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Truth Exposed: Oral Contraceptives

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From my perspective, oral contraceptives may provide you with a 99 percent chance of safety against unwanted pregnancies, but beware; the risk of taking oral contraceptives may have a tremendous effect on your life. How? Here’s my story…

My first baby was by cesarean section so I knew I had to be careful about subsequent pregnancies. After a lot of research and face-to-face doctor discussions, I assumed pills to be an effective way to avoid any unwanted pregnancy for at least two years. A month after my delivery, I started taking contraceptive pills (those that were safe while breastfeeding) and I noticed how emotionally sensitive I became.

Small matters would make me cry, I would be angry all the time, my sexual appetite diminished and I would be upset throughout! Further, I’d sleep most of the day, feel tired most of the time and would do nothing except look after my baby. I was no longer interested in anything. These were the psychological effects.

Now for the physical effects: I gained nearly 45 pounds in my first pregnancy and lost hardly 10 pounds. I knew I had a long way to go on weight loss, but with the oral contraceptives, I was not able to do that either. I was working out in a gym for two months and instead of losing weight (Note: I was breastfeeding too), I kept on gaining pounds! I ate healthy foods and the scale was moving in the opposite direction! I was supposed to lose weight and ended up gaining more than 20 pounds until my second pregnancy (Note: I left my contraceptive pills and was pregnant immediately the following month).

It was in my second pregnancy where I realized what the pills were doing to me. I was happy, not gaining much weight, ate well, was active and ended up having a happy pregnancy. Now 37 weeks pregnant, I came to know that oral contraceptives increase the chances for cervical cancer. My colleagues (who were nurses) warned me about breast cancer and its link with the oral contraceptives.

While the effects of contraceptives may vary from woman to woman, there are thousands of women like me out there who have/had gone through a very similar situation like me (or even worse - these contraceptive pills almost ruined me in every way: personal and professional life). If you are having weight issues and taking oral contraceptives, there are high possibilities that both are interlinked.

Better be safe than sorry … I have been there, gone through it and now I have shared my experience with you and I truly hope this helps those thousands of women like me who have been ignorant about the effects of oral contraceptives.

About Fatmah Azam Ali

Fatmah Azam Ali is a Certified Health Specialist (C.H.S.) and an N.D. (Doctor of Naturopathy) candidate in the Clayton College of Natural Health. She is a Certified Nutritional Counselor (C.N.C.) and a Stress Management Consultant as well. As a freelance journalist with over six years of writing experience, she has written over hundreds of articles on health, fitness, alternative medicine and many more for national and international publications - online and print. Get to know her at: http://naturedoctorfatmah.wordpress.com.

Add a Comment16 Comments

Dear CharlotteSal,

Great article! I am so glad that estrogen dominance exists! I always knew it did but didn't know it had a name. Now everything makes more sense. Can you please message the name of Dr. Lee's book. I'd love to read it and I am sure it'd be of a great reference in my research.

Thank you so much for the great link!

August 1, 2009 - 3:30am

Estrogen dominance is problematic is western nations. I causes all sorts of problems. The pill causes it's takers to have more estrogen that naturally occurs. Not having these estrogens opposed by progesterone is a problem.

I would advise any woman I know to read what this doctor wrote. https://www.empowher.com/news/herarticle/2009/04/12/estrogen-dominance-losing-healthy-hormonal-balance

July 31, 2009 - 1:57pm

Hello Kristin,

Yes- that's exactly what I mean when taking oral contraceptives too: the power of hormones cannot be underestimated. Yes, postpartum depression exists and when our own natural hormones can wreck us (without any synthetic ones), just imagine what the synthetic hormones can do to a woman [even minimal amounts may cause lots of discomfort]. Postpartum depression is well-handled by some women and I have come across several PPD cases too and have counselled them. I have had doctors coming to me during my stay at the hospital after my delivery and educating me and several other new mothers about PPD and that's when its easily manageable and preventable. I'd like to thank you for the links: extremely informative.

