Other Reasons to Take the Pill
By Janis Graham
The Pill isn't just for birth control: Did you know that it
can also protect against certain life-threatening cancers, plus help relieve
some painful period symptoms? Here, experts explain the top seven health
benefits of taking the Pill and how to make them work for you.
Pill perk #1: Lower cancer risk
Taking oral contraceptives (OCs) can slash your risk for both endometrial
and ovarian cancer by more than 70 percent after 12 years; even just one to
five years may lower your risk by 40 percent. They work by reducing the number
of times you ovulate in your lifetime: Ovulation may trigger cell changes in
the ovaries that can lead to cancer. If you're worried about using the Pill for
too long, relax. "You can safely take the Pill for 20 years or more," says
Stephanie Teal, M.D., director of family planning at the University of Colorado
Health Sciences Center in Denver. Barring health issues, the only reason to
stop is if you want to get pregnant.
Pill perk #2: Clearer skin
Estrogen - the female hormone found in most OCs - helps clear your skin by
decreasing levels of testosterone, a male hormone that stimulates oil
production. Although Ortho Tri-Cyclen is often used to treat acne, many pills,
such as Yasmin or Desogen, can banish blemishes. You'll likely see results
within a couple of months.
Pill perk #3: Lighter, less painful periods
When you're on the Pill, you don't ovulate, so your uterine lining doesn't
build up as much. In fact, you don't have a true "period" during the placebo
phase - just withdrawal bleeding, in which your uterine lining breaks down in
response to the drop in hormones. So most OC takers bleed less for a shorter
time, and have little or no cramping. If you want an even lighter flow, ask
your doctor about Seasonique, a new pill that gives you four periods a year and
helps reduce period length to three days on average.
Pill perk #4: PMS relief
Hormonal shifts during the second half of your cycle are the main cause of
PMS symptoms. The Pill can provide relief by steadying hormones, but different
symptoms require different pills. If breast tenderness is your complaint, an OC
that is lower in estrogen (such as Mircette) is your best bet. If you want to
beat bloating, try a pill (such as Yasmin or Yaz) with drospirenone, a
progestin shown to help prevent fluid retention. "Use the Pill for three to
four months to see if it provides the relief you're looking for," says Pelin
Batur, M.D., a women's health specialist at the Cleveland Clinic Independence
Family Health Center.