The oral contraceptive pill is associated with reduced quality of life and wellbeing in healthy women. A new study has reinforced what many women have been thinking for years.
Healthy women reported reduced quality of life, mood, and physical wellbeing after taking a common birth control pill containing ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel for three months as the randomized, placebo-controlled trial have found.
The findings reinforce earlier research that women are struggling with the side effects of the contraceptive pill.
But there was no significant evidence that the contraceptive increased depressive symptoms in the latest study.
Surprisingly, this is one of the most rigorous studies which look into the impact of the pill on women’s quality of life.
The lead researcher, Angelica Lindén Hirschberg from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, said: “Despite the fact that an estimated 100 million women around the world use contraceptive pills we know surprisingly little today about the pill’s effect on women’s health.”
“The scientific base is very limited as regards the contraceptive pill’s effect on quality of life and depression and there is a great need for randomised studies where it is compared with placebos.”
In order to fix that, her team took 340 healthy women aged between 18 and 35 and gave them either placebo pills, or contraceptive pills containing ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel over a period of three months.
Ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel-containing pills are one of the most common form of combined oral contraceptive pills around the world because they are the least associated with a risk of blood clots.
The study was double blind. This meant that neither the researchers giving out the pills or the women taking them knew whether they were getting a placebo or not.
The women had their general health measured, including weight, height, and blood pressure in the beginning of the study.
They also filled out two well-known surveys on general wellbeing and depressive symptoms: the Psychological General Wellbeing Index and the Beck Depression Inventory.
In order to compare the results, they went through the same tests at the end of the three months.
The women who were given contraceptive pills reported that their quality of life was significantly lower at the end of the study than those who were given placebos.
This was true for general quality of life and also specific aspects of wellbeing, such as self control and energy levels.
No significant increase in depressive symptoms was observed.
However, while it’s an interesting first step, the researchers caution that the changes were relatively small so we can’t read too much into them just yet. These findings can only be applied to ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel-containg pills.
Also, the study only looked at women over three months – it will require longer monitoring to get a more accurate idea of how the contraceptive pill affects women.
Niklas Zethraeus, one of the researchers, said: “This 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.”
With recent research it seems scientists are finally starting to take women’s reproductive health and contraceptive side effects seriously.
And we’re getting some male options too Scientists are also making progress with a hormonal contraceptive injection for men, as well as a reversible, condom-free gel that blocks sperm.
More research is needed to be made before we can identify more accurately how the pill impacts women. However, these early results are reassuring for many women who have struggled with side effects while on the pill.