SPECIAL NOTE: Much of the information contained in this article is taken almost verbatim from the Canadian Federal Government's 1985 Report on Oral Contraceptives. However, most of the research on which the report was based was done on birth control pills that contained a much higher dose of both estrogen and progesterone than are contained in the pills commonly used today.
The previous pills contained up to 100 or more micrograms of estrogen, which has now been reduced to between 30 and 40 micrograms. The progesterone has been reduced less than the estrogen; from one to one and a half milligrams to a half milligram; or varied between a half to one and a quarter milligram, to mimic the natural cycle.
For years women have dreamt of the perfect method of birth control. That would be a method that is 100 percent effective, easy and convenient to use, 100 percent safe with no side effects and completely reversible.
Amazonian jungle shamans and North American Indian medicine people may have had knowledge of plant combinations which accomplished this feat, but modern medicine does not.
As Dr. Charles Dodds, the British physician and biochemist who was the first to synthesize estrogen once said, "We should always be humbled by what we do not know about the female reproductive cycle... Until we know the mechanism that selects one Graafian follicle (that is one egg) out of perhaps thousands to mature each month, we still have to proceed with caution on any long-term hormonal treatment of the human female."
The female body and the intricate and complex interactions of hormones and chemicals that are responsible for reproduction are still imperfectly understood.
In 1960, when the pill first came on the market, it seemed like the answer to many women's prayers. However, it soon became evident that the pill had not been properly tested and evaluated before its release and that serious and even life threatening side effects were possible.
Over thirty years later, even though the estrogen content of the pill has been reduced by at least 50 percent, we can still say that the birth control pill is a very powerful medication to be used only after carefully weighing their risks and benefits for each woman. We know that the pill affects every system in the body and that some of the risks from taking the pill seem to persist indefinitely, even after the pill is stopped. The risks for women over 35 who smoke are substantial. The long-term effects on the risk of getting or enhancing a tendency towards cancer are simply unknown. It is still too early to be certain of the latent carcinogenic potential of the birth control pill.
Every woman on the pill should be fully aware of the risks she is taking and potential side effects. She should also be aware that there are other safer and highly reliable methods of birth control.
Blood Clots, Heart Attacks And Strokes
To place this risk in perspective, the risk for blood clots for a woman not using the pill is about one in 30,000. Users of high dose birth control pills (any pill containing more than fifty micrograms of estrogen) face a risk of about one in a 1,000. Users of low dose birth control pills have a risk of clotting of about 21 in 30,000.
Blood clots are the most common serious side effect of the birth control pills. The risk of blood clotting is related to the estrogen in the pill, and is dose related. This means that the lower the estrogen content of the pill, the lower the risk of blood clotting.
The clotting complications of the birth control pill may also be related to the amount of progesterone contained in the pill. A British study found that the incidence of blood clotting complications was more related to the variation in dosage in progesterone than to the estrogen dosage.
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