Rant warning….Don’t get me started on hormonal birth control… oh! And the drug companies… let me tell you what!
There’s no denying that hormonal contraception has given women a level of control over their fertility that we’ve never experienced before. Today, hormonal contraceptive options include the Patch (sticks to your skin), Implants (are implanted in your arm under the skin), injectable contraceptives (like Depo Provera), Mirana (hormonal IUD), the Vaginal Ring, and of course, the good old Pill.
A few years ago I took a course for health care providers to aid them in recommending birth control. I took it because I wanted to learn about the newer birth control methods. I remember reading about the NuvaRing, they made it sound so great, a lower dose of localized hormones (implying it’s not circulating around your body). You wear it for three weeks and take it out for a week to bleed. The best thing is no more daily pill taking.
It was the dawn of a new age as far as the drug companies were concerned and they’ve made millions as a result. They made over $623 million globally in 2012 alone on the NuvaRing. It sounds like a very successful product and indeed it is, but what you might not know is how hard the NuvaRing’s creator lobbied the FDA to get the warning about Venous Thromboembolism (VTE) removed from the warning label.
Not long after that class, I came across an article which told the stories of a couple of young women, classmates who hadn’t been in touch for a while. The first, Erika died of a massive, double pulmonary embolism as a direct result of NuvaRing and less than a year later, her friend Megan Henry was diagnosed with her lungs full of blood clots. Her doctor told her that if she wasn’t an Olympic athlete she would probably be dead and then told her that her Olympic hopes were over . This could have just as easily been your friend or mine.
It really pisses me off that drug companies withhold information and it’s not until numerous women have been harmed does it finally come out through investigation that they knew it could cause these problems all along and have been downplaying the risk.
While these events might be rare, they are life threatening. There’s no way to determine your risk when it’s striking down healthy young women. It doesn’t feel very rare to the young children who have lost their moms or to the mothers who have lost their daughters all because they used the vaginal ring to prevent pregnancy.
Is it worth the risk of dying from a blood clot, stroke, brain hemorrhage or heart attack to prevent getting pregnant? Women who use the NuvaRing are at higher risk for these types of events than birth control pill users. It’s also true that women who become pregnant face these same risks and more. You have to evaluate the risk and decide what feels best for you.
Outside of the US, a Danish study looked at 1.6 million women and found women who use the vaginal ring have a 6.5% greater chance of venous thromboembolism (VTE), ie. blood clots than women who don’t use hormonal birth control, this study was in direct conflict with Merck’s research. As a result of the Danish study many of the warning labels were changed in countries like Canada and in Europe but minor changes were made in the US. It’s taken many years to get the VTE warnings on the label here in the US.
What we currently know is that the newer types of synthetic progesterone are more dangerous than the older types that were used. We’ve also learned that buried deep in the research data that NuvaRing’s creator submitted to the FDA is reference to high spikes of estrogen levels which are related to NuvaRing use. These spikes in estrogen levels also put women at increased risk for blood clots and strokes. We’ve also learned that drug companies will actively lobby the FDA to not put valid warnings on the label because it makes the product look bad.
The moral of this story? You can’t trust drug companies and you can’t trust the FDA to keep you safe and the information medical professionals receive is incomplete and it can take years, decades even for information to make its way through the system. Do you really want to put these artificial hormones in your body?
Drug companies are worried about making money and keeping their share holders happy. They conspire to hide the truth so that they can win FDA approval and make their millions and billions.
What you need to know about the NuvaRing:
- It contains both synthetic estrogen and progesterone (3rd & 4th generation hormones have greater risk for VTE (blood clots))
- Side effects can be serious and even fatal
- Synthetic hormones are absorbed directly into the blood stream
- It prevents a normal natural menstrual cycle
- Bleeding is due to hormone withdrawal not a true period
- It works by suppressing ovulation
- It’s very easy and convenient to use
- Fertility returns immediately after discontinuation
Birth Control Pills, a Life Saver for Many
The Pill as it is often called is truly a life saver for many women. The symptoms associated with their cycles are unbearable and the pill makes life livable when “Aunt Flo” comes a calling. It can mean the difference between being “taken out” for a few days while your period does it thing and being able to live a normal life.
