The Pill Gives Women A Cortisol Response Similar To PTSD—What Other Negative Side Effects Aren’t We Being Told About?

Like so many young women out there, I was prescribed birth control as a “quick fix” for painful menstrual cramps, but unlike many young women at the time, I thankfully made the personal choice to go off of it a few years later when I began noticing unusual mental health side effects.

By Sabrina Kosmas3 min read

Fast forward to today, and I’m now witnessing droves of young women tossing the pill out for good, and the more I research why, the more I realize how many of us were lied to about its dangerous side effects.

We’ve been convinced by Big Pharma, doctors we trusted, educators, the media, and, in many cases, our own family and friends that the side effects of the hormonal birth control pill were worth it to ensure we didn’t get pregnant, break out, have menstrual cramps, etc. However, we’re now seeing more women and physicians coming forward than ever before to reveal the many dangerous side effects of this pill that almost none of us were even warned about when prescribed it. 

What if I told you that some of these side effects involved dramatically increasing your risk of depression, anxiety, fatigue, neurotic symptoms, sexual disturbances, compulsion, anger, negative menstrual effects, and worst of all, suicide? The list goes on and on, yet many young women are in the dark because they aren't informed of, nor do they research for themselves, the damaging side effects of hormonal birth control until they’re experiencing them firsthand. 

This rings true for me. I went on birth control at the beginning of college, and before long, I realized that I could track not only when my period would arrive, but also when I would experience unusually dramatic mood swings and depression. I even knew when to avoid drinking alcohol because, during certain times of the month, I had an increased likelihood of blacking out. I knew that it's not natural to experience these symptoms, especially since I hadn't experienced any of them before, and I went off the pill. I quickly realized how much easier my emotions, stress levels, and energy were to control, and I couldn’t believe it took me five years to get off of the rollercoaster. But as with most things in life, you don’t know until you try. 

Sexual Side Effects

Ironically, birth control’s ability to stop ovulation isn’t the only thing keeping women from getting pregnant. Research reveals that another all too common side effect of the pill is that it causes a decreased sex drive and diminished sexual arousal after being on the pill consistently for just a few months. Hormonal birth control contains synthetic estrogen and progestin which, when combined, lowers your testosterone. Women, of course, have lower levels of testosterone than men, but this hormone is one of the primary factors that controls our sexual drive and appetite. 

These hormonal changes caused by the pill can even impact the people you’re attracted to. Psychologist Sarah Hill, PhD, has research on this that reveals many women on hormonal birth control prefer more feminine men with less masculine faces, and some even find themselves being attracted to other women as well. Now, I’m not trying to go all Alex Jones with “the water’s making the frogs gay,” but it’s hard to dismiss that hormonal birth control could actually be making some women gay or even bisexual. In fact, I always wondered why so many women found Harry Styles in a dress on the cover of Vogue to be hot, but now it’s starting to make sense! 

Mental and Behavioral Side Effects

While the sexual side effects of the pill are concerning, nothing compares to the mental and behavioral side effects. The pill causes many women to have lower self-control, less perseverance, and an inability to process negative emotions productively. The pill damages women’s ability to manage stress because, more specifically, it dulls our cortisol level (aka the stress hormone produced by your adrenal glands), which is needed to respond to everyday stress in a healthy way. Dr. Hill published an article on her website about the alarming similarity between the muted cortisol response of healthy young women on the pill and those of trauma victims with PTSD – a connection known by researchers since the mid-1990s. 

The stress hormone profiles of women on the birth control pill look more like those belonging to trauma victims.

She writes, “Pill-taking women exhibit higher than average levels of total cortisol, high levels of corticosteroid binding globulins (CBGs), and dysregulated responses to exogenously administered cortisol. And this is significant because these patterns are typically only observed when the body becomes so overwhelmed with cortisol signaling that it has no choice but to shut the signal down altogether. For example, this type of pattern is often observed in children who have been abused or abandoned and those with a joint diagnosis of PTSD and major depressive disorder. We should all be alarmed by the fact that the stress hormone profiles of women who are on the birth control pill look more like those belonging to trauma victims than they do like those belonging to otherwise healthy young women.” 

Furthermore, the earlier birth control is introduced to women, the more likely they are to be impacted by its negative side effects. "Going on hormonal birth control can be linked with increased risk of anxiety and depression, and this risk seems to be particularly pronounced in adolescent women," Dr. Hill says. Being on hormonal birth control increases the risk for suicide, going on antidepressants, etc., and this is especially a concern for girls 19 years old and younger. I experienced this myself during college, which is why I feel so passionate about the issue. Sadly, there is very limited research done on the matter at hand.

Closing Thoughts

When it comes to birth control, it seems that ignorance is bliss. But I would argue that the stakes are too high for young women everywhere to go on this daily medication that's dramatically impacting their mental, physical, and reproductive health. The earlier women go on the pill, the higher the likelihood they develop a depressive disorder later in life. Logic alone should lead us to believe that flooding adolescent women's bodies with synthetic hormones is going to dramatically impact their neurological and emotional capacity. This is why this issue is so important and should be brought to the attention of women, and especially young women, everywhere. 

Sadly, only 2% of revenue from birth control sales goes back into research and development, which is why this problem has been neglected for so long. Thankfully, there are some brave men and women in the medical field taking it upon themselves to research and share their discoveries of the harmful effects of the birth control pill to ensure that women are making informed decisions. 

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