Birth control does more than just what the name implies. In addition to preventing pregnancy, hormonal birth control can help with a variety of health issues. Here we’ll dive into the main types of hormone-based birth control and why it can be used for more than pregnancy prevention — however, please keep in mind to always consult a doctor before deciding on any form of hormonal birth control.
Hormonal Birth Control 101
The main purpose of hormonal birth control is, obviously, to prevent pregnancies. It can do this by:
Preventing ovulation or reducing the incidence of it;
Causing cervical mucus to thicken, which prevents sperm from entering the uterus;
Thinning the uterine lining so an egg will be less likely to attach successfully.
The exact means by which pregnancy is prevented depends on the type of birth control you select. There are a few different types of hormonal birth control on the market that you’ll want to consider.
The Birth Control Pill
The grandmother of them all, the pill needs to be taken daily; ideally at the same time each day. The pill pack typically includes four weeks of pills, and it requires a prescription from a health care provider. Fortunately, getting that prescription is easier than ever with the availability of online birth control.
The Vaginal Ring
Another type of hormone-based birth control available to women is the ring. This small piece of flexible plastic is inserted into the vagina near the cervix. Like the birth control pill, the ring releases estrogen and progestin into the body. This prevents an egg from being released from the ovaries.
You don’t need to see a provider to use the vaginal ring; you can insert it by yourself — though consulting a doctor never hurts. The ring stays in place for three weeks. On the fourth week, you remove it so you can have a regular period cycle. You’re still protected from pregnancy even when the ring is removed for those seven days.
The birth control shot prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation from occurring. The shot contains the hormone progestin, which is a synthetic version of the progesterone naturally found in the body. The shot is given every 12 to 13 weeks, either in the upper arm or a buttock. You can inject yourself, or your primary care provider can also administer the shot.
What Hormonal Birth Control Can Do Besides Prevent Pregnancy
Now that we’ve gone through the three of the main types of hormonal birth control available, let’s turn our attention to reasons why you may want to consider birth control beyond pregnancy prevention.
It Regulate Cycles
For many women, periods arrive more or less like clockwork. For 9%-14% of women, though, periods are irregular and unpredictable. Most of these unlucky women will likely agree that one of the worst parts of having their period is not knowing when it will come. This feeling of uncertainty can trigger fear and anxiety.
Hormonal birth control can help regulate the menstrual cycle to every 28 days. Birth control pills are the easiest way to see when your period is coming. The pill pack generally contains three weeks of active hormones and one placebo week. Your body will menstruate during the inactive placebo week, or week four.
It Can Lighten Heavy Periods
In addition to regulating periods, birth control can also help reduce menstrual flow. For those who have heavy periods and/or debilitating cramps, hormonal birth control can be a godsend. Estrogen in birth control can promote thickening of the blood and clotting. This can decrease the menstrual flow, leading to lighter — and sometimes shorter — periods.
For this reason, women who are prone to anemia can also benefit from taking birth control. Anemia occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough healthy red blood cells to provide oxygen to the body’s tissues. Anemia can lead to dizziness, headaches, and fatigue. The main cause is low levels of iron in the body. When a woman heavily bleeds each month, she is losing necessary iron from her body.
It Can Help Alleviate Acne
Many women who choose to go on birth control during their teenage years do so because they are suffering from hormonal acne. Acne, whether mild or severe, is caused by an increase in androgens. These hormones, which are found in both men and women, cause glands to produce oil.
Hormonal birth control can help reduce the amount of oil produced, thereby decreasing the probability that acne will occur. While birth control alone likely won’t prevent all breakouts, it can be a useful partner to scrupulous hygiene practices. The combination of androgen-suppressing hormones and a diligent skincare routine can help keep acne under control.
It Can Reduce the Risk of Some Cancers
One of the long-term effects of birth control is a reduced risk of some cancers. Observational research studies show that oral contraceptives can decrease the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers by 30% or more. The chance of contracting endometrial cancer is lowered because hormonal birth control suppresses endometrial proliferation. The risk of ovarian cancer is less because it reduces the number of ovulation cycles.
However, it’s important to note that a decreased risk of some potential cancers is not sufficient reason to take hormonal birth control. After all, there are others (e.g., breast cancer) for which oral contraceptives can slightly increase a woman’s risk. Talk to your doctor about your family history if you are concerned about developing specific types of cancer found in women.
It Can Relieve PMS Symptoms
Craving chocolate? Feeling moody? These are two common, well-known symptoms of premenstrual syndrome or PMS. PMS occurs between ovulation and the onset of your period. Women can experience a variety of other symptoms during PMS, including bloating, headaches, and cramps.
Some women can relieve their symptoms by natural means, such as drinking herbal teas, getting more exercise and sleep, and eating nourishing foods. However, if you have severe PMS or the more acute premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), you may consider birth control. Birth control affects every woman differently, so if one method doesn’t relieve your specific PMS symptoms, try another.
Deciding to take hormonal birth control is a personal matter. In addition to preventing pregnancies, it may help with other conditions. Always talk to your healthcare provider before going on birth control to ensure you’re making the best-informed choice for your health.