11/25/2011 02:39 EST | Updated 01/12/2012 05:12 EST

Safe Birth Control: Women Need To Look For Answers


The Pill may have celebrated its 50th birthday last year, but it's not entering middle age without controversy. After all, when women weigh their birth control options, it's not just because they're seeking convenience. Health concerns -- and concerns about potential side effects -- should also be a priority. And so, new research indicating that not all methods of birth control are created equal when it comes to safety should be of interest to any woman who is using an oral contraceptive.

Most women know they shouldn't pick their birth control like they pick a handbag; practical concerns should trump any aesthetic justifications. The numbers show, however, that many women -- and up to one-third of teens -- are taking the Pill for non-birth control reasons, such as easing menstrual cramps or controlling acne.

A 2009 article from Bloomberg raised the issue that doctors often prescribe certain birth control pills based on a patient's desire to improve acne or avoid weight gain -- even if the links between birth control and those symptoms are tenuous. The results of a related British study had pressed doctors to focus on minimizing potential health complications by always recommending varieties of the pill that are less likely to lead to blood clots, rather than indulging patients' concerns about their appearance.

In Canada, authorities are re-examining Yasmin, the most popular birth control pill in the country (and one of the brands that touts its alleged ability to control acne), because of its link to blood clots. As one of the 'newer' types of birth control pills that uses the hormone drospirenone, Yasmin could double the risk of blood clots versus women who are using older pills made with levonorgestrel. Some women who take Yasmin have even reported having "mini-strokes".

It can be tough to make a responsible decision when there are so many contraceptive options available to women, all of which make their own promises. For women who are getting sick of fronting most of the responsibility for contraception for everything beyond the good ol' condom, there's some news on the horizon: according to a story in the International Business Times, the male birth control pill is just around the corner. The pills will lower sperm count to a level not conducive for reproduction, but have proven reactive to alcohol -- which could certainly discourage many men from signing up.

With files from Rebecca Zamon