Many young women’s first trip to the gynecologist is prompted by a desire to take birth control pills, whether they are trying to avoid getting pregnant or hoping to alleviate the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. Perhaps they know someone who takes “the pill,” or a well-meaning parent or boyfriend has encouraged them to go on birth control. Most doctors are all too willing to hand them a prescription simply because they asked for it, and they often leave the doctor’s office with a few sample packs in hand so they can get started right away. Unfortunately, there is usually little mention of side effects apart from an obligatory blood pressure check.

Birth control pills might be a convenient way of avoiding pregnancy, but they are not without their risks. Many women falsely believe that because they are used so widely, they must be safe, and they often don’t learn about the side effects until it’s too late. You might not get pregnant when you take the pill, but you could end up with a lot of other very unwanted effects.

Some of the effects that women might notice right away after starting the pill aren’t that different from pregnancy, including weight gain, tenderness in the breasts, mood swings, nausea, and a decrease in libido.

That’s only the beginning. Over time, the list of side effects grows to include yeast overgrowth and infection, irregular bleeding, higher blood pressure, spotting between periods, fluid retention and lower bone density. Contraceptive pills can also raise your risk of liver and gall bladder diseases and lead to liver tumors and gallstones.

Birth control pills more than double your risk of stroke

One of the biggest risks associated with birth control pills, however, is their ability to increase the risk of blood clotting in your veins, a risk that climbs as you take it for longer periods or take higher doses. Pills containing progestin are particularly risky. Thrombosis symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid pulse and nausea, and if it goes undetected, it could lead to a fatal stroke. In fact, the American Stroke Association reports that women who take birth control pills, even the low-estrogen variety that some women believe are less harmful, are twice as likely to suffer a stroke than those who do not take the pill, and the risk is even higher if they have other risk factors, like being overweight or smoking.

Another reason to avoid these nasty pills is the fact that studies have found that taking them for five years more than doubles your risk of getting a brain tumor. If the thought of brain cancer isn’t enough to scare you off, what about the fact that studies have found a connection between the use of oral contraceptives and cervical cancer as well as breast cancer?

Safer alternatives to birth control pills

Being proactive about avoiding unwanted pregnancy is commendable, and no one wants to discourage women from doing so. However, there are other ways to avoid getting pregnant that will not risk your health. Many people have had success using natural family planning, keeping track of their cycles so they can avoid having sex around ovulation. Paying attention to cervical mucus and using the temperature method are also safe and effective methods. Condoms, when used properly, can also help prevent pregnancy, as can diaphragms.

If you’re taking, or considering taking, birth control for PCOS or menstruation regulation, a naturopath can help you find natural solutions that will work instead, such as vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and inositol.  Why take a chance when so many safer alternatives exist?