Patrick Eng
An Aspiring Rooster Teeth Employee

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Week 22 - What I Needed to Know About Birth Control

Note: just right off the bat, I'd like to make sure everyone here knows that I am neither a woman nor a doctor, so none of this is medical advice or coming from personal experience. Please talk with either of those before taking any of this by heart.

Numbers, numbers, numbers.

Let's hit you with some facts right off the bat:

  1. 99% of sexually active women have used some form of contraception

  2. 62% of women use some form of birth control

  3. The pill is still the most common method, followed by sterilization and condoms

Turns out though, there are more than just 3 forms of birth control, mostly revolving around some other form of hormone control method.

Also, who the hell knew that there was such a thing as female condoms?! Makes sense if you think about it I guess.

When it comes to these other birth control methods that involve some sort of hormone injection and are over 90% effective, options include:

  • Implants (like Nexplanon): a tiny rod is inserted under the skin of the upper arm and releases hormones. Effective up to four years.

  • Intrauterine Device (IUDs): either use copper (like kryptonite for sperm) or progestin to make conception extremely unlikely if not impossible. Could last between three to six years.

  • Shots: simply shots of progestin.

  • Patches: like nicotine patches, but for people who want to quit getting pregnant.

  • Rings (like NuvaRing): placed inside the vagina and releases hormones.

As you've probably seen, most of these methods involve the hormone progestin. When these methods release progestin on some sort of basis, it prevents pregnancy since it's tricking your body into thinking it's pregnant. Hence, ovulation ceases and cervical mucus thickens (making it so much harder for all those swimmers).

So why use birth control, besides the obvious? Well, doctors would prescribe some sort of birth control to women if they wanted to control acne, suffered from endometriosis, ovarian cysts, PMS, or had some sort of irregular menstrual cycle.

From my simplistic male understanding, birth control is basically a way to artificially control your body's hormones. And when hormones control basically everything, you can do a lot with it.

But with any drug or just method that interferes with normal bodily functions, there are going to be some side effects.

Well, let's look at the short-term first.

Due to the nature of birth control, users might experience:

  • Mood swings

  • Headaches and/or migraines

  • Acne

  • bloating/weight gain

  • Irregular bleeding

  • Nausea

  • Aches and pains

  • Low libido

  • Yeast infections

  • Breast tenderness

  • Vaginal discharge

But what else is happening, or could be happening, to your body as you inject hormones into it?

Poor Gut Health

Your gut, while not the most attractive sounding or looking part of your body, is crucial to your overall health. So when birth control begins releasing hormones into your body and artificially altering the balance, your gut is going to have some issues understanding what's going on.

The bacteria in your guy rely on us to survive, and we, in turn, rely on them for a whole slew of benefits. Birth control acts like an antibiotic and can cause immense, long-term harm to your gut flora. While this will affect everyone differently, you could experience symptoms like "inflammation, weight gain, gastrointestinal discomfort, leaky gut" and more.

Inflammation

As mentioned earlier, birth control can be prescribed for more than just preventing pregnancy. For example, women can use birth control to ease PMS symptoms or help control an irregular cycle. The cause of these issues is simply hormone imbalances, which birth control is trying to equalize. But, to take a more holistic approach to this, hormone imbalances could also be resolved through diet and other lifestyle changes.

As my professor in college would always say, this solution is like "putting band-aids on bullet holes." While it might help afterward, you're not fixing the real issue and doesn't actually help. If something in your life is throwing your hormones out of balance, it might be worth it to change that than to just keep artificially resolving it.

But I'm neither a woman nor a doctor, so this is…

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Altered Uterine Lining

When it comes to the uterine lining, birth control works to make the lining thinner and thickening cervical mucus, thus reducing the chance of a fertilized egg from actually implanting. While birth control doesn't make you infertile, it does change someone's mindset to the point that they may forget that their eggs are on a clock.

Decreased Micronutrients

BC is also known to reduce the efficient intake of micronutrients by your body. These micronutrients, like B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, calcium, vitamin C, etc., are crucial for a healthy lifestyle. While this all depends on what kind of diet you're on, be aware that someone who is already low on these micronutrients might want to either alter their diet or get off BC.

Depression

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We already know that BC can cause mood swings. But depression is a little different and could be caused by a variety of factors. While I know the "just don't be depressed" advice is super helpful and effective, there are cases where that might not work.

A study was done on a million Danish women between 15 and 34 over a 13-year span to see if hormonal birth control does increase risk of depression. What they found was that birth control was causing depression in women who had no prior history of experiencing it at a significant rate. These women were then prescribed antidepressants, on top of their regular birth control, making it a pretty wild farming party.

Alt-BC

So, now that we know a little more about birth control, what do you do if you don't want to take it? Well, apparently you can "get in tune with your cycle". What that exactly means, I have no idea. But after a few conversations with people, I know that these factors are important:

  • Cervical mucus color and viscosity

  • Internal body temperature

  • Increased libido

  • Heightened senses

Human bodies are complex structures, and it's impossible to know exactly what is currently happening or will happen. What I do know though is that hormones are important, and birth control can be a double-edged sword. Yes, it can help bring back balance to the world, but it can also throw a bunch of other parts out of whack.

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When it comes to the human body, we know that it will always "depend on the person." In most cases, taking birth control year after year will not cause permanent damage. So if you've been taking it for years, and haven't experienced any negative side effects, you're probably fine to keep going.

