The Pill: Is It Really a Good Idea?

By Carly Milne

Like most women, I’ve dabbled with the birth control pill. I started taking it at 14. It almost seemed like a rite of passage – first steps, first kiss, first form of contraception. I went on the pill to help regulate my heavy periods, which often left me irritable and drained from cramps and heavy blood loss. My doctor told me the pill would alleviate both. I was ecstatic.
I took the pill religiously for ten years before I decided to go off it. As time went, I started noticing issues with my body chemistry – weight gain, irritability and mood swings, and at times, a non-existent period. As much as I wasn’t a fan of my painful periods, I suspected not having one wasn’t a good sign… and I decided to go au naturale. But the whole experience left me wondering what I’d actually been putting my body through.
“No matter what decisions women make regarding their health, the most important thing is that they’re educated and aware – I’ve had patients who are on the pill who don’t know how it’s affecting their physiology,” says Dr. Patti Kim, a Beverly Hills-area naturopath and doctor of Chinese medicine. Dr. Kim finds that most of her patients are unaware that their periods actually become false periods, induced by a week of placebo pills that cause withdrawal bleeding.
“We have a tendency to only look at symptoms and once the symptoms are under control, we assume the body is balanced… but really, none of the deeper issues – that are causing the symptoms in the first place – have been addressed,” she notes.
Kim feels the main pitfall of taking the pill is it overrides a woman’s natural hormonal rhythms, so when women go on it to regulate a hormonal imbalance, it just winds up throwing that imbalance further out of whack. And while the pill can sometimes act as a stop-gap solution to help the body calm down long enough to determine a course of action, prolonged use of the pill – meaning 10, 20 or 30 years of continuous use – can cause ovulation issues, making it harder for you to get pregnant. Research shows it may also increase your risk of breast cancer.
Dr. Natalie Nevins – an osteopath and G.P. who runs the Amrit Davaa Wellness Center in Hollywood – used the pill to alleviate cramping and other menstrual symptoms, and found that it changed her life.
“It took me a while to not be scared to go off it, because I was afraid to go back to the way I was, but I’d changed my life considerably since I started it – exercising, eating healthy, taking care of myself… and that’s what balanced my body,” she recalls.
But what about birth control? Dr. Nevins urges women to have a conversation with their doctor about options – not every pill is the same. If you can’t talk to your doctor, Planned Parenthood is another good resource. Dr. Kim suggests looking into the nonhormonal IUD, cervical cap, diaphragm, and everyone’s perennial favorite, the condom.Says Dr. Kim, “I wouldn’t recommend taking oral contraceptives. Exogenous hormones are much more powerful than we realize.If we look at the pill’s history, the scientific community has continually changed the dosages.The endocrine system is such a complex system that adding hormones into the mix can have deeper and longer lasting effects than we realize.”
And when it comes to hormonal imbalances, Dr. Kim has other, more natural recommendations.
“Conventional medicine is designed to create systems that work for everyone, but medicine is an art, not a science – every person is an individual and reacts to medications and hormones differently,” she says. “Part of my goal and philosophy is to recognize that different people manifest disease, imbalance and toxicity in different ways. However, I would use many of the same modalities – such as fish oil, B vitaminsand homeopathics – to balance a woman on the pill in orderto support and address the underlying imbalances that existed in the first place.”
The bottom line is, educate yourself. The more you know about what you’re putting in your body, the easier it will be for you to deal with it. But bear in mind what Dr. Nevins says: “The pill has its place, just as everything has its place. But there’s nothing natural about convincing your body it’s pregnant so that you don’t ovulate.”
Alternatives to the Pill
So now what? If you’re tired of taking the pill or worry about the long-term effects, there are alternative ways to protect yourself from unwanted pregnancy and STDs. Here are some options:
Condoms: Condoms are plastic worn on the penis during intercourse and reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infection. More protection against pregnancy is possible if condoms are used with a spermicide foam, cream, jelly, suppository, or film. When used correctly, the condom lowers chances of pregancy to 3%.
The Sponge: A non-prescription barrier method of birth control, the sponge is inserted into the vagina before intercourse. The sponge is made of solid polyurethane foam and contains spermicide. It is soft, round, and about two inches in diameter. The sponge cannot reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections. When used correctly, the sponge lowers chances of pregancy to 9 – 20%.
Female Condom: Shaped like a plastic pouch with flexible rings at each end, the female condom is inserted deep into the vagina like a diaphragm. The ring at the closed end holds the pouch in the vagina. The female condom reduces the risk of many sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. When used correctly, the female condom lowers chances of pregancy to 5%.
Spermicides: Spermicides are available in a variety of contraceptive preparations, including creams, film, foams, and thin sheets that melt after they are inserted. They are inserted into the vagina before intercourse. The chemical spermicide that they contain immobilizes sperm — preventing it from joining with an egg. Using a condom increases effectiveness since spermicide cannot reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections on its own. When used correctly, spermicides lower chances of pregancy to 4%.

Other Single Minded Women’s Health Articles

Get A Hold of Your Heart

The Heat Is On! Tips for Keeping Cool

The Environment and Breast Cancer