7 Long-Term Side Effects Of Birth Control That Can Show Up As You Get Older
Birth control has so many wonderful benefits. It can prevent unwanted pregnancies, reduce cramping, and even help with acne. While these short-term side effects are pretty great, you might be interested to learn that there are also a number of long-term side effects of taking hormonal birth control. The news isn't all bad, so you don't have to worry too much the next time you pop your pill out of its pack. Some of the pill's long-term benefits are nothing to sneeze at. But having an idea of the ways that the contraception could affect your body after you've been taking it for a period of time could help you better understand what's happening.
If you're concerned about any of the potential negative effects of taking birth control, it's a great idea to explore different types. With so many alternative contraceptive options — from the IUD to the vaginal ring to the patch — it's definitely worth scheduling an appointment with your OB/GYN to talk about methods that might not lead to these same effects if you're worried about how the hormones could affect you down the road. There's no one perfect method of birth control, but the more you explore different options with your doctor, the better you'll be able to decide which pros and cons make the most sense for your goals and lifestyle.
Here are seven unexpected long-term side effects of birth control, according to experts.
1. Decreased Testosterone
Your body has a certain amount of testosterone, and if you take birth control pills, that level can be affected over time. "Oral contraceptive pills, as they are metabolized through the liver, induce the liver to produce a protein called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG)," Steven A. Rabin, MD, FACOG, a board-certified OB/GYN, tells Bustle. "This acts like a testosterone sponge, pulling testosterone out of circulation, reducing the amount of 'free testosterone.'" There are pros and cons to this, Dr. Rabin says. Having less testosterone can decrease acne, but can also lower your libido. If you use non-hormonal contraception options, you won't notice this effect.
2. Reduce Your Cancer Risk
"Although studies have connected hormonal birth control to increased risk of breast cancer," Samantha Morrison, a health and wellness expert for Glacier Wellness, tells Bustle, "recent research indicates these oral contraceptives can actually reduce the risk of reproductive cancers." Some data suggests that birth control is more effective at preventing cancers than causing them, Morrison says. If you're still worried about whether or not taking hormonal birth control will affect your cancer risks, talk to your doctor about switching to a non-hormonal method like certain IUDs.
3. Nutritional Deficiencies
"Long-term use of birth control can deplete vitamin C and several B vitamins including B12, B6, and folate, along with the minerals magnesium, selenium, and zinc," registered dietitian Jillian Kubala, tells Bustle. Having lower levels of these vitamins can significantly affect you by changing your mood, creating fatigue, leading to headaches, and more, she says. If you're someone who isn't already thoughtful about regularly meeting your recommended vitamin amounts, you might want to pay extra close attention to eating nutrient-rich foods.
4. Crohn's Disease
"Crohn’s disease is one of the more surprising long-term potential side effects of birth control," Adina Mahalli (MSW), a certified mental health expert and women's health expert, tells Bustle. "The change in gut microbiome and estrogen that comes as a result of birth control can have a negative effect on your gut permeability, which can lead to this inflammatory bowel disease," she says. Watch out for warning signs like a loss of appetite, joint pain, and red bumps on your skin, and be sure to check in with your doctor if you're experiencing anything out of the ordinary.
Oral contraceptives can increase your risk of inflammation, Mahalli says, which can cause some health problems over time. "This might also explain why birth control increases your cardiovascular health risk factor," she says. "Inflammation in the body can have detrimental effects on your body in the long run and can eventually lead to disease or conditions including certain cancers or arthritis." Incorporating anti-inflammatory remedies like turmeric tea and plenty of sleep can help, but you can also talk to the doctor who prescribed your pill to figure out what method is least likely to lead to inflammation while still meeting your needs.
6. Increased Blood Pressure
"For some women, birth control pills and patches can increase blood pressure," Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, double board-certified in OB/GYN and maternal fetal medicine and director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, tells Bustle. For someone over 35, long-term birth control use can increase the risk of thrombotic phenomena (blood clots), especially with preexisting cardiac disease or diabetes.
"Gallstones have an increased proclivity to develop in [some] women who are in their 40's," says Dr. Gaither. "For these women with a history of gallstones, the birth control pills and patches may lead to an rapid development of gallstones." If you're planning on using oral birth control for a while, it's a good idea to have regular interval evaluations by a health provider, she says, to make sure that your body isn't being adversely affected.
Whether you decide that your current birth control method is the best option for you or try branching out into other choices, it's a good idea to keep a medical professional in the loop. The more you know, the better.