6 Surprising Health Benefits of Oral Contraceptives

Other perks of taking the Pill besides birth control.
You know the Pill helps prevent pregnancy. But did you know that it can also protect against certain life-threatening cancers, plus help relieve PMS and painful period symptoms? Here are six not-so-obvious health perks of taking the Pill and tips on how to make them work for you.

Pill Perk #1:

Reduced cancer risk

  • Recent studies suggest that women who use oral contraceptives for at least 10 years lower their risk of ovarian cancer by around 80 percent and endometrial cancer by 60 percent. "Even women who used oral contraceptives less than five years, or even a few years, still derive benefit from it," says Dr. Marc Goodman, a researcher at Cancer Research Center of Hawaii. "The longer women use it, the more protection they have."

    How do oral contraceptives protect? It seems that ovarian cell changes during ovulation and overgrowth of the endometrium (or uterine lining) play a role in these cancers. Since the Pill works by reducing the number of times you ovulate in your lifetime as well as slowing endometrial growth, cancer risks are lowered.

  • Pill Perk #2:

    Lighter, less painful periods

  • When you're on the Pill, you don't ovulate, so your uterine lining doesn't build up as much. This explains why most women on the Pill bleed less for a shorter time, and have little or no cramping during their periods.

  • Pill Perk #3:

    Fewer periods

  • With 21 hormone-containing pills and seven "fake" placebo pills per pack, women on the Pill can re-schedule their period so it doesn't come at inconvenient times. To do so, skip the placebo pills and start on the next pack of active pills. "When you take the placebo pills, it brings on menstruation," explains Patricia J. Sulak, M.D., a professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.

    Keep on taking active pills to postphone your period, then switch to the placebos when you're ready to menstruate. Gynaecologists generally agree that women can safely take pills continuously for two to three months at a stretch. There are exceptions, however, so speak to your gynecologist first before you use the Pill to skip your monthly periods.

  • Pill Perk #4:

    Clearer skin

  • For many women who take the Pill, one of the positive effects is clearer skin. Estrogen - the hormone found in most oral contraceptives - helps clear your skin by decreasing levels of androgen your body makes. This male hormone is responsible for stimulating sebum production, which contributes to acne. With less androgen, and in turn less sebum, complexion becomes clearer within a couple of months in some women.

  • Pill Perk #5:

    Less PMS

  • Pre-menstrual hormonal fluctuations are the main cause of PMS. The Pill can provide relief by stabilizing hormones, but different pills work best for different symptoms. For example, to counter bloating, try a pill with drospirenone (such as Yasmin), which helps prevent water retention; to relief breast tenderness, look for a pill that has lower amounts of estrogen (such as Mircette).

  • Pill Perk #6:

    Better bone health

  • As women age, our bodies start to produce less estrogen. Estrogen is needed to help bone cells stay healthy. Taking the Pill replaces the declining hormone, so even as we age our bones stay healthy and this helps prevent osteoporosis.

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