effective than progestin alone, but the estrogen component is responsible for most of the serious health hazards associated with hormonal methods. Hormonal contraceptives prevent ovulation, meaning no egg is released so sperm cannot fertilize it.

There are several forms of hormonal birth control, all with similar risks and side effects.  Remember that none of the hormonal contraceptive options protect against sexually transmitted diseases or HIV.

Birth control pills:  The most well-known and common form of contraceptive.  Oral birth control contains both forms of female hormones, estrogen and progestin.  They must be taken daily and at the same time to be considered affective.  Most brands include a week of sugar pills after the first 21 pills, allowing the body to still have a period.  However, “The Pill” can differ not only in the number of active ingredients, but also in the way ingredients are dosed by brand. Monophasic birth control pills contain the same amount of ingredient in each active pill, while multiphasic birth control pills contain varying levels of hormones through the month. These were designed to minimize side effects such as breakthrough bleeding.  There are also low-dose oral contraceptives that contain less estrogen than other types of birth control pills. They contain 20 micrograms of estrogen, compared to 30 to 50 in other birth control pills.  Studies are now linking oral contraceptives to cervical, breast, and liver cancer. (www.cancer.gov)

Mini-pill: These are like conventional oral contraceptives, but contain no estrogen, making them safer, but also less effective.  Often recommended to women who are breastfeeding, the mini-pill may effect milk supply and can still produce many side effects.

Depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA):  An injection, the “depot shot” was approved by the FDA in 1992 and quickly became popular due to its non-daily methods.  An injection is administered once every 12 weeks and contains medroxyprogesterone acetate, polyethylene glycol, sodium sulfate anhydrous, and myristyl-gamma-picolinium chloride (as a preservative).  http://www.rxlist.com/depo-provera-drug/patient-images-side-effects.htm

NuvaRing: A combined hormonal contraceptive, this vaginal ring is inserted once a month and removed to bring on a menstrual cycle.

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Contraceptive Implant: An implant the size of a matchstick can be placed under the skin of the upper arm. It releases progestin slowly.  It can be left in place for three years.

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Contraceptive Patch: Ortho-Evra is the only FDA approved hormonal contraceptive patch.  It contains the hormones estrogen and progestin, and is applied to the skin once a week for three weeks. On the fourth week, no patch is used, allowing menstruation to occur. Recent studies have shown that Ortho-Evra causes a higher level of estrogen to circulate in the body than do combination birth control pills. As a result, you may have a slightly higher risk of estrogen-related adverse events.

Synthetic Estrogen Problems Include:

  • Nausea
  • Breast swelling & tenderness
  • Vaginal discharge
  • High blood pressure
  • Decreased libido (sex drive)
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Fluid retention
  • Permanent dark patches on face
  • Drug interaction problems
  • Eye or vision problems
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Tumors of the liver
  • Breast Cancer and/or tumor growth
  • Cervical cancer
  • Deep vein thrombosis (blood clot)
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

Synthetic Progestin Problems Include:

  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Bone loss
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Acne and/or oily skin
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Insulin resistance
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Irregular menstrual bleeding
  • Breast tenderness
  • Suppression of immune system
  • Heart attack
  • Breast tumor growth

Other possible side effects to the above mentioned forms of contraceptives:

  • menstrual periods that are heavier or longer than normal
  • sudden numbness or weakness
  • sudden severe headache, confusion, problems with vision, speech, or balance
  • chest pain, sudden cough, wheezing, rapid breathing, coughing up blood
  • pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in one or both legs
  • fever
  • nausea, upper stomach pain, itching, loss of appetite, dark urine, clay-colored stools, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • swelling in your hands, ankles, or feet
  • symptoms of depression (sleep problems, weakness, mood changes).

Types of Estrogens Will be Listed As:

  • ethynil estradiol
  • mestranol

Types of Progestins Will be Listed As:

  • desogestrel
  • drospirenone
  • ethynodiol diacetate
  • levonorgestrel
  • norethindrone
  • norgestimate
  • norgestrel
  • etonogestrel

Many epidemiological studies have shown that prolonged exposure to estrogens may increase the risk of breast cancer.

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Hormonal birth control and breast cancer: A recent study compared 1,102 women between the ages of 20 and 49 diagnosed with breast cancer, whose birth control pill usage histories (including does information) were obtained using electronic pharmacy records. The study showed that current and recent pill use increased the relative risk of breast cancer by 50% overall.  The risk was highest with high (170%) or moderate doses (60%) of estrogen and certain formulations of progestogen (up to 210%)  SOURCE

A few recent studies have also explored the risk of different sub-types of breast cancer with use of birth control pills.  Alarmingly, the studies have shown that use of birth control pills  increases the risk of a type of breast cancer called triple-negative, which is more common in younger women and is aggressive and difficult to treat.  A study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute in 2009 showed that use of birth control pills for more than one year increased the risk of triple-negative breast cancer four-fold in women younger than 40.  SOURCE and SOURCE

The study also showed that the risk conferred by longer duration of use and by more recent use was significantly higher for triple-negative breast cancer. Several other studies have shown similar results.  SOURCE and SOURCE 

Since women taking the pills tend to be younger, the combination of findings that the pills increase breast cancer risk with current and recent use and increase the risk of triple-negative breast cancer make it more troubling, especially with the increase in breast cancer diagnoses in young women.

Estrogen in Our Water:  Even if you are not taking hormonal birth control, there is still cause to worry.  Over the past decade, we have learned about the increasing percentage of hormones being found in our water supply.  Studies have found that women on hormonal contraceptives are urinating estrogenic compounds into the water, ans these hormones are not then filtered out.  The cycle is as you think: we all then consume these.  Estrogenic compounds are part of a larger category of chemicals known as endocrine-disruptors (EDCs), chemicals that can alter the hormonal and homeostatic systems enabling an organism – like a human being or other animal – to communicate with and respond to its environment.  We are witnessing puberty beginning younger and younger in our children, and watching cancer rates increase.  Hormones in our water are playing a role in this.

Better options for your health: Non-Hormonal Contraceptives:

  • Condoms
  • Vaginal Spermicides
  • Diaphragm
  • Cap
  • Sponge
  • Female Condom
  • Lea’s Shield
  • Intra-Uterine Device (IUD)
  • Natural Family Planning