Women opt to go on birth control for such a wide range of reasons. While placing women in the driver's seat for our own fertility-related decisions, our lives have been irreversibly revolutionized. More of us go to college, more of us go into the workforce, and more of us look to things like birth control to make modern plights easier: clearer skin, unbridled sex without risk of pregnancy, relief from conditions like endometriosis, or maybe you just loathe your monthly periods.
Well, just like how you can’t spot target fat loss with specific exercises, you can’t spot target exactly how hormonal birth control is going to affect your body. You might get many negative side effects that make the main purpose behind it frankly feel worthless. The naked truth is that ingesting, injecting, placing, or otherwise dispersing synthetic hormones in your body can affect each and every system you have.
So why are we putting blinders on the laundry list of dangers that hormonal birth control poses to our health, if not out of irresponsible, not-so-blissful ignorance? We’re calling out the nine major dangers of hormonal birth control that our mothers weren’t warned about because, just like women have the choice to go on it, they should also be equipped with the knowledge to know why they may want to pass on it.
1. Birth Control Can Cause Cardiovascular Problems
There are a few disturbing ways that hormonal birth control can affect how your heart and blood vessels function to supply your body with oxygen and nutrients. Though major events are uncommon, it’s worth knowing that hormonal birth control has been linked to pulmonary embolism (blood clots) and even heart attacks in younger age groups.
One case studied was of a 23-year-old woman who suffered from venous thromboembolism (blood clots and deep vein thrombosis) despite otherwise being in pretty good health. She didn’t smoke, she wasn’t undergoing or had undergone surgery, and she didn’t have any tumors or preexisting genetic factors. Instead, medical professionals linked her blood clots to using combined oral contraceptives, meaning estrogen in tandem with progestin.
In addition to that, more recent studies have suggested that combined hormonal birth control increases the risk of heart attack in women. Though the researchers indicated that risk is still low overall and that progestin-only birth control (copper IUD, for example) didn’t change their risk, it shouldn't discount their findings.
2. Birth Control May Lead to Stroke
Certain studies that investigated heart attack risk among hormonal birth control users have also noted the relationship between the medication and stroke risk. In fact, birth control options with higher estrogen have been found to significantly increase a young and middle-aged woman’s risk of ischemic stroke, hemorrhagic stroke, and total stroke.
Birth control options with higher estrogen have been found to significantly increase the risk of stroke.
Like with the blood clot case, medical professionals have had unexpected cases where otherwise healthy, young women rush to the emergency room with sudden onset strokes. In one particular case, the 27-year-old woman had no history of migraines but had been taking the birth control pill for several months. Again, research has shown that combination hormones increase the risk while progestin-only isn’t as dicey of a choice.
3. Birth Control May Lead to Neurological Complications
What’s pretty shocking about hormonal birth control is just how much it can affect our brains, both in functional and structural changes. Birth control changes your neurological system because sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and androgen) have deep ties to your gray matter volume and your neural connectivity.
In her revelatory book, This Is Your Brain on Birth Control, Sarah E. Hill, PhD, detailed how the psychological effects of hormonal birth control have long been ignored by the medical industry and feminists alike. She stated that “it’s not antithetical to women’s rights” to bring up genuine critiques about birth control, and the neurological effects are too widespread to sweep under the rug.
According to Dr. Hill, women feel less stressed on hormonal birth control. This may seem lovely at first, but that decreased stress screws with your mood, memory, and focus. You might be trading natural, healthy stress for idling brain fog. In her book, she also drops the bombshell that hormonal birth control inadvertently affects who we find attractive. Basically, women on birth control have been found to prefer less masculine men than women not on birth control.
This happens because our natural, unmedicated levels of estrogen tend to make us prefer more masculine features such as broad shoulders, stronger brow ridges, and testosterone-influenced bone structure. Think about what could happen if a woman chooses her husband when she’s on hormonal birth control: If she ever goes off it, will her sexual attraction to that man remain the same or will she feel dissatisfied?
We also need to address the fact that hormonal birth control can lead some women to feel more anxious and depressed. It’s actually so notable that, among teenage girls, the suicide risk is twice as high compared to their peers who aren’t on birth control. It would appear that the hormones in birth control can lead to emotional and cognitive disturbances as well as mood and anxiety disorders, and the pendulum sadly tends to swing to two extremes: zombie-fication or mania.
4. Birth Control Can Weaken Your Immune System
If you have been on hormonal birth control, have you felt like your immune system is totally out of whack? You wouldn’t be alone. Taking estrogen and progestins is proven to have effects on your immune system and can potentially make you more susceptible to autoimmune diseases.
The researchers studying the relationship between hormonal birth control usage and decreased immunity observed women using pills, implants, and rings and found they were more likely to have autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s (bowel inflammation), Lupus (multiple organ inflammation), and interstitial cystitis (bladder inflammation) among other rare autoimmune diseases.
5. Birth Control Increases Your Risk of Certain Cancers
It’s not time to manifest your worries into real stress by hopping onto WebMD and diagnosing symptoms, but you should know that hormonal birth control has genuine ties to increased cancer risk.
The risk of breast cancer increases by 20% when a woman is or has recently been on hormonal birth control.
The risk of breast cancer increases by 20% when a woman is currently or has recently been on hormonal birth control. In fact, you’re still just as susceptible to developing breast cancer up to five years after discontinuing hormonal birth control as you are while on it. That said, research also shows that hormonal birth control can decrease the risk of other cancers like ovarian or uterine cancer.
6. Birth Control Takes Your Sex Drive for a Ride
No, you’re not crazy for feeling like hormonal birth control killed your sex drive. You’re also not crazy for feeling like it increased your sex drive. Fact of the matter is that hormonal birth control affects your libido by varying your hormone levels, so depending on the type of birth control that you use, you may feel more or less “in the mood” when the time comes to connect with your man.
