For millions of women around the world, the birth control pill is incredibly helpful. It has allowed women to take greater control of their reproductive rights and invest in their careers, launching a literal economic revolution .
Most of us know that the pill is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy — but there’s even more to this wonder medication. We’ve covered some of the side effects before, but what are some health benefits of taking the pill besides pregnancy prevention?
Note: The benefits in this article refer mostly to the combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP), which contains both oestrogen and progestogen. They may not apply to women taking the progestogen-only mini pill.
1. Improvement in acne
We know hormones play a big role in the health and appearance of our skin. Sex hormones called androgens — which are different types of testosterone — stimulate our sebaceous glands to produce oily sebum, which can clog our pores and worsen acne. These androgens increase in men and women during puberty, which is why we often start to break out in pimples at this time in our lives.
But here’s the good news: the pill can help lower the concentration of androgens in your blood, reducing sebum production and clearing up your skin. This has been shown in heaps of studies, across all different types of combination birth control pills .
It also looks like pills containing cyproterone acetate (Brenda, Diane, Estelle) might have the best effect on acne, but the science is still a little murky on this.
2. Reduced menstrual bleeding and pain
Heavy and/or painful periods are extremely common and can really play havoc with your work and social life, not to mention your happiness. Fortunately, the pill might be able to lend a hand here.
Seriously agonising periods are caused by excess inflammatory molecules called prostaglandins, which are responsible for the painful contractions of your uterus during menstruation. The pill inhibits the release of these molecules, which helps to minimise pain and reduce bleeding in menstruating women .
Taking birth control pills can also be a very effective way of controlling painful periods associated with endometriosis, and is often a first-line option in the treatment of dysmenorrhea (painful periods).
Of course, some women choose to take the pill continuously and skip the week of inactive pills when they would normally bleed. This is 100% safe to do, and in most people, completely eliminates the pain and bleeding that would come with periods (because they don’t have any).
3. Reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer
That’s not a typo: hormonal birth control methods can lower the risk of developing ovarian, endometrial, and perhaps even colon cancer . But why is that?
Each time you ovulate, an egg bursts forth from your ovary and travels down the fallopian tube towards the uterus. This is quite traumatic and requires a lot of cell division, repair, and hard work from the ovaries. By preventing ovulation, it’s thought that the pill lowers stress on the ovaries and reduces the risk of ovarian cancer.
It’s a similar story with endometrial cancer. The endometrium is the tissue that lines your uterus, and it builds up and breaks down with each menstrual cycle. This constant turnover is reduced with the pill, which is thought to explain its protective effect on this cancer.
As for colon cancer, the results aren’t yet clear but initial studies have shown a risk reduction of about 18% .
4. Regulation of menstrual cycles
Many women experience irregularity in their menstrual cycle at some point in their lives. This could include periods occurring randomly, too frequently, or not at all, and can be really distressing if you’re living with it.
While the pill in all forms can help regulate bleeding cycles, there’s some evidence that the Triphasic Pill might produce the best results, with 80% of the women in a US trial reporting considerable improvements in their bleeding patterns and physical functioning when taking the medication .
5. Management of PCOS and hirsutism
- Polycystic ovaries on ultrasound
- Infrequent or irregular cycles, lasting 36 days or more
- Signs of increased male hormones or raised androgen (male hormone) levels on a blood test
Hirsutism is a common symptom of PCOS and is defined as male-pattern hair growth on a woman's face, chest, and back. Other common symptoms include irregular or no periods, issues with weight gain, acne, and difficulty falling pregnant.
We still aren't 100% certain what causes PCOS, but we do know that it is often characterised by high levels of free androgens, which are male hormones including testosterone and dihydrotestosterone, normally present in low levels in women. These high levels then result in some of its hallmark features like hirsutism and absent or irregular periods.
In total, the female hormones in the combination pill can lower the concentration of androgens in your blood and help regulate periods, clear up your skin, and reduce any male-pattern hair on your face and body. Not too shabby.
Keen to give the pill a try? Kin's pill subscription makes getting birth control delivered on time easy. A Kin membership includes free and fast delivery of your oral contraceptive pills 2 weeks before you run out (or earlier if you prefer). All you need to do is complete a digital consult with our Aussie practitioners and you'll have your pill in no time.
Finally, and despite all the benefits we listed in today's article, remember that the combined pill is not for everyone. Always make sure you’re educated on both the pros and cons of any medication, as well as potential alternatives before you start taking it.