The Influence of the Pill on your health and fertility

The Pill (oral contraceptive pill) and other hormonal contraceptives (rings, IUD, injections and implants) are some of the more commonly used drugs in the world, and also the only ones which stop a normal healthy function, that is fertility. However for this contraception we may compromise our health and or fertility. Hormonal contraceptives work by making us chemically sterile in a number of ways: inhibiting/suppressing the normal functioning of the ovary so that no ovulation occurs; buy making the lining of the uterus thin and unreceptive to a fertilised egg, preventing implantation; and making the cervical fluids acidic and non penetratable to sperm. In fact your body thinks its pregnant, but without the benefits of the natural progesterone and other hormones of pregnancy. For some women these effects do not reverse easily after coming off the pill.

The Pill is touted as 99 percent effective but is only this successful if you take it perfectly. Most of us however fail to do this at some point or another and become part of the unstated statistics of women conceiving while taking the pill. When we consider this, the real success rate lowers to somewhere between 80 and 90 percent equal to most other forms of less invasive contraception. The truth is that up to 50 percent of women on the pill stop taking it in the first year due to side effects.

The reason most women get side effects is due to the artificial oestrogens and progesterones they contain, besides being known carcinogens (increasing the risk of breast and other cancers), these chemicals are more difficult to metabolise and eliminate from the body. Even low dose pills contain four times the amount of peak oestrogen a woman produces naturally. This leads to side effects such as depression, moodiness, weight gain and a loss of interest in sex. The pill worsens clotting disorders, increasing the risk of stroke even in young women and can cause abnormal pap smears.

In a 2004 study, ‘time to pregnancy’, following long term pill or injectable contraceptive use was found to be two to three times longer respectively than after condom use – indicating a significant reduction in fertility. The effect was worse the longer the woman has used the contraception, or if they were older, obese or already had menstrual disturbances when they started the pill.

Those in the fertility drug business seem to be clear about who their customer base is. Fabio Bertarelli, a Swiss billionaire and owner of Serono Laboratories – manufacturers of 7 out of 10 of the world’s fertility drugs – told the Wall street Journal ‘Our usual customers are women over 30 who have been taking birth control pills since they were teenagers or in their early 20’s.’ Taken from ‘The Pill’ by Jane Bennet and Alex Pope.

Falling pregnant while on the pill or within a few months of coming off it can have serious consequences as the hormones in the pill affect nutritional status, particularly zinc and folic acid, which are essential for healthy menstrual cycles, hormone metabolism and foetal development.

There is a much higher incidence of stillbirth, miscarriage and birth defects in pregnancies started while on the pill or within a month of stopping, and women who have at any time taken the pill have an increased risk of giving birth to a child with an obvious defect. Research has found that women who took the pill in the year prior to conceiving increased the risk of their baby boys would have allergic rhinitis and hay fever.

Levels of folic acid are considerably reduced in pill users, leading to 5 times greater risk of limb defects, and increased risk of congenital abnormalities, including neural tube defects, spina bifida, Down Syndrome. Women who conceived within 6 months of taking the pill have been shown to have lower than normal red blood cell levels and plasma folate levels. Deficiency may also lead to repeated miscarriage. Zinc deficiency compromises folic acid absorption.

Zinc deficiency leads to poor connective tissue and elastin chains causing stretch marks, perineum’s that tear rather than stretch, nipples that crack, labours that are long (due to gaps in the uterine membrane and its ability to contract). Adequate zinc is required to maintain the correct ration of copper in the body. Many researchers have linked postnatal depression to high copper levels that have failed to return to normal after the birth due to insufficient zinc.

Zinc is intimately involved in the correct formation and functioning of a child’s immune system, brain, skeletal muscle and bones. In Australia , one in five children suffer form asthma (an immune dysfunction); double that of thirty years ago. Maternal zinc depletion has been found to be associated with foetal growth retardation and many types of congenital malformations, especially amongst baby boys. Insufficient zinc can lead to learning and behavioural disorders such as ADD and ADHD. Boys are ten times more likely to be affected by these than girls, as they need 5 times more zinc for their testicular tissue development.

“It is interesting to note that many of the conditions that result from zinc deficiency in babies and mothers have increased dramatically with the widespread use of the pill.” (Bennett 2008)

The pill also reduces selenium levels. Selenium has been shown to reduce the chances of foetal deformity, including Downs Syndrome. This protective effect is lost in pregnancies begun while on the pill or soon after stopping.

Cervical mucus issues

“An expert in the field, Professor Erik Odeblad, has studied the cervix for 40 years. He found that mucus producing cells atrophy as a result of oral contraception. Effectively long term use of the pill ages a women cervix and the cervical canal becomes narrower. In this way a cervix of a 35 year old women becomes like that of a 45 year old. A narrower aged cervix with atrophied mucus producing cells will make a conception more difficult foe an otherwise fertile woman.” Bennett 2008

Autoimmune infertility

Research has shown that our sense of smell, our own bodily smell and our immune systems are all wired up together and that people are generally attracted to a mate who smells different from themselves. When partner smell different from each other have children, their children have a wider range of immunity than if their parent smelt the same or similar to each other. Biologist Claus Wedekind researched women on and off the pill and who they were sexually attracted to. He found that the pill reverses the usual smell immune system signals and that when a woman is on the pill she tends to choose a mate who has a similar immune system. This gives any children they have together a narrower immunity and makes it harder for them to fall pregnant.

So if you plan to have a family in the future or value your health it may be wise to look at other methods of contraception such as the Billings , symtopthermal techniques, Natural Fertility Management and barrier methods (diaphragms and condoms).


Samantha Warner Naturopath

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