Birth Control Pills: Hidden Effects
Taking one of the most commonly prescribed type of birth control pill may have a negative effect on women’s overall quality of life, according to a new study from Sweden. However, the researchers from the Karolinska Institutet and the Stockholm School of Economics reported that their findings revealed no increase in depressive symptoms among the 332 women who completed the study. Research leader Angelica Lindén Hirschberg said the team looked into the quality of life issue because surprisingly little is known about the pills’ effect on women’s health despite the fact that an estimated 100 million women around the world take these contraceptives. The women participating were between the ages of 18 and 35 and all were healthy. Over the course of three months they were randomly treated with either placebos or contraceptives containing a combination of ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel (these pills are considered to present the least risk of blood clots among combined birth control pills). Neither the women nor the researchers knew which women received which treatment. After the three months, all the women were asked to describe any changes in their quality of life including mood/well-being, self-control and energy level. Those taking the contraceptives estimated changes their in quality of life to be significantly lower than the women who took the placebos. The researchers reported that while the differences were relatively small, the negative changes could be meaningful and significant for some individual women. They noted that other types of combined birth control pills may not have the same effects.
My take? We’ve long known that mood changes can be a side effect of taking birth control pills, but like some of the other side effects these can be temporary. The new findings are interesting, but since the women in the study took the pill (or placebo) for only 3 months, we don’t know if the negative changes in quality of life reported by the women are transitory or would prove long lasting. Although today’s pills are safer than those used in the past, I generally recommend non-pharmacological methods of contraception.
Angelica Lindén Hirschberg et al, “A first choice combined oral contraceptive influences general well-being in healthy women – a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.” Fertility and Sterility, April 18, 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2017.02.120
Also in this week’s bulletin:
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