Considering how far the world has supposedly come in terms of gender equality, the fact that it is the women who have to take contraceptive pills still screams inequality. It’s not just the burden of responsibility that women have to deal with. In a study conducted by a research team from Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet and the Stockholm School of Economics, it now seems that feeling miserable and having a relatively degraded quality of life as a result of taking pills may be more than just psychological.
Taking off from the premise that in spite of widespread use on a global scale, there are more speculations and assumptions than facts on how contraceptive pills impact women’s health and general well-being, the team analyzed 340 healthy women between the ages of 18 and 35. They were given either placebo pills (pills with no effects), or contraceptive pills that contained ethinylestradiol (an estrogen) and levonorgestrel (a progesterone), and they were asked to take the pills for a period of 3 months. The kind of contraceptive pill given is typically the first pill of choice all over the world because it is the least risky when it comes to developing thrombosis or the formation of blood clots.
To help keep the results objective rather than subjective, the study was double-blind –neither the researchers who gave out the pills nor the women who received them knew what kind of pills they were getting.
Before the study started, the women’s height, weight and blood pressure were measured and recorded. They were also asked to fill out two popular surveys — the Psychological General Wellbeing Index and the Beck Depression Inventory.
After the 3-month study period, the women were asked to answer the same surveys so the team could compare the results.
It turned out that the women who took contraceptive pills – by the way, more than 100 million women around the world use contraceptive pills – viewed their quality of life as considerably lower at the end of the study. Their energy levels, mood, self control and general well-being were negatively affected, though no increase in symptoms of depression was reported.
Although the study is a promising first step towards better understanding how contraceptive pills affect women, the results are far from being conclusive for a number of reasons. First, the study was only done for a short period of time. Second, the findings only apply to ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel-containg pills in a specific formula. There are many other combination pills that use different ratios of estrogen and progesterone, and this in itself can also have different effects. Third, the changes observed were relatively minor.
As noted by Professor Niklas Zethraeus, one of the researchers, in a report that came out from the Karolinska Institutet: The changes “might in some cases be a contributing cause of low compliance and irregular use of contraceptive pills. This possible degradation of quality of life should be paid attention to and taken into account in conjunction with prescribing of contraceptive pills and when choosing a method of contraception.”
Lead author Angelica Hirschberg echoes this sentiment. As she made it clear to The Independent, they’re not saying they want women to stop taking birth control pills as a result of their study. “But if a woman is worried about negative influence on mood and life quality she should discuss this with a doctor. There may be better alternatives for her.”
The research was recently published in the journal Fertility and Sterility.