In 2016, research trials suggested that hormonal birth control from the pill decreased sexual desire and testosterone levels. Low testosterone is actually a cause of low sex drive and oftentimes when women seek treatment for their libido, they’ll get placed on testosterone therapy. Furthermore, another study reported that when women took birth control pills that had lower synthetic progesterone and estrogen, their libido decreased after nine months of consistent usage.
The type of birth control actually appears to play a major role in how likely you are to lose your libido. For example, the patch or the non-hormonal copper IUD apparently doesn’t mess with libido like the shots do. A study from 2012 reported that, among hormonal IUD users, 20% of women actually had an increased libido while 25% reported their sexual desires decreasing.
While hormones from birth control may or may not directly affect a woman’s libido, it’s worth noting that your sex drive can suffer from major disturbances if you’re dealing with anxiety, stress, and depression. As we know, emotional imbalances are very common when taking hormonal birth control.
7. Birth Control Can Impact Your Thyroid Health
Were you aware of the fact that almost one-third of all people have thyroid disease? Of those people, a majority are women. Though it often goes unnoticed, women are up to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid disease.
While there are many reasons for a person to struggle with thyroid health, the effects that hormonal birth control can have on a woman’s thyroid should not go ignored. Firstly, it depletes nutrients that are critical to thyroid health. Secondly, it also elevates Thyroid Binding Globulin, a compound needed to bind thyroid hormone. It’s no wonder that, when studied, long-term usage of hormonal birth control pills has had strong correlations to hypothyroidism.
8. Birth Control Messes with Your Gut Microbiome
In an ideal world, we’d have healthy gut linings that prevent toxins from slipping into our gastrointestinal tract. If our gut lining happens to become more permeable, unwanted bacteria or toxins can cause inflammation or other damage. Evidence has emerged suggesting that increasing oral estrogen (say, from something like hormonal birth control) can alter our gut permeability and therefore our likelihood to have negative, inflammatory responses. For example, oral contraceptives have been linked to women having a higher likelihood of Crohn's disease.
Oral contraceptives have been linked to women having a higher likelihood of Crohn's disease.
What’s more, oral birth control may also decrease the microbial diversity in our guts, leaving our gut microbiome unbalanced. This can lead to minor problems like food sensitivities (something I hear many women complain about), craving, bloating, and nausea, but it could also lead to more serious diseases like Crohn’s, as mentioned, or ulcerative colitis.
9. It Can Be a Long Road To Recovery, Post-Birth Control
If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I’ve become more and more impassioned about the dangers of hormonal birth control due to my own experiences. Therefore, you get a personal confession: The number one danger I wish I had known before starting birth control was how long it takes to get off it. As of writing this, I’m still detoxing from the Nexplanon implant and have been struggling for the past year and then some, wondering why my menstrual cycles won’t go back to normal. For reference, before I started birth control, I had extremely regular and thankfully short, painless periods. I didn’t have anything to complain about, but I still made the choice to get the implant.
After countless visits and calls with my Ob/Gyn (the second one I’ve had after the first one failed to offer me any significant help beyond getting me on birth control as fast as possible) and different strengths of natural hormonal therapies that honestly make me feel inadequate and like my womanhood has failed itself, my body seems to still be lost trying to make the connection between my reproductive system and my endocrine system.
While my personal case would appear to be rare, I wager that there are more women out there who feel afraid about reporting the long-lasting effects which birth control has had on them. Some people don’t notice. Some people don’t care. As a young newlywed woman, I do happen to care about whether or not I’m having menstrual cycles. I’d love to be able to have children. Because of birth control, I don’t know when or if that can ever be a reality.
This isn’t meant to scare anyone, but rather to warn that you don’t know how your body is going to react to something. There are women in my life who got off birth control and were pregnant within weeks. Then, there’s me who got off birth control over a year ago and still hasn’t had a menstrual cycle since mid-2017.
Is that supposed to be cool? Is it fun that I don’t have to deal with a monthly bleed like every other woman? Frankly, I’d rather deal with the normal biological processes that come with being a woman than not know when or if I can ever have children. My Ob/Gyn remains hopeful because of the progress we’ve made so far, but there will always be a small voice in the back of my head telling me I’ve made a permanent mistake.
Personal testimony aside, post-birth control syndrome is not just a conspiracy theory. While many women statistically regain balance of their hormones within a few months of getting off birth control, there’s no guarantee that it won’t take up to six months, or in my case, one and a half years and then some. In one other extreme case, a woman shared online that she didn’t have a period for two years after getting off hormonal birth control.
“At first, this didn’t seem like that big of a deal, but the more I researched, I realized how big of a deal it actually was. I wanted nothing more to be a mom someday. I finally realized these things couldn’t happen without my period,” she confessed. Her personal journey to finally becoming pregnant was aided by naturopaths and holistic doctors who gave her options that modern medicine wasn't offering.
The beauty of the internet is just how many life-changing resources there are now for women to learn about how our bodies have naturally functioned for all of our species’ history. This knowledge is a double-edged sword, however, as it also opens many of our eyes to feeling cheated by the birth control industry and those who may have promised us that everything would be okay. Once you’ve opened Pandora’s Box, it’s hard to forget what you’ve seen.
If you’re battling your body while on birth control or are having difficulty detoxing the synthetic hormones out of your system, then you’re in friendly company that only wants the best for your feminine health. We here at Evie recommend learning from holistic doctors and naturopaths such as Dr. Jolene Brighten and Dr. Lara Briden, as well as reading up on healthy birth control alternatives like natural family planning, the fertility awareness method, and tracking your basal body temperature.
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