Regarding oral contraceptives, I have come across several links where women claim that as soon as they started their birth control with contraceptives, they gained weight. Other than that, it has mainly been through the patients who visit my family gynaecologist clinic and have stated the same problem. From my research so far, everything has been relied on old studies. We need new research, new unbiased sources. During the period when I was recovering from my bit of PPD [though it was not that bad, I was recovering quite well], oral contraceptives made it worse and what was worse than this was: I just couldn't figure out then what was causing it [nearly wrecked my married life]. We need proper control studies on the oral contraceptive research and its effects on women.

From my research, every woman's hormone percentage count is different and that is exactly what makes her unique. That's how we react differently to different kinds of hormone treatments. I am still researching more on this issue and will hopefully receive more results on hormone counts in a woman and its relation to hormone treatments.

July 31, 2009 - 1:39pm
(reply to Fatmah Azam Ali)

Glad you found the links helpful. That's what I love about EmpowHer -- it's so easy to share info here.

Your research sounds interesting - I'd love to know what you come up with. It's true that the "one size fits all" approach towards medication, whether contraceptives or other HRT, isn't good for many of us.

July 31, 2009 - 2:01pm

Dear Anonymous reader,

It's just not my personal experience- it's the experience of thousands of women like me who have experienced the same situation. I have met them, seen them and I spoke to them as well. That is what inspired me to write this article. Research studies may not come out now but you may go and ask your gynaecologist (and if she/he is honest enough), they'll tell you what pills REALLY do to you because THEY KNOW. They said it. They have thousands of patients coming over to them who are like me. I didn't know at first that pills were causing all the havoc until I met my gynaecologist a month before conception. I don't believe in post-partum depression. Yes- having a new baby can be stressful and the hormonal changes can really get you but they don't last that long. I have always been the optimistic person with a very spiritual view in life and that one year when I had contraceptives, it was not me- I can tell that for sure. I always knew that I was not a "hormone" person and believe me my dear reader, studies will come out in the future. There are thousands of women who left pills because of similar problems like me and had gone for other contraceptive options (preferably abstinence during the fertility periods or IUD's) because synthetic hormones don't suit them. The medical companies will never release the studies that pills cause "so-and-so" for their gain but if you happen to read their leaflet, they do mention mood problems and weight gain (and for some, it's a lot of weight gain due to emotional eating- let's not forget that!).

If there are no studies out there, there will be now. Just wait a couple of years. And obviously, pills increase the breast cancer and cervical cancer risks (now, that is from the scientific and medical proofs). Let me know if I am wrong. :-) We have our choices. As I stated in my article, every woman may have a different experience and as you may see from the comments above, oral contraceptives have done both "good" and "bad". The problem is, the medical companies won't let the "bad" effects of the pills to be shown in public and hence, portals like Empowher.com give us a chance to share the truth. I highly recommend you to go to an honest obstetrician or gynaecologist (because I have been to three gynaecologists and all of them say what I said- it's just not me) :-)

Thank you so much for writing Anonymous reader! And I am not making claims- it's my experience along with several others who have gone through the same experience. I have read over 50 comments on Empowher.com alone where many readers say that they gained up to 20 lbs. on birth control pills. I truly believe that studies will be out one day that will support what I have stated above.

And let's not restrict ourselves just to scientific and medical proofings. Lots of them have made mistakes and have rectified themselves in the future. Some have made biased research. I mean- why do we limit ourselves and ONLY TRUST what scientific and medical proofing states and not what's in front of eyes... After all, "Seeing is believing..."

July 31, 2009 - 3:24am
(reply to Fatmah Azam Ali)

I'm curious how you spoke to thousands of women on the topic of birth control. In what forum? Do you have a blog on this topic? If so, I'd be interested to read it.

I absolute don't agree with your statement that postpartum depression doesn't exist. Women die from it every day. I nearly died from it after the birth of my third baby thirteen years ago and I've been working hard to spread awareness of this debilitating and sometimes deadly mood disorder. I started a blog a couple of years ago at http://ppdsurvivor.blogspot.com. Please check it out to gain some insight into what PPD is and how it can impact lives. Perinatal mood disorders are VERY real, and to learn more about them, please do a search on postpartum depression on EmpowHer and explore the many articles and video content we have developed on this very important health topic.

