When debating whether or not to take birth control pills, "no surprise babies!" tends to top the list of "pros." But in addition to (temporarily) transforming your uterus into a hostile, and unwelcome land for potential mini-yous, hormonal birth control has a number of other health benefits.
First, let's recap how birth control pills work. The hormones in the pill thicken the cervical mucus, which makes it more difficult for a sperm to swim through the cervix to the egg. And even if a sperm managed to do so, the pill also prevents ovulation (the process of the ovaries releasing an egg) so there's no egg there for even the most industrious sperm to impregnate.
Many of the negative side effects of periods, like painful cramps, headaches, and acne flareups, are the result of the ebb and flow of hormones during the menstrual cycle. By disrupting the regular menstrual cycle, birth control pills can help even out some naturally occurring hormone imbalances, and reduce some of these negative side effects.
They are so effective, in fact, that doctors often prescribe birth control pills for non-pregnancy related health issues. “Most gynecologists will tell you that 50 percent of the Pill prescriptions are for birth control only — the others are for the ‘non-contraceptive’ benefits,” Maureen Whelihan, M.D., an OB/GYN at the Center for Sexual Health & Education, told SELF.
The Pill isn't perfect for everyone, of course, and anyone interested in taking it should consult with an OB/GYN first. But for some people, it can significantly improve your period and overall quality of life. Check out some of non-contraception related benefits of the pill below.
It can make your period more regular.
Some people have periods you could set your watch to, and for others, every menstrual cycle is a surprise, and they have to be extremely careful about what underwear they choose to wear lest their period make its entrance in their favorite lace undergarments. While factors like weight, stress, and other medications can all affect regularity, birth control can make your period more predictable.
Some contraceptives, like the IUD, can reduce or even stop periods altogether, and with oral contraceptives, the break from hormones during the placebo week triggers period-like bleeding.
It can also make your period less painful.
For some, the first days of your period can feel like someone is squeezing your lower abdomen in a vice. But birth control "essentially tricks your body into thinking you're pregnant," says Michael Thomas, MD, professor and director of reproductive endocrinology and fertility at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
This means your body produces less of the chemical prostaglandin which helps shed your uterine lining, and leads to painful cramps.
It can clear up your skin.
Whether you regularly struggle with acne, or have to deal with annoying outbreaks the week before you period, birth control can help get these under control. Birth control slows your body's production of testosterone, elevated levels of which can lead to acne and facial hair. Reducing the amount of testosterone in your system can prevent breakouts and keep skin looking clear.
It can stop menstrual migraines.
For some, periods come riding in on the back of a whole host of unpleasant symptoms including in some cases, painful migraines. According to Dr. Thomas, "Migraines can be triggered by a drop in estrogen, which occurs during menstruation."
By balancing the hormonal fluctuations, birth control can significantly reduce the number of migraines.
It can protect your from anemia.
Heavy periods can sometimes lead to anemia, a deficiency in red blood cells that can lead to fatigue and dizziness, and occasional fainting, because your organs aren't getting what they need to function. Birth control reduces these symptoms by making periods shorter and lighter.
It can lower your risk of cancer.
Taking hormonal birth control has been found to reduce the likelihood of developing ovarian and endometrial cancers by 50 percent — a huge benefit, especially since ovarian cancer in particular can be so difficult to detect. The risk begins to lower as soon as three to six months after you start taking birth control, and continues to lower as you stay on it.
While experts aren't entirely sure of why this is, they suspect it is a result of birth control blocking ovulation and evening out hormone imbalances.
That being said, some studies have found a link between birth control and breast cancer and cervical cancer, so talk to your doctor about your family's medical history with these diseases before taking birth control.
It can help ease the symptoms of certain existing conditions.
Taking birth control has been found to help with both Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis.
It helps regulate the hormonal imbalance caused by PCOS, whose symptoms include irregular periods, acne, and excess body hair. By lowering the body's level of testosterone, birth control can reduce these symptoms.
With endometriosis, the uterine tissue moves from the uterus and attaches itself to other parts of the pelvic cavity, like the ovaries or fallopian tubes, which can result in severe pain. Since birth control reduces monthly uterine buildup and shedding, it can slow or stop the migration of uterine tissue, and dramatically reduce pain.