It might be time to rethink your birth control method.
A major new study has shown that one of the most commonly-prescribed types of birth control pills has a proven negative effect on women’s lives.
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, in collaboration with the Stockholm School of Economics, called for more studies in light of their findings, which were published in the scientific journal Fertility and Sterility.
“Despite the fact that an estimated 100 million women around the world use contraceptive pills, we know surprisingly little today about the pill’s effect on women’s health,” said Angelica Lindén Hirschberg, a professor at the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health at Karolinska Institutet. “The scientific base is very limited as regards the contraceptive pill’s effect on quality of life and depression, and there is a great need for randomized studies where it is compared with placebos.”
Hirschberg led just such a study, along with Niklas Zethraeus, associate professor at the Department of Learning, Informatics, Management and Ethics, Anna Dreber Almenberg from the Stockholm School of Economics, and Eva Ranehill of the University of Zürich. Their research followed 340 healthy women, ages 18 to 35, who were treated for three months with either placebos (pills with no active ingredient) or pills containing ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel, the most common form of combined oral contraceptive in Sweden and many other countries. Neither the women in the study nor the researchers knew who received which type of pill.
At the end of the study, women who were taking the oral contraceptives rated their quality of life as significantly lower than women who took placebos. Quality of life was defined as a combination of mood, general well-being, self-control, and energy levels. Symptoms of depression, interestingly, did not seem to be exacerbated.
The dip in quality of life was relatively small, the study’s authors emphasized, so the results should be taken with a dose of caution. Still, they should not be ignored. “This possible degradation of quality of life should be paid attention to and taken into account in conjunction with prescribing of contraceptive pills and when choosing a method of contraception,” says Niklas Zethraeus.
Zethraeus also points out that negative effects could contribute to women skipping pills, causing them to be less effective. The results also are specific to the particular type of pill used in the study. Other kinds of pills use different hormones, and have different sets of risks and side effects.
Comment: What’s your experience with taking birth control pills?