I know my opinion might be a little controversial but I would like to propose that doctors are by the act of prescribing birth control medications for these problems are actually sweeping your health concerns under the rug. I do realize that the options they have available are limited and that they’re offering the best solution they know and women who are desperate for a solution are immensely grateful for the relief birth control pills can provide.
There is no such thing as a magic pill that will fix the problem and suppressing an issue doesn’t make it go away it just pushes it deeper into the body over the long term. For women who desire a family in the future this can be especially problematic.
I encourage my clients to get an accurate diagnosis, because I believe knowledge is power. Once you know what the problem is, you can figure out how you want to address it. I often make herbal and nutritional suggestions to my clients to help them even out their cycles and tame the “Period Monster” and for clients who want a baby someday, addressing these issues early makes getting pregnant later much easier and less stressful.
I was just reading an article the other day that was touting how today’s birth control is safer and doesn’t have many of the side effects that previous versions had and I wondered if this was really true so I dug a little deeper to see what women are saying and I’m not convinced. One big complaint is hair loss, weight gain still seems to be a problem even though the drug companies say the new pills are less likely to do that, mood swings, headaches and more are still being reported so it really doesn’t seem like much has changed, now granted, everyone is an individual and is affected in different ways.
But another troubling concern is that the newer generations of artificial hormones like the types used in Yaz/Yasmin and in the NuvaRing are turning out to be more dangerous than previous types of artificial hormones. Drug companies are consistently withholding or burying important information about health risks in 1000’s of pages of documents they drop off for the FDA to sift through. They used third world women to test the very first birth control pills on and as a result the hormone levels were lowered significantly before they were presented to US women. They routinely take advantage of those who can’t defend themselves and it’s not right!
I think it’s pretty safe to say that drug companies are looking out for their bottom line and getting these drugs to market is earning them 100’s of millions of dollars a year off just one drug. When people get hurt or die as a result of these medications and drug companies are held accountable, it’s usually just a minor inconvenience for them and the payouts to those they’ve harmed is just a drop in the bucket to the 100’s millions of dollars each drug brings in every year.
So how do we protect ourselves from all of this? The obvious answer is not to use hormonal contraceptives, but it’s more complicated than that. Most women use hormonal birth control at some point in their lives and this is because we don’t know what else to do and the other options seem less than desirable.
There’s one thing that we can say about hormonal contraception is that it does its job well; it is a very effective method of contraception. Too bad it totally cuts us off from our natural cycle and kills the sex drive!
Birth Control and Your Nutritional Status
Over the years there has been controversy about whether or not women who take birth control pills should supplement with a multi-vitamin. Research from the 80’s discovered that birth control pills depleted certain key nutrients: Vitamin B2, B6, B12, Folic Acid, Vitamin C and Zinc and raised Vitamin A, Iron and Copper levels in women. As you may know maternal Folic Acid levels are essential for a healthy baby so they were concerned since no method of birth control is 100%.
The official conclusion in the research was that as long as women are taking in a varied healthy diet there is no need for additional supplementation. Today, drug companies say that because the newer contraceptives contain lower doses of hormones, the research from 30+ years ago no longer applies. It’s not surprising they’re not volunteering to do any new studies.
Coincidence or Connection?
Would you be interested to know that women who use birth control pills have an increased risk for gum disease? Did you know that bleeding gums is a shared symptom in deficiencies of Vitamin B6 and Vitamin C.
Birth control pill use has also been linked to an increased risk of cervical dysplasia (caused by the sexually transmitted Human Papilloma Virus). Nutritional deficiencies are one of the risk factors for cervical dysplasia. Research has shown that women who are diagnosed with cervical dysplasia tend to have low folic acid levels and they benefit from supplementation of Vitamin C, Beta Carotene, Folic Acid, B complex and Vitamin E.
