By: Simone Rizkallah
I had promised a drink to one of my former students when he turned 21 years old. The time had come. Instead, he asked for an iced tea (he had drunk too much the night before) and a request: “Can you help me convince my girlfriend to get off the birth control Pill? I’m worried about the health risks.”
I come from a family of various medical professionals (father and grandfather are both physicians) and a long line of very strong-willed women. Feminism is in my big fat Middle-Eastern blood. It probably wasn’t easy for my dermatologist to recommend the Pill only for me to spew out all the health risks and ask her why she would be recommending something that could be harmful to my health when I am already in good health. Besides the acne.
But what about women who suffer from extreme PMS symptoms or PCOS? Or who just want a convenient way to avoid pregnancy? Are the Pill’s health risks worth it for those women? I don’t believe the Pill or other hormonal contraceptives are worth the health risks they pose to women.
Here are seven reasons why:
In 2005, the World Health Organization classified oral contraceptives as Group I carcinogen. Particularly, breast and cervical cancers. It’s also true that for women with certain gene mutations the risk of developing ovarian cancer is reduced. For more information, I refer you to the National Cancer Institute’s fact sheet on the connection.
Hormonal contraceptives can also cause higher blood pressure which in turn can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States. But it’s hard not to wonder if there’s a connection between the increase in heart disease for women and the growth in popularity of contraceptive use in the last 50 years.
Other serious health risks include migraines, gallbladder disease, infertility, liver tumors (benign), decreased bone density, yeast overgrowth and infection, lupus, and blood clotting. A friend of mine almost died of pulmonary embolism six months after starting on the Pill.
Less serious health risks include larger breasts (a plus for some I suppose), weight gain or loss, increased acne, nausea, mood swings, irregular bleeding or spotting, breast tenderness and decreased sex drive. Another friend of mine admitted to me after getting off the Pill she’d been taking for 20 years: “I feel like a woman again.”
Besides the fact that this same friend kept developing candida, she also struggles with depression which is another risk of using hormonal contraception.
The Pill also interrupts your pheromones which determines your level of attraction to the opposites sex which is naturally someone who is genetically dissimilar since genetic diversity is what creates healthy offspring. On the Pill, you may be attracted to someone you otherwise wouldn’t be if you were off the Pill. Alisa Vitti, a functional nutritionist and women’s hormone expert outlines Five Ways the Birth Control Pill is Messing with Your Love Life.
I’m a feminist. When the Pill was first being developed testing on man completely halted when one male experienced testicle shrinkage. In the women’s study group three women died. Now, I’m not in favor of perfectly healthy men disrupting their natural body functions either. But to borrow Dr. Janet Smith’s words, “What does that tell people? It may tell us that women are stupid. Women do things to their bodies that men won’t do to theirs.”
Thankfully, in our scientifically advanced age, we have other options. I’ve been delighted to discover people such as Dr. Kelly Brogan, Dr. Aviva Romm, Alisa Vitti, HHC, AADP and other functional medicine doctors and hormone experts who identify the root causes of fertility-related health problems and help women heal naturally and safely without masking the problem with the Pill and putting women at further risk for other health problems they didn’t have in the first place.
They also advocate for natural methods to avoid pregnancy if that is your primary aim. Fertility monitoring and charting apps like Kindara and Natural Cycles are becoming popular since they are just as effective if used properly. A friend of mine got off the Pill and decided to go to a NaProTechnology clinic and ended up discovering a progesterone deficiency. Something her gynecologist and endocrinologist couldn’t identify and who insisted the Pill was the only solution.
Clearly, it wasn’t. She simply needed a monthly progesterone supplement during the luteal phase of her cycle. A year ago she decided to have a baby and was able to conceive after only two months of trying. Something that may have been impossible if her progesterone deficiency went undiagnosed.
Fertility awareness and education is a dramatic departure from the American ethos of convenience and instant gratification marketed so well by savvy pharmaceutical companies. But if the “self-care” movement is going to progress to anything beyond the superficial, it’s got to be a collective effort on this very fundamental aspect of femininity.
So yes, I told my young friend, I will help you help convince your girlfriend to go off the Pill and become the healthiest, best version of herself. And I hope other men will do the same thing for the women in their own lives.