Sucker Punched by Side Effects: You and Your Birth Control

The innovation of modern medicine has given us control over our bodies in ways that are almost unimaginable. As I’m sure you’ve heard...

The innovation of modern medicine has given us control over our bodies in ways that are almost unimaginable. As I’m sure you’ve heard before, with great power comes great responsibility! While we may be able to manipulate our hormones, neurotransmitters, and other biological agents at will, it does not come without a cost. Ahh, yes, the dreaded black box, the side effects. When pharmacological scientists develop drugs, they are never fully sure how the chemical compound actually interacts with your body. Many of the effects can be deciphered through testing, but there are almost always some side-effects that are due to unknown mechanisms. This is why an antidepressant may cause dry mouth, or pain killers may disrupt your memory. Side-effects are especially prevalent in birth control. While “the pill” may alot women many freedoms, it also may cause side-effects on women’s mental health. Today we are going to break down the side effects of birth control pills!

Much of the data we have on oral contraceptive use is not uniform. There are many types of birth control pills that provide the woman with different doses of hormones at different times of the month. Additionally, some use a combination of estrogen and progestin (a synthetic form of progesterone) while others only use progestin. These discrepancies make it very difficult for scientists to pin down unknown side-effects (Motter, 2019). That said, there is evidence suggesting both positive and negative side effects for these drugs.

Positive:

  • Decreased chance of developing ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancers
  • Preservation of bone density with aging (less broken bones WOOHOO!) (Chelsak-Postava et al., 2015).


Negative:

  • Extended bleeding, cramps, nausea, and headaches (Jain, et al., 2017).
  • Reduction of specific immune system functions; This leads to significantly higher rates of STIs, especially HIV, in women using oral contraceptives (This was determined even after controlling for the decreased use of condoms) (Hall & Klein, 2017).


Surprisingly, the majority of research done on mood effects in women using “the pill” shows a mild favourable effect on both mood and anxiety (Toffol et al., 2011; Motter, 2019; Hall et al., 2015; Chelsak-Postava et al., 2015). That being said, every woman has a different experience and the way birth control affects an individual is often context-dependent. If you feel that your birth control pills are messing with your mood, you should listen to your body and do what’s right for you. There are many different options for contraceptives and we encourage you to choose a method that works for you!

Sources:

  • Cheslack-Postava, K., Keyes, K. M., Lowe, S. R., & Koenen, K. C. (2015). Oral contraceptive use and psychiatric disorders in a nationally representative sample of women. Archives of women's mental health, 18(1), 103–111. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-014-0453-4
  • Hall, O. J., & Klein, S. L. (2017). Progesterone-based compounds affect immune responses and susceptibility to infections at diverse mucosal sites. Mucosal Immunology, 10(5), 1097–1107. https://doi.org/10.1038/mi.2017.35
  • Hall, K. S., Steinberg, J. R., Cwiak, C. A., Allen, R. H., & Marcus, S. M. (2015). Contraception and mental health: a commentary on the evidence and principles for practice. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 212(6), 740–746. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2014.12.010
  • Jain, A., Reichenbach, L., Ehsan, I., & Rob, U. (2017). "Side effects affected my daily activities a lot": a qualitative exploration of the impact of contraceptive side effects in Bangladesh. Open access journal of contraception, 8, 45–52. https://doi.org/10.2147/OAJC.S140214
  • Motter, E. (2019). THE EFFECTS OF ORAL CONTRACEPTIVES ON MOOD AND AFFECT: A META-ANALYSIS. Retrieved from website: https://digitalcommons.humboldt.edu/cgi/
  • Toffol, E., Oskari Heikinheimo, Päivikki Koponen, & Timo Partonen. (2011, August 12). Hormonal contraception and mental health: Results of a population-based study. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from ResearchGate website: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51570802


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Ricki Lake

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