Birth control pills may increase the risk for breast cancer and cervical cancer while reducing the risk for endometrial and ovarian cancers.
Things to know about Birth Control Pills:
- They need to be used consistently in order to be effective
- Some of the newer types of hormones increase the risk for serious and even fatal side effects
- You may want to consider a high quality food based multi-vitamin
- Made of both synthetic estrogen and progesterone
- All hormonal contraceptive have side effects
- There is a progesterone only version (mini pill) but this isn’t as effective as the combined pill
- Return to fertility is usually rapid, but not always especially if there were problems beforehand
Should teenage girls use hormonal birth control?
It’s an excellent question and many factors to consider. The clear benefit is its reliability, however things that are of concern is the tendency to forgo condom use by pill users putting them at risk for STDs and the suppression of the normal natural menstrual cycle is also a big one.
I used the pill between the ages of 15 and 20 and I was fine. I didn’t experience any negative short term effects and no long term ones that I know of. In retrospect, I am grateful for the protection it provided. I also remember choosing not to use a condom because I was on the pill. Over the years, I’ve had problems with bleeding gums, gingivitis and cervical dysplasia; can I attribute them to birth control pill use? No, but interesting is it not?
I propose giving girls all the facts including the risks, now that we know some of the newer synthetic hormones increase the risk for serious, life threatening blood clots in otherwise healthy, non-smoking women along with all of the other options and let them decide for themselves. I also encourage all girls to become familiar with their own natural menstrual cycle.
My clients learn how to avoid getting pregnant without the use of hormones and are able to teach their girls how to do the same. We’re breaking the dependence modern women have on hormonal birth control to avoid pregnancy by educating women about their cycles.
Implants: Norplant and Implanton (Progesterone only)
These are progesterone only hormonal contraceptives. Implanton is the second generation and contains material that allows them to find it on an x-ray if it gets lost. It is placed under the skin on the inside of the upper portion of your arm where it will release synthetic progesterone for the next three years. This method is considered the best, highest level of protection you can get from hormonal contraceptives, mostly because there is no chance for human error assuming you get it replaced in three years.
Things to know about the Implants:
- Contains synthetic progesterone, so that those who cannot use estrogen may use this contraceptive.
- It requires a doctor for implantation and removal; it can be removed at any time.
- It contains the same kind of synthetic progesterone that increases risk for stroke, VTE and other adverse events.
- You may experience spotting or intermittent bleeding
- You might end up on birth control pills to control the spotting and bleeding.
- You may not see your period for months at a time, even years. Some women may appreciate this.
Injectable contraceptives (Depo Provera):
Injectable contraceptives have to be administered every three months to remain effective. This is a progesterone only contraceptive. You’re unlikely to menstruate while using Depo Provera, but you may spot and some women find themselves on birth control pills in order to control side effects from this method. If you don’t like it, you have to wait for it to wear off and fertility can be slow to return.
Can be less effective for heavier women and is made from the newer generations of synthetic hormones and bears the same risks for VTE and cardiovascular events. The patch is worn every day on your skin, it can be placed where most won’t see it.
Coming off hormonal birth control:
Just a few quick tips for when you’ve decided to give up hormonal birth control. First, decide on your new method of contraception. In a pinch, condoms are good to help with the transition. If you’re going to be doing natural birth control methods, I encourage you to work with someone to make sure you receive good training and to help you avoid making mistakes while learning.
If you enjoy herbal teas, consider oatstraw or nettle leaf to help nourish your body. Other herbs can be utilized but I tend to tailor those based on my client’s needs.
So it’s great all the advancement that we’ve had in the world of hormonal birth control, some of the methods are very convenient and seem like the magical answer but at an increased risk to health and wellbeing. It seems that in the long run, most women prefer not to put artificial hormones into their bodies. Are you one of these women? Not sure what your next step is? There’s good news, because there is another way! Stay tuned because you’ll be learning about alternative solutions in the upcoming weeks.