A recent study conducted at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland has concluded that women using oral contraceptives might have health and longevity advantages over those who don't.
'The Pill,' long associated with health risks including increased risk of blood clots in younger women, has not previously been associated with longevity. As a means to suppress ovulation by artificial hormone stimulation, oral contraceptives came into widespread use in the 1960's, primarily to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Oral contraceptives have been prescribed by physicians for purposes other than contraception, however.
The Aberdeen study, funded by the Royal College of GPs, found women taking oral contraceptives were less likely to die by 12 per cent overall than women not taking the Pill, and found greater benefits in various diseases like cancer and heart disease. The risk of death from bowel cancer is decreased 38 per cent in women taking birth control pills. Risk of death from uterine and ovarian cancers is also significantly diminished.
The study followed over 46,000 women from 1968 for a period of almost forty years.
Benefits seemed to increase as a woman aged. Women in younger age groups, under thirty, and those thirty to forty, demonstrated increased risk of death from taking oral contraceptives, but the researchers felt those risks were outweighed by the benefits in later life. The health risks of taking the Pill disappeared after ten years.
The study concluded, "Although the proportion of increases or decreases in mortality directly attributable to oral contraception cannot be determined, these figures indicate that, at least in this relatively healthy UK cohort, oral contraception is not significantly associated with a major public health problem. The level of reduction in mortality seen in different parts of the world will depend on factors such as levels of oral contraception usage, duration of use, age at stopping, and the prevalence of disease."
The study, led by Dr. Philip C. Hannaford, was published in the March 11 edition of the British Medical Journal.
On the Web:
Mortality among contraceptive pill users: cohort evidence from Royal College of General Practitioners' Oral Contraceptive Study - British Medical Journal BMJ 2010;340:c927