Although the contraceptive pill has been used successfully by women for more than 50 years, a host of myths persist about its possible side effects. There is a wealth of information readily available about the pill, but still, many women believe the pill can trigger excessive weight gain, contribute to fertility problems or even cause deformities in children. “These birth control pill myths are really amazing,” birth control specialist Dr Philip Smits told the T&T Guardian. “They are not only prevalent among users but I’ve had instances where healthcare providers spread them as well.” Smits, the Global Manager for Bayer Worldwide, has been working extensively with health professionals in the evaluation of the benefits and risks of combined hormonal contraceptives. He was in the country to speak at women’s health conference, held to commemorate World Contraceptive Day on September 27. In an interview with the T&T Guardian, Smits sought to debunk some of the myths surrounding the birth control pill.
Myth 1: The Pill causes cancer
“We have so many years of the pill being on the market and a lot of research has been done and nothing is there to indicate that the pill causes cancer,” Smits said. “In fact, in research we have seen a reduction in certain types of cancers among pill users.” In fact, a study conducted by Oxford University Professor Valerie Beral, along with researchers from the Collaborative Group on Epidemiological Studies of Ovarian Cancer, which includes researchers at the American Cancer Society, analysed data from 45 studies conducted between the 1960s and 1980s.
The study suggested that the longer a woman took birth control pills, the lower her risk of ovarian cancer. The American Cancer Society has also published similar reports. However, in 2005 the World Health Organisation listed oral contraceptives as a carcinogenic that increases the risk of breast cancer in women by up to 50 per cent.
Myth 2: The pill makes it harder to get pregnant
Smits says this is not true: “Good data suggests that long term pill use is not associated with difficulty in getting pregnant. If you’ve been on the pill for 10 years and you started when you were 20, perhaps getting pregnant is difficult because you have aged. “As women age their bodies make it more difficult to get pregnant, that is only natural. They sometimes don’t consider that getting pregnant could be harder because of the natural changes in their bodies.”
Myth 3: The pill leads to birth defects
“A lot of people say the pill is unsafe and associate it with birth defects and that is because when the pill was first released on the market there were a lot of hormones in it but since then the hormone content has been lowered significantly. Today’s pill is different. It is not unsafe and it does not cause defects,” said Smits.
Myth 4: Taking the pill for extended periods can cause infertility
“It’s good to take a pill break because of the risk of infertility is another myth, and it also isn’t true at all,” said Smits, who added that there was no reason to take a break from the pill. “There is no such thing as allowing the ovary to rest by taking a break from the pills. While you are taking the pills the ovary is resting.”
Myth 5: The pill makes women get fat
Smits said weight gain was a side effect of earlier pills but added that it was also an exaggeration. “People who gain weight from the pill only gain water weight, which is very easy to get rid of. It does not cause women to get fat.” Smits said some of the other inaccurate beliefs about the pill were that women who smoke could not take the pill, over 35s should not use the pill, the regular use of the morning-after pill was an effective contraceptive method and that the only use for the pill was for birth control. “While the pill is made for contraceptive purposes, it is commonly used for non-contraceptive reasons,” Smits said.
“The pill increases the thickening of the vaginal muscles and can assist in preventing pelvic inflammatory disease, it helps women who suffer from heavy, irregular or painful periods. Some women even take the pills for skin purposes because it is known to help with acne.” There may still be some conflicting opinions, research and controversy surrounding the pill but Smits advises that before deciding on any contraceptive method, it is important for women to seek medical advice.