– Hormones and heavy metal: Birth control options cause serious health effects

Today’s methods of birth control leave few options for women interested in avoiding the harmful side effects caused by most contraceptives.

While the choices are endless, the most commonly used contraceptives contain high amounts of artificial hormones.

According to a study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of Canada, “the pill” is the most commonly used hormonal contraceptive. While convenient and easy to access, it leaves no woman’s body unaltered, often affecting body composition, bone density and mood swings, according to an article published in the Dec. 2012 issue of Women’s Health.

There are two varieties of oral contraceptives on the market. The combination pill, which uses the hormones estrogen and progestin, is 99 per cent effective against pregnancy. This variety encompasses brands such as Yasmin, Yaz, and Alesse, and is not recommended for smokers or women over the age of 35, as the levels of estrogen in the pill put women at women at higher risk for venous thromboembolism (VTE), or blood clots.

Earlier this year, Health Canada released documents stating that Yasmin and Yaz were suspected to be the cause of death of 23 women. These women – the youngest of whom was 14 – died due to sudden blood clots.

The progestin-only pill, which contains the single hormone, progesterone, is slightly less effective. While it does contain fewer hormones than the combination pill, it has been known to cause irregular bleeding, migraines, and weight gain.

Other hormonal methods of birth control, such as the Ortho Evra patch and the Nuva Ring, release hormones in a different way. The patch, which protects the user against pregnancy for up to one week, contains 60 per cent more estrogen than a low-dose combination pill like Alesse or Yaz, which means the risk for blood clots is even higher. The Nuva Ring acts from inside the body and lasts for three weeks at a time, but poses the same risks.

The long-term effects of hormonal birth control are endless. Aside from risk of VTE, risk of heart attacks, weakened immunity, and various cancers are all increased, according to a number of studies and a book recently released by pharmacist and health educator Ross Pelton, titled The Pill Problem.

Women interested in hormone-free protection with a higher success rate than condoms or withdrawal often turn to the copper IUD (intrauterine device), which is a small device inserted into the uterus. It contains copper, which is toxic to sperm and causes the uterus to produce a fluid that kills sperm. It is 98 per cent effective.

While this method of protection does not contain hormones, it does come with its own unique set of side effects. Many women experience increased menstrual bleeding, and approximately 10 per cent of women experience expulsion, where the body rejects the IUD. Though not common, 1 in 1,000 women will suffer from a perforated uterus, which can lead to infection. Pelvic infections may lead to infertility.

So what’s a health-conscious woman to do if she’s trying to avoid a bun in the oven? Our choices are limited.  The permanent solution of tubal ligation is a little extreme for most, and aside from meticulous ovulation tracking, it looks like barrier methods such as condoms and diaphragms are the best way to prevent pregnancy without harming the body. Here’s hoping you’re not allergic to latex.