In terms of BC pill types, we got minipills and combination pills. The main difference is that minipills just contain progestin, while the combination pills also contain estrogen. The addition of estrogen works to prevent the release of an egg from the ovaries. And if there's no egg, there's no chance of pregnancy.

The Long-Term Pill

While birth control is considered safe for long-term use in most cases, there are a few exceptions:

  • Progestin pills work for either nonsmokers or younger women who smoke

  • Combos work for any nonsmokers

Also, for long-term pills to be effective, they need to be taken consistently. Birth control does not protect someone against any sexually transmitted diseases, however, so don't be dumb.

Short-Term Symptoms

There are a whole bunch of side effects you could experience right after taking birth control, many of which were already covered in Day 1. But one I will point out is breakthrough bleeding, which is just minor bleeding between periods. This is a common symptom that should stop on its own. As always though, speak with a medical professional if you have any questions or concerns. Also, if you experience breast tenderness or nausea, you could sidestep these side effects if you take it before bedtime (as long as you stay consistent of course).

Long-Term Symptoms

Cancer.

Birth control could both decrease and increase your risk of certain types of cancer. For example, by taking oral contraceptives, you increase your risk of breast and cervical cancer, but reduce the risk of developing "endometrial, ovarian, and colorectal cancers". While it's not a surefire chance, it's at least there. Also, BC is also known to increase risks of developing blood clots and heart attacks after 35.

So again, talk with your doctor if you have any concerns or notice any suspicious with your body after beginning birth control. Or, just don't take it if you want to be really safe.

Risky Biscuits

Generally speaking, birth control should not be used if you have a history of cardiovascular difficulties or are a smoker. This isn't to say that it won't work, but just that you run the risk of more complications or ineffectiveness.

Other Options

Besides the pill, women have access to a variety of intrauterine devices (IUDs), which can be effective for three to 10 years.

Of course, there's also the 500-year-old method of condoms, and even older than time pulling out method. Of course, you could also just not have sex if you really didn't want to get pregnant. Or, you could track the rhythm of your cycle to know when your most fertile times are and abstain from sex at those times.

Looking Ahead

In the end, most popular forms of birth control have at least a 90% effectiveness rate of preventing pregnancy. And if you've been on it for years, and have reached a point in your life where you're ready to have a kid, you should return to normal fertility a few months after stopping BC use.

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While birth control can be prescribed to treat a variety of issues, like irregular periods, cramping, acne, and certain cancers, it also seems to be prescribed at the drop of a hat and with little explanation.

This article lists a whole feast of short and long-term risks when beginning birth control, many of which have already been covered. So I'll spare us all some time and just cover the new ones.

Increased Risk of Suicide (and attempts)

While I think there are a ton of factors involved that make this conclusion sketchy, this study found that there was a slightly higher risk of attempted and successful suicides by women who took birth control, specifically those aged 14 and 15.

Autoimmune Disease

Women who took birth control with estrogen were found to have a higher risk of developing lupus. The risk was lowered in those who were using birth control that had lower doses of estrogen.

Decreased Bone Density

Estrogen is important when it comes to bone health. That's why, when you take BC with low estrogen doses, you run the risk of depleting your bone density.

Gallbladder Disease

Bile production and flow are both affected by estrogen and progesterone. Thus, you run the risk of gallbladder disease when taking birth control and is found to be most problematic in the Yaz and Yasmin brands.

Low-Quality Milk

A mother's milk is the closest thing we'll get to the elixir of life. Sounds weird, I know, but breastmilk is packed with tons of nutrients. When pumping artificial estrogen into the body though, milk quality gets hit in both production and quality. If you're on progesterone pills though, there doesn't seem to be an impact.

Poor Muscle Growth

BC with high doses of progesterone has been found to inhibit muscle growth and increase cortisol levels.

Poor Partner Selection

Not exactly sure how this one worked, but apparently after women went on the pill, they chose men that were more genetically similar to them. Fun fact, the more genetically diverse you and your partner are, the healthier your children are likely to be.

I guess women really rely on smelling a genetically compatible partner, and the pill really throws off their sense of smell.

Hair Loss

Progesterone is known to be a double whammy for hair loss by telling the body to shed hair before a new batch is ready, and increasing hair loss in people who are already experiencing it. While this could be remedied by an increase in estrogen, you run the risk of a whole other side of issues.

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Too Long; Didn't Read

The human body is an extremely complex system of chemicals and organisms.

While science has allowed us to discover so much about ourselves, we're still learning about how the things we put in our bodies affects us. Like birth control.

When almost every women has taken birth control for one reason or another in her life, it's important to know what's actually happening on the inside and what the risks involved are.

Sure, it could help regulate irregular periods, ease cramping, reduce acne, or decrease risks of cancer. But it could also increase the risk of other types of cancer, increase chances of blood clots, cause nausea, headaches, migraines, decrease bone density, increase hair loss, and much more.

There are a ton of types of birth control though that change the chances of all these things, from the pill to IUDs to patches. The commonality between these methods though is your artificially balancing your hormone levels, which essentially control your physical and mental health. When all these hormones are being altered, a whole slew of issues could get involved, and you'll either experience no issues or won't even be able to bear the pain. That's the human body for ya.

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Patrick Eng