I have seen news recently in regards to the effectiveness of birth control for decreasing teen pregnancy in the US with use of IUDs and Long-acting reversible contraceptive. Read more here.
Even New Zealand’s Otago University is proposing “Every girl in New Zealand will be put on long-acting reversible contraceptive drugs, delivered through implants or patches, before they become sexually active…” Read more here.
I do not debate that the birth control pill or IUDs or Long-acting reversible contraception when used properly decreases the chances of pregnancy, what I debate here is the fact that we do NOT discuss the other detriments that hormonal regulation like birth control pills have on our body. And as a physical therapist, I feel it is paramount that we all be informed and make an informed decision. When preventing or controlling the hormonal regulation in women, what else are we doing that may cause an increase risk of disease (for me pregnancy is not a disease but merely a temporary condition)?
A post by Kelly Brogan, MD discusses some of the potential consequences of birth control like an increase risk of ischemic stroke, a potentially deadly medical condition. Read here for more details.
A cross-sectional study published in 2011, also demonstrated long term effects on Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), which is a growth hormone made in the liver. It plays an important role in growth, development, and homeostasis. Increased blood levels of IGF-1 have been linked to adverse health conditions like cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease. In this study, they demonstrated that the long term effects of oral contraceptive has an effect on IGF-1 levels even after cessation of the pill. The effect of the pill is NOT transitory 1. Meaning, it may still have long-term effects on a woman’s health even years after cessation. Not to mention that the effects of reproductive hormonal control in women does in fact affect other body systems, even if we do NOT know just how…yet.
What is more concerning to me and frustrating is the consequences of the birth control pill on our microbiome in our gut and the effects that has on our digestion, our brain, our joints and our overall health. I have touched on how disruption of the microbiome of our gut and it’s links to rheumatoid arthritis here. I have even discussed research on how improving our gut microbiome will actually decrease inflammation here.
Disruption of the gut microbiome has been linked to an increase risk of Crohn’s disease (a chronic inflammatory bowel disease the affects the intestinal lining making nutrient absorption difficult). A review article discusses the genetic, and environmental factors that potentially impact the gut microbiome and risk of Crohn’s disease. Common medications that may disrupt the microbiome are oral contraceptives, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), antibiotics, and other infections. 2 In the end, it isn’t just oral contraceptives that damage our gut microbiome, but many regularly prescribed and over the counter medications.
No body system operates in isolation. It is ignorant to think that anything we do to control one system has NO effect on another. The fact is your health begins in your gut. Whether you are trying to avoid pregnancy or not, disrupting the gut balance may have irreparable damage and set the stage for a host of autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease to name a few. And we do not know what the long-term effects of hormonal control will have on a woman’s body. We cannot simply prevent pregnancy and believe the game is over, that we have won. That would be much too easy.
We take pills like candy and use them as band aids rather than addressing the source of the problem OR ignoring the known or unknown consequences. And it is this that I debate.
We must make informed decisions to maintain the health of our own bodies and that of our children.
Remove, Replace, Restore
Remove ignorance and shaming policies. They may be a quick response but rarely are they as effective as patience and education.
Replace with education and patience. Gain all the information you can from your healthcare provider about the small print on ALL medications. Informed decision-making is critical to maintaining health for a lifetime.
Restore health and prevent future disease.
Eat well. Move well. Sleep well. Thrive on.
1. Blackmore KM, Wong J, Knight JA. A cross-sectional study of different patterns of oral contraceptive use among premenopausal women and circulating IGF-1: Implications for disease risk. BMC Womens Health. 2011;11:15-6874-11-15.
2. Berg AM, Dam AN, Farraye FA. Environmental influences on the onset and clinical course of crohn's disease-part 2: Infections and medication use. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2013;9(12):803-810.
Special Thank you to Wendy Greene, PT who specializes in Women’s Health.
Dr Carolyn Dolan DPT, Cert MDT, MSHN
Where physical therapy, nutrition and lifestyle meet, because how you live your life determines whether or not you soar. Inspiring action with information so you can reduce pain, optimize healing and improve function naturally during recovery from injury, surgery or painful condition. This is a website for the open-minded; obstinate need not apply.