Is Birth Control Making You Fat? | Bloating, Muscle loss, Sex Drive & More
Does the Pill Make You Fat?
It's hard to keep up with the Pill rumor mill, especially with so many formulations on the market. We've got the lowdown on what's fact -- and what's not.
The rumor: After you go off the Pill, it's harder to get pregnant.
True.Compared with condom users, Pill users take twice as long to conceive after stopping contraception -- about eight months on average, according to a recent British study. Why the lag? It takes time for hormones to bounce back into balance, because the Pill prevents pregnancy by suppressing those hormones that signal the release of an egg, says Andrew M. Kaunitz, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Florida in Jacksonville. But remember that this finding is just an average. There are plenty of women who get pregnant the month after they stop taking the Pill, experts say.
The rumor: The Pill helps your skin.
True.Oral contraceptives (OCs) slash acne by more than 52 percent after nine months, according to a recent study from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. They help lower your body's level of testosterone, a hormone that stimulates oil production. Although some Pill brands have been FDA-approved to treat acne (like Ortho Tri-Cyclen), most OCs will treat your pimples just as effectively, even though they don't have the official okay.
The rumor: The Pill makes you moody.
Maybe.Most Pill users report fewer mood swings and less depression during their menstrual cycle than nonusers, according to more than 80 studies. Still, some women who have a history of depression or severe PMS may be "progesterone sensitive" -- that is, vulnerable to Pill-triggered mood changes, says Kaunitz. If you suspect the Pill is bringing you down, talk to your doctor about switching to a brand with less synthetic progestin (such as Levlite).
MORE TRUTHS ABOUT THE PILL
The rumor: Taking the Pill decreases your risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer.
True. Protection from both endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer begins the first year you take OCs, reducing your risk by at least 10 percent. The benefit increases up to 80 percent after 12 years of use and lasts for up to 30 years after you quit the Pill. Although the exact mechanism isn't known, experts believe that the Pill protects against these cancers by reducing the number of times you ovulate in your lifetime.
The rumor: It increases your risk of breast cancer.
False. While in the past, small studies linked the Pill to an increased risk of breast cancer, a recent large-scale study of more than 9,000 women published in theNew England Journal of Medicineclearly found that the Pill doesn't raise breast cancer risk.
However, the one cancer the Pill may increase your risk for is cervical cancer, particularly if you have human papilloma virus (HPV) -- a sexually transmitted infection that at least 80 percent of sexually active women will get at some point and that is responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer. Research has shown that women with HPV who take the Pill for more than five years have a 50 percent increased risk for this disease. The reason isn't yet known, but one theory is that OCs may promote the rate at which the HPV infection progresses to cancer. Sounds scary, but know this: Your best protection against cervical cancer is not to go off the Pill, experts say, but to get an annual Pap -- the test that's responsible for reducing the number of cervical cancer deaths by 70 percent over the past 50 years. "It detects precancerous changes early, when problems are easy to treat," Kaunitz says.
The rumor: The Pill puts a curse on your libido.
Usually false.The majority of women say the Pill kicks their desire into high gear (possibly due to a positive hormone effect and/or liberation from pregnancy worries). But 6 percent of Pill users do notice a cooling in passion. For these women, the combo of estrogen and progestin in their Pill has reduced their body's level of testosterone (which fuels libido) by too much. Switching to a Pill with less estrogen (such as Mircette) usually helps lust levels go back to normal.
The rumor: The Pill saps your body of nutrients.
True.According to two recent studies, Pill takers have significantly lower levels of vitamins B6 and B12, nutrients essential for keeping nerve cells and red blood cells healthy -- compared with women not using OCs. Experts suspect that the Pill's hormones interfere with how your body metabolizes these nutrients. Unless you're a vegetarian, you're probably getting enough B vitamins -- found in fish, poultry, meat and eggs -- regardless of what the Pill depletes. You can also get 100 percent of your daily vitamin B needs with a highly fortified cereal like Total. Just to be safe, take a daily multivitamin.
The rumor: The Pill causes you to pile on the pounds.
False.There's no proof that the Pill adds pounds, according to more than 40 studies. But some types may trigger a preperiod water-weight gain of up to five pounds. Good antibloat brands: Yasmin and Tri-Norinyl, which contain a synthetic progestin that acts like a diuretic.
The rumor: With perfect use, the Pill is 99 percent effective.
False.If you're overweight, the Pill may not protect you as much as you think. Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that overweight and obese women have a significantly higher risk of pregnancy while on the Pill than women whose weight is in the healthy range. "We aren't sure exactly why, but overweight women may metabolize the Pill hormones too quickly, which lowers its protection," says David Grimes, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist at Family Health International in Durham, North Carolina. But the Pill still offers more protection -- even if you're overweight -- than condoms (95 percent versus about 90 percent). Still worried? Ask your doctor about the IUD -- a plastic device that is inserted into your uterus and releases a synthetic progesterone hormone that prevents pregnancy for five to 10 years. "It's an effective option for overweight women because weight doesn't affect its performance," says Grimes.
The rumor: The Pill lowers your risk for heart disease.
False.Although last fall a study from Wayne State University in Detroit found that women who take OCs have a lower risk of heart disease, two months later, the authors had to retract their findings due to invalid data. Such protection would've been great, but there was no real evidence, says Grimes. In fact, 20 years ago, when many OCs had very high levels of estrogen, the opposite was true: Women over 35 who took them increased their risk for high blood pressure and other heart problems. Today, the Pill causes heart problems only if you smoke. Otherwise, you can safely use it up until menopause.
Who Knew? Weird Ways the Pill Affects...
They may swell due to the estrogen in OCs, upping your risk of gum disease. So commit to twice-a-day flossing and brushing, plus regular cleanings.
The Pill's steady dose of hormones helps your vocal cords fluctuate less, leading to a stronger, clearer voice.
The amount of oxygen-rich blood pumped to muscles during exercise lowers by 5 percent when taking some OCs. But that's no excuse to kick off your sneakers. Most of us will never notice this slight decrease during our workouts.
They may get slightly fuller (thanks to the estrogen in the Pill), but not to the extent that you would notice a difference in your weight.
Video: Health Decoder - Do Birth Control Pills Make You Fat?
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