Because of these substances, Lance Armstrong’s cycling victories were taken from him and he was disqualified from further competition; Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire were publicly reprimanded; numerous congressional hearings were held to assign blame regarding their use. We do our best to protect athletes from these dangerous substances while, at the same time, encouraging women to put them in their bodies.
What are these substances? Steroids.
Oral contraceptives (commonly known as birth control pills) are steroidal hormones. These drugs manipulate hormones to prevent conception, just as performance-enhancing steroids manipulate hormones to enhance physical size, strength, speed and athletic performance. Both result in physical changes. Birth control pills, as demonstrated by the following extract from the Mayo Clinic’s website, alter women’s bodies in a variety of ways:
Oral contraceptives work by stopping a woman’s egg from fully developing each month…. Sometimes a woman’s egg can still develop…. In almost all cases when the medicine was taken properly and an egg develops, fertilization can still be stopped by oral contraceptives. This is because oral contraceptives also thicken cervical mucus at the opening of the uterus…. In addition, oral contraceptives change the uterus lining just enough so that an egg will not stop in the uterus to develop.
Meddling with hormones causes physiological (and psychological) changes because it disrupts the body’s natural balance, a universally accepted medical fact when it comes to athletes. Yet, when it comes to women’s health, the risks and dangers of oral contraceptive steroids—though well-documented in the medical literature—are routinely covered up by physicians, the mainstream media, health insurance companies, and others.
I will outline some of this evidence using credible sources, and I am under no illusions about what the immediate reaction will be among some readers. After all, birth control pills are a part of our modern society. But keeping an open mind is crucial: everyone was convinced the world was flat until they were presented with contrary evidence. As the writer Flannery O’Connor once said, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
First, it must be stated that all steroids, oral contraceptives included, can have medicinal purposes. But in the vast majority of cases, they are not used as a health remedy, just as most people do not use marijuana for its alleged medical properties. Generally, contraceptive use is a lifestyle choice, not a medical necessity. Based on the medical literature, when they are taken this way, they are more harmful than beneficial to women’s health, causing both physical and psychological harm.
While many physicians understand the risks of oral contraceptives, few are willing to swim against the tide. One physician who is not intimidated is Angela Lanfranchi, M.D., F.A.C.S., a professor of surgery at New Jersey’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Dr. Lanfranchi, who heads up the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, has been outspoken about the health risks associated with the use of contraceptives, such as blood clots, cancer, and injections that turned out to be lethal in some cases.
Her claims are consistent with the findings of many medical practitioners, organizations, and numerous studies. In 2005 the World Health Organization (WHO) classified birth control pills as a Group 1 Carcinogen (the highest-risk category of carcinogens). According to WHO, this classification is used only “when there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans.” Tobacco and asbestos are two well-known carcinogens in this category. Thus it should not be surprising that, according to WebMD, “A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women with a strong family history of breast cancer may have up to an 11 times higher risk of breast cancer if they have ever taken the pill.”
Since birth control pills are in the same carcinogenic classification as tobacco, why isn’t there a warning for contraceptives as there is for cigarettes?
WHO’s statement corroborated the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) findings in 2003, which noted a “significant increase” of the risk of breast cancer and an increased risk of cervical and liver cancers among oral contraceptive users. Regarding liver cancer, the NCI’s tip sheet states: “Several studies have found that oral contraceptives increase the risk of liver cancer in populations usually considered low risk.” The NCI’s tip sheet does mention that oral contraceptives reduce the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers, but this should provide little solace to women given the elevated risk of breast and liver cancers.
Moreover, an article in Science Daily (October 30, 2006) titled, “Oral Contraceptives Increase Risk of Breast Cancer in Some Women, Meta Analysis Finds,” notes that “a meta analysis (which builds on many studies with similar findings) published in the October edition of Mayo Clinic Proceedings indicts oral contraceptives as putting premenopausal women at significantly increased risk for breast cancer, especially women who use them prior to having a child.” Another Science Daily article (October 26, 2009) titled, “Increased Stroke Risk from Birth Control Pills, Review Finds,” points out that “birth control pills increase the risk (of stroke) 1.9 times.”
In addition, according to the latest research, contraceptives affect not only the body but the mind as well.
The September 28, 2010 edition of Scientific American published an article by Craig H. Kinsley, a neuroscience professor, and Elizabeth A. Meyer, a post-doctoral fellow and instructor, titled “Women’s Brains on Steroids.” Drawing from a study in the journal Brain Research, the authors described how contraceptives alter the structure of women’s brains. This finding should not be surprising given that the psychological impact of steroids on the brains of athletes who use these drugs is well-known, including behavioral changes such as irascibility and wild mood swings.
So what is the alternative to the pill? There are, of course, many artificial contraceptives that are available, but all of them carry some type of risk. The only risk-free method is Natural Family Planning (NFP), whereby women use their natural cycles to control their fertility. When done correctly, NFP is 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, which is higher than any artificial methods. Conversely, it can also help women whose goal is to become pregnant. Whatever the goal, NFP enables women to gain knowledge and control over their bodies, while keeping their bodies free of chemicals and other potentially harmful agents. Fortunately, information on NFP is becoming increasingly accessible through various organizations, the Internet, churches, and even some physicians’ offices.
The data presented here represents only a tiny fraction of the medical literature demonstrating the potential ill effects of contraceptives on women’s health. There is significantly more evidence available from studies performed by credible and reputable medical associations, scientific bodies, universities, and independent medical researchers. It is important to use these resources to learn the facts about birth control pills because women, like professional athletes, deserve to know the truth about the substances they are putting into their bodies.