Birth Control, Friend or Foe?

I was 20 when I suffered from a pulmonary embolism. I came to on my living room floor soaked in my own urine and unable to breathe. Five days later, both a cardiologist and pulmonologist confirmed that there was nothing wrong with my lungs or heart.

My blood was tested for every possible rare malady and every test came back negative. With no other possible explanation, they suspected the birth control, advising me that they had seen an increase of young women developing blood clots.

I had been on it for barely a year, but suddenly, I was a statistic. Suddenly, I was one of the 10,000 women a year who develop a blood clot.

That was in 2010, before “wellness” had become mainstream and before people were interested in their Human Design chart or binging on celery juice. Back then, the risks of taking birth control were never mentioned or discussed, and despite the progress our society has made to be more health conscious, the pill still seems to have evaded major attention — which is ironic considering the major pushback to vaccines and the pill culture that is so prevalent in America.

“The pill” uses synthetic estrogen and progesterone and alters your normal hormonal balance and production. Because of the large population of women in this country who take it, this reality makes it all the more shocking that it continues to be a shelved conversation.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, “approximately 60% of all women of reproductive age are currently using a contraceptive method,” whether that be the pill, patch, injection, IUD, condoms, etc. Today, the pill continues to be the most commonly used form, perhaps due to the convenience, non-invasiveness, and 91% effectiveness of the method.

By conducting a quick Internet search, you can easily find the more commonly known advantages of taking the pill include reduced PMS and acne symptoms, as well as lower rates of ovarian cysts and infections. Also listed are its well-known side effects such as nausea, weight gain, headaches, mood changes, and low libido. Still, its more serious side effects include vaginal candidiasis, gum disease, Crohn’s disease, depression, inflammation, cancer, gallstones and, of course, blood clots. What follows are statistics like “3.5 times more likely to develop a clot,” “20% increased risk of breast cancer,” “10-200% increased risk of cervical cancer,” and “20% more likely to end up on anti-depressants.”

Thanks to alternative practices like functional medicine, we know that the body is an intricate array of interconnected systems. The proper or inadequate function of one part will affect the whole to varying degrees determined by diet, lifestyle, stress, genes, and sleep.

We want certainty, and yet it seems that when it comes to disease, the environment, and the human body, there is no clear-cut answer or explanation; just factors and risks. Therefore, prevention and treating the underlying cause(s) is key to longevity and healthier living.

Facilities like Parsley Health, for example, aim to address the underlying cause of severe PMS and acne. Dr. Lilli Link says doing this “frees up our patients to pick the contraceptive method that best meets their needs, and perhaps one without as many side effects.” Parsley suggests successfully resolving side effects may be achieved by cutting out sugar, repairing the gut microbiome, eating healthier fats, and participating in regular exercise.

So what does this mean in terms of contraception? By trying to prevent chronic illness are we disregarding something major, given the dangerous risks? Is it as simple as ruling out birth control completely? Perhaps not, considering plenty of women are able to use birth control long-term without experiencing any side effects at all.

Maybe the solution is simply teaching young women to start having the conversation.

Birth control became a symbol of sexual empowerment for women. Suddenly, we were able to choose when we decided to conceive. We had power and sovereignty over our own bodies in a remarkable way. But in the revolution, we lost sight of the bigger picture, which is and always should be, our overall health.

Women should know that the pill is not the only solution to painful cramps and pimples. Women should know that cycle mapping and condoms are just as viable an option as the pill. And most importantly, women should know the risks that come with making this decision.

It’s time we tune out the propaganda that it is a “perfectly safe” method. Only then will women truly be in their power and able to make their best and most informed decisions.

There is a shift in the consciousness of people today. We are reclaiming our health as our responsibility and dethroning doctors off the pedestals from which we have placed them. We are waking up to the realities of how our bodies function and what we can do to keep them operating optimally.

So, in the hopes of creating yet another shift, when it comes to birth control I ask you, are we trading health for convenience? Are our unconscious decisions masquerading as empowering ones?  

Julia Piantini is a health and wellness enthusiast who has recently moved back to Miami. She still drinks too much coffee and posts occasionally on Instagram at @julia_piantini. Catch up with her on her website.

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