There is current legislation before the US Senate called the Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act that is aimed at ensuring that women receive postpartum depression evaluations and resources before they leave the hospital after having a baby. You can read about this bill on Susan Dowd Stone's web site: www.perinatalpro.com. Susan is one of our PPD experts/writers on this site and she is the former president of Postpartum Support International. That's another great site to check out, by the way, to get more information on postpartum mood disorders and how they impact women and their families. You can find it at http://postpartum.net.

This info might be helpful in providing you with additional insight into the power of hormones and how they can absolutely wreak havoc in a woman's body. There are countless women who suffer from postpartum depression unknowingly, are left untreated, and end up suffering for the rest of their lives from chronic depression and other physical ailments. It's such a shame because PPD is so easily treatable (and preventable). It's just a matter of being informed and aware.

July 31, 2009 - 10:06am
EmpowHER Guest

Wow this article really does make a lot of baseless claims...everything is anectdotal, and not based on actual studies. How can you prove that all of those side effects were the pills and not something else? Especially since you started pills so close after delivery...perhaps your bonding horemones were wearing off and post-partum depression was setting in? I mean who knows, very big things happened to you at a time in your life when a lot was going on besides starting pills, and you blamed it all on the pills. There is no research that supports the notion that modern birth control pills can cause any kind of weight gain besides slight water retention (which would not exceed 5lbs). It's an old wives tale that pills cause weight gain; older pills used to cause a negligible amount but that is not even a concern anymore with newer pills.

I'm not saying oral contraceptives are the best things in the world to be taking, but I am saying that your article is baseless and anectdotal and relies on your own personal experience with unfounded claims and zero evidence. Let's forget about scientific proof that pills cause these things in general, since you're only using yourself as an example...do you have scientific and medical proof that the pills caused the things you mention to you specifically?

July 30, 2009 - 9:00pm

Dear Kristin,

Thank you so much for your insight again!! Like I said, every woman is different. My mom-in-law, for instance, has been on HRT since her periods ceased when she was 35. Now she is almost 70 and doing well (for more than 3 decades now, she's been on HRT). For some, hormone treatments are a blessing and for some, well, it's not a blessing. But it is worth showing those thousands of women like me out there who do very well without any kind of hormone therapy. Like CharlotteSal, my doc told me that the pills were safe. I trusted her (CharlotteSal was lucky to refer to another practitioner unlike me). For me and many others, progesterone or estrogen- our bodies just don't accept synthetic hormones. Our bodies have been designed like that naturally!

About the info out there, I agree. There is lots to see and read- especially on the internet. We need to validate the information and verify our sources. But HRT is definitely known to increase breast cancer and cervical cancer risks- let's not ignore that. However, this may not be the case with every woman who uses the HRT (for instance, my mother-in-law). If you ask me- synthetic hormones do me no good and I share my experience with all those who are like me and are ignorant about the contraceptive pill usage effects. :-)

Every woman is different... unique in her own way... physically, psychologically and spiritually...

July 30, 2009 - 3:44am
(reply to Fatmah Azam Ali)

You're so right. It's so important that we all know all of our options. That's interesting about your mother-in-law. My mom takes an osteoporosis medication that is known to have horrible side effects and I've been trying to get her to stop taking it and consider other options, but the medication works for her and she's happy on it. I think the important thing is that we have access to all of the different choices -- that's something to celebrate.

July 30, 2009 - 11:10am

My personal story is that my doctor wanted to prescribe birth control when I was already estrogen dominant and about to enter into menopause. The signs where all there, I didn't know this but as a doctor, he should have. Had I taken the pill to regulate my periods, rather than use bioidentical progesterone I would be a complete wreck!

I listened to my inner voice and knew I should consult another provider. I'm glad I did. This world is estrogen dominant and the science points to that.

Perhaps Dr. Lee did pass away in 2003 but 6 years doesn't mean that his life work is defunct. There are lots of studies out there but I am leary of the ones sponsored by the drug companies. Modern western medicine has done a lot to improve health but I think that in some ways it has inhibited how our bodies heal themselves.

July 29, 2009 - 1:49pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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