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Your Body on the Pill

Your Body on the Pill

News reports have made much of the Pill's effects your body. Here's what the science really says.

A Cure for Acne?

Many women have long believed that using birth control pills can help improve acne, and there are some studies that show this to be true. The artificial estrogen in the pill can tamp down testosterone levels. Less testosterone means that your body is making less sebum, the oily secretions of the sebaceous glands, which can clog pores and lead to pimply skin.

Bone Density

While the artificial estrogen in birth control pills might be great for your skin, it might not be as great for your bones. There is some evidence from a 2010 study done by Seattle’s Group Health Research Institute that young women on low-dose estrogen pills had six percent lower spinal bone density than those not on the pill. While natural estrogen peaks stimulate bone growth, birth control pills keep estrogen levels steady. More research is being done to determine what happens to your bones when you quit the pill, and there is no proof that taking birth control pills leads to osteoporosis or bone fractures.

The Risk of Blood Clots

The risk of getting blood clots in your legs are another problem that you may have heard associated with taking birth control pills. The risk may depend on the kind of pill you take. A study in the British Medical Journal found that women whose pills contained drospirenone – a newer type of artificial progesterone – were three times more likely to develop blood clots than those taking a pill with an older version of artificial progesterone call levonorgestrel. In either case, the rate of women who develop clots is only about three in 10,000. Two big factors to consider are whether there is a history of blood clots in your family and whether you smoke. Women on the pill should not smoke. Talk with your AOA physician about your family medical history and discuss your level of risk for developing blood clots.

Cancer Risks

There is a lot of conflicting information about whether the artificial estrogen in birth control pills increases a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. Studies have shown contradictory results. Talk with your AOA doctor about your family history of breast cancer and if you are at high risk, get a second opinion before taking the pill.

There is some good news about the link between birth control pills and other types of cancer, however. Studies are showing that birth control pills may lower your risk for both ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer.

Birth Control Pills and Sexual Desire

The impact that taking birth control pills can have on your level of sexual desire can be of some concern, as the spike in SHBG (the protein that combats acne) can lower your testosterone levels, and make you less likely to be in the mood. Many women make sufficient testosterone on their own that it isn’t a problem, however, if you find that you are rarely feeling up for sex, talk with your AOA doctor about finding another form of birth control that doesn’t involve artificial estrogen, such as an IUD.

Learn more about the impact of birth control pills on your body:

Womens Health - How the Pill Changes Your Looks
Medline Plus - Birth control pills
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists