The Pill Debate

Do you find yourself struggling to build muscle, an inability to control your mood, suffering digestive issues and not particularly interested in sex?

It could actually be related to your contraceptive pill…

I've been taking the oral contraceptive pill for around 15 years now, give or take a few months. I seem to have the debate about stopping the pill every single month and I always reject the idea because needing the contraception outweighs the side effects, but does it? I’m in a long term relationship that is nowhere near approaching baby talks, but as I very quickly come up on 31 and with my upcoming operation and cervical cancer treatment imminent, it has thrown the age old debate back into focus.

We are all told about some of the various side effects of long term contraception but do any of us actually take them on board? In a world that is becoming more and more health conscious and living in a town that follows the pursuit of all things natural, I sat down to think about what side effects were actually going to affect my decision this time around.

Previously, just having an increased risk of blood clots (that's the only negative side effect I could actually remember off the top of my head) hadn’t been important to me. I was a teenager or I was in my twenties, and I thought that blood clots only affected old people. Now in my 30s, and regularly flying long haul it does seem to pose a little more risk, approximately 2,500 blood clots are reported in the pill users each year in Europe alone. We know that this can also increase your risk of stroke and heart attack, but pill users are twice as likely to suffer from a stroke and 30% more likely to have an arterial clog for every 10 years of pill use, meaning that I am already 45% more likely to have a heart attack than my non pill taking friends!

That one is a little hard to swallow don’t you think?

When I first started taking the pill as a young and naïve 15 years old, I had terrible periods and acne and was told that contraceptive pill would regulate that for me, being a self-conscious teen I jumped at the chance, but now it has left me with a constant fear of spots on my face and if I’m honest with myself, is probably the main reason I haven’t come off the pill sooner but, I seem to be in a constant lottery choosing between hellish periods, a spotty face, giant boobs and terrible mood swings, instead of just being able to find a healthy hormone balance with of none of the above.

Oral contraceptives can actually make you less likely to develop uterine cancer, ovarian cysts, and pelvic inflammatory diseases and help regulate anaemia, so there are very big pros to using it if you do decide to go on it. However, I have absolutely no recollection of anybody ever mentioning to me that there is a link between cervical cancer and prolonged contraceptive pill use, not even when I had some pre-cancerous cells discovered in my cervix a few years back, nobody ever told me to stop taking the pill. Naturally I’m quite furious about this at the moment given that I’m approaching my treatment date for cervical cancer now.

If you’re not getting enough of certain nutrients in your diet, then you’re lucky that we live in a world where practically all of them can come in pill or powder form from your local pharmacy to enhance your diet. However, if you’re taking the pill you could be diminishing your body’s own ability to produce and use certain nutrients and enzymes – folic acid for example, zinc, magnesium, (great for muscle recovery) and a number of B vitamins are all affected by oestrogen in the body. Your digestive enzymes can also be restricted by the pill so if you struggle with digestive problems such as IBS or regular constipation or diarrhoea, it could be your hormone levels.

This will in turn have an effect on your entire immune system and could make you more susceptible to common and short term illnesses.

We actually already talked about digestive problems and cortisol – the stress hormone – in a previous blog but the pill can also spike cortisol levels which breaks down muscle mass after prolonged heightened levels and some of the available pills out there actually inhibit muscle building hormones, so if you really do everything right in the kitchen and the gym and still struggle to tone that body, you might want to consider looking at your contraception.

You’ve no doubt heard at least some of those scary statistics about your long term health before but do you have any idea that the hormone imbalances caused by prolonged contraceptive pill use can also have an effect on your personality, your choice of partner and your attraction levels?

I have a friend who's about to marry her partner of over 10 years (yay!) but the story wasn’t always quite so rosy. Upon changing contraceptive pill a few years ago, her personality really changed, she became really withdrawn, depressed and was on the brink of ending her relationship, thinking that she no longer loved her partner as she hadn’t felt sexually attracted to him for a while.

Thank goodness she had enough people around her and enough sense to return to the doctors and trial coming off that contraceptive pill. She was soon back to her usual fun loving and partner loving self, and now I’m flying to England for a wedding! Scary thought though, the man made hormones and different levels of them actually inhibit our body’s use of testosterone which is the reason for potentially less sexual enjoyment or arousal, and meaning that girls on the pill could be attracted to a different type of partner to when they are not on the pill.

Hormones will also affect our pheromones – which all mammals secrete, these affect the behaviour of those around us, we are all attracted to slightly different smelling pheromones throughout our lives. The man made hormones within the pill can actually affect our pheromones meaning that different types of people are attracted to us on a primal level than would be when we are not on the pill. Not necessarily a deal breaker in whether to stop taking the pill or not, but an interesting side note to show just how much effect this tiny little pill has on us. I also found a study that stated because of different pheromones, female strippers on the pill earned $30 per hour less than those not on the pill, so if you’re considering a career in stripping than this may be a factor! (Do sense the sarcasm here, a real study none the less, but probably not a factor to make it into your pros and cons list).

 I really have to ask myself, does needing contraception really outweigh these many side effects? When there are so many different ways of preventing unwanted pregnancy these days is that really enough to risk my health, my personality, my gym results and my future?

Stay tuned to see what decision I make and how it affects me in future blogs.

Geraldine xo