For many women, the relationship they have with birth control is complicated. On the one hand, having access to a reliable method of contraception can literally be a necessity — not to mention that birth control often provides invaluable relief for other issues, like menstrual cramps or heavy periods. But despite the advances that have been made over the years, there is plenty that researchers are still learning when it comes to the impact contraception can have on women's health. Scientific studies continue to help make birth control safer and more effective, and while that progress takes times, these birth control studies happening right now could shed some important light on what's to come.
Clinical research studies are continually providing new insight into the way we think about health, and they also offer valuable information that helps to shape both the treatments available to us, as well as the choices we make as patients. One major issue that researchers continue to tackle when it comes to birth control specifically? How to make contraception as safe as possible for the women who use it. One recent example? In June, researchers at the University of Michigan looked at the differences in synthetic hormone levels between women taking the birth control pill and those who don't. What they found was that certain birth control pills actually raised synthetic hormone levels in women's blood by as much as four times higher — a finding that could be majorly concerning, given that previous studies have found that hormone exposure could increase a woman's risk for breast cancer.
More research will likely be needed before any definitive conclusions about birth control and breast cancer risk can be determined, but throughout the country, researchers continue to look for answers. But it's not the only one they're investigating.
How Does Birth Control Affect Bone Health?
If you're a woman of childbearing age, then chances are you give more thought to either trying to get pregnant, or trying to avoid getting pregnant, than you do to the health of your bones. But in recent years, studies have suggested that the use of birth control pills could have a detrimental effect on young women's bone density, which is pretty concerning. According to Science Daily, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that teens who had taken birth control pills for at least two years had decreased bone density than those who didn't, and now, researchers are attempting to take a closer look.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, an ongoing collaborative study between researchers at Pennsylvania State University and Purdue University is looking at the effects of hormonal and non-hormonal birth control methods on bone health in women aged 18 to 25, specifically looking at the net balance of bone calcium. While the study isn't expected to be completed until February 2018, the findings could help provide new information on the effects of hormonal birth control, potentially allowing women to make better choices when it comes to contraception.
What Happens If You Use An IUD For Longer Than Five Years?
IUDs are becoming an increasingly popular option for birth control, thanks to their high success rates at preventing pregnancy, and the fact that they can be used for years at a time. The Mirena IUD, for example, is marketed to be successful against preventing pregnancy for up to five years, while copper IUDS, like ParaGard, can be left for up to 10 years, according to Reuters. But is it possible that they could actually remain effective for longer?
Previous research has suggested that, actually, IUDs remain effective for longer than their recommended use — according to Reuters, the Mirena IUD is thought to be good for at least seven years, while the ParaGard could last up to 12 years. But since most women likely wouldn't feel particularly comfortable taking the risk, the good news is that throughout the country, researchers are studying the efficacy of the extended use of the Mirena IUD in women 18 to 35 years old, according to Center Watch. This means that, in the future, long-term contraceptive options could be used even longer than they currently are. And given that that could save women both money, time, and cut down on the likelihood of unintended pregnancy, that sounds really promising.
Is There A Better Way To Make Birth Control Decisions?
Using birth control might be a no-brainer for many women, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're actually happy with the method they've chosen. It's not exactly a secret that hormonal birth control can bring with it plenty of less-than-awesome side effects — weight gain, mood changes, and decreased libido are common complaints. And earlier this year, a Swedish study found that women who took a popular birth control pill for three months reported "reduced quality of life, mood, and physical wellbeing," according to Science Alert.
That's pretty disheartening, but at the very least, it's helped put the issue in the spotlight. And while it will likely still take time before that reality will change, it does seem at least like researchers are attempting to find better ways to make women's birth control use a little bit better. According to the NIH, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have developed "a tablet-based decision support tool" meant to help women learn more about the birth control options available to them, and to help increase the chances that they will be happy with the method they've chosen later on. Researchers hope that the tool will "increase women's knowledge, choice of, and use of highly effective reversible contraception," and that it will also improve patient satisfaction. And given that that will all translate into better health care for women? That sounds like a really good thing.
When it comes to making the best possible decisions about your health care, research is a big part of providing valuable information. Although it might feel hard to imagine being able to access contraception that doesn't also come with a long list of possible side effects, scientists seem to at least be working on coming closer to that goal. And although it isn't exactly the most optimistic time politically when it comes to women's reproductive health choices, science is hopefully continuing to point us in the right direction.