I was on birth control for only a few months when I first got married basically until I gained 15 pounds and had a series of emotional breakdowns which I attributed directly to the hormones I was letting into my body. And once I got off it (and regained emotional control of my life or some semblance of it), I pledged to myself that I would never go back to hormonal contraception. Soon after I went off birth control (I was using the patch, if you’re curious), I realized that some of the risks included blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks. Eeek. I mean really? That’s what I was risking just to remain childless for a little longer? Good riddance!
I’ve stayed true to my pledge to remain as free of artificial hormones including the ones in birth control as I can. It’s worked out just fine for me (though if you are someone who thinks that having 3 kids is too many, you may disagree about that). And while I know that hormonal birth control also works fine for other people right now, I have to wonder if we really know what we’re doing to our bodies in the long run. Maybe I’ve been reading too much about BPA and artificial food dyes and flavorings, but I tend to think that our fast-paced lives are so focused on the now that we don’t often consider long-term effects.
And now that this new study has been released, linking hormonal birth control pills to glaucoma later in life, I’m even more suspicious of what other dangers are lurking behind seemingly helpful drugs. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of California San Francisco, Duke University School of Medicine, and Third Affiliated Hospital of Nanchang University in China, found that among the 3,400 women aged 40 or older who were surveyed, those who had been on the pill for 3 years or more had twice the risk of developing glaucoma of those who didn’t use the pills for as long. Twice the risk! That’s pretty serious.
The research does not yet point to a cause-and-effect relationship between prolonged birth control use and developing glaucoma it’s just an association for now. However, researchers speculate that the normal fluctuations in estrogen that women experience might prevent glaucoma from developing, while having consistently low levels of estrogen (as you would if you were on the pill) makes your eyes more vulnerable to the disease.
I personally find it hard to knowingly assume risks like that. I’m much more comfortable staying away from drugs and using other family planning methods. But I know that not everybody feels that same hesitation, or even feels like they have much of a choice in the matter. Plus, there is a lot of comfort in feeling like you are in control of your life and your fertility, especially when the child-bearing years are so busy and active no matter what you choose to do have kids, pursue a career, travel, all of the above and it’s easy to say that it is worth it, no matter the cost, now or later. Not to mention the fact that causes and effects can be so jumbled up sometimes anyway. There’s no saying that you wouldn’t have developed glaucoma in your old age no matter what you did with your estrogen levels in your “youth.”
But what do you think? Does this research concern you? Does it change the way you think about birth control?
image via Flickr user nateOne