Making decisions about your productive health can feel overwhelming. One popular choice is synthetic hormonal birth control. While effective for preventing pregnancies, this solution may come with potential drawbacks like increased risk for some cancers and affordability. In this article, we’ll look at what synthetic hormonal birth control is, the differences and the pros and cons.
Synthetic hormonal birth control refers to methods of contraception that use manufactured hormones or artificial ones to prevent conception. The fake hormones mirror the naturally occurring ones in the body, primarily estrogen and progesterone.
Synthetic hormones prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovaries). They also thin the uterine lining and thicken cervical mucus to stop sperm movement and egg fertilization. If the egg is fertilized, it will travel to the uterus and try to implant in the uterine wall. A thinner wall will make it harder for the egg to implant.
Menstrual cycles aren’t always regular. Hormonal birth control helps make periods more predictable and, in the process, reduces menstrual cramps. Dysmenorrhea or menstrual cramps decrease due to a lighter menstrual flow (less cramping) and less prostaglandin production. Prostaglandins are chemicals that cause uterine muscle contractions, so less of this chemical reduces cramping. They are also produced in the uterus lining, and synthetic birth control reduces the lining, resulting in less cramping.
Synthetic hormonal birth control prevents ovulation and lowers fertilization and implantation. Together, these actions can be 90-99% effective against becoming pregnant. How effective depends on the type of synthetic birth control used and whether it's used correctly.
Sometimes women choose birth control to manage certain disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Birth control may also be used to treat acne and PMS.
Some research shows that long-term use of hormonal birth control reduces the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer. Since birth control prevents the release of an egg, it also reduces the rupture and repair (cell mutation) that occurs during this process. Cell mutation may lead to cancer, so less of it reduces the risk. Also, birth control reduces uterine lining thickness, reducing the potential risk of cancerous cells forming as the lining grows.
Birth control may have different side effects depending on the person's body and the type used. Women may experience one or more of the following common side effects.
Blood clots are when blood thickens or congeals. While this happens to prevent bleeding, it also becomes a serious health concern when it happens in a vein or artery and stops blood flow. For women over age 35 and/or smoke the risk is even higher if they take birth control. The heightened risk may cause a pulmonary embolism (PE), deep vein thrombosis, stroke, or even heart attack.
Long-term use of synthetic birth control may increase the risk of breast and cervical cancer. Estrogen and progestin may stimulate the growth of specific types of breast cells, potentially leading to an increased risk of breast cancer. They may also increase the risk of cervical cancer, but the science of why isn't precisely clear. It's theorized that hormones may alter the susceptibility of cervical cells to human papillomavirus (HPV), a known risk factor for cervical cancer.
Sexually transmitted diseases or STDs can result in infertility and severe health concerns. Synthetic hormonal birth control offers no barrier or protection against STDs.
After stopping birth control, some women may find it hard to conceive. The reason is a delayed return to a regular menstrual cycle, consistent ovulation, and normal lining thickening.
For some women, having access to affordable birth control can be difficult. Accessibility can be determined by healthcare coverage, geographic location, and income. All of which can be real barriers for some women to overcome.
There are different kinds of synthetic birth control including the following categories:
Determining which one is right for you can come from trial and error and working with the right doctor to determine the benefits and drawbacks of each one.
For some, synthetic birth control isn't the answer, and they need other options for preventing pregnancy. Here are some other choices to consider.
As the name suggests, barrier methods provide a "barrier" between the egg and sperm to prevent contraception. Common choices are diaphragms, condoms, cervical caps, and contraceptive sponges.
The copper IUD is an intrauterine device that's inserted into the uterus. It’s a non-hormonal spermicide-like device that can provide up to 10 years of long-term birth control.
This method involves keeping track of your monthly cycle and avoiding intercourse when you're most fertile. Sometimes referred to as the rhythm method or cervical mucus method.
Withdrawing before ejaculation or using breastfeeding as contraception are known as natural methods. They involve not using synthetic hormones but preventing pregnancy through action or during certain conditions like breastfeeding.
Sometimes you may need immediate birth control. When this happens, emergency contraception pills like Plan B or Ella can be used. However, they are time sensitive and must be used within a certain time frame to prevent pregnancy.
Using natural estrogen and progesterone supplements as birth control is another option. This may be a good choice for women who can’t tolerate synthetic birth control. Bioidentical hormones made with plant-based hormones without fillers, parabens, and chemicals provide a more soothing choice for some women. But it’s important to know that synthetic hormones usually come in a much higher dosage than natural progesterone and estrogen therapy, so finding the right dose is key.
Deciding which birth control method to use and for how long is an important decision. When making a choice, it’s essential to look at both all options and alternatives as well as the pros and cons of each option. Synthetic hormonal birth control, while effective, does come with some adverse effects, depending on various factors, so using a more natural approach with bioidentical hormones may be worth exploring.