You know that hormones have a huge impact on your daily life (or, in some cases, it’s convenient to think so). Got a colony of pimples on your chin? Hormones. Famished for lunch before noon despite eating breakfast at 10 a.m.? Hormones. Bawled uncontrollably during Sarah McLachlan’s ASPCA commercial? Hormones. So it’s pretty silly to think that birth control pills—which are basically hormone regulators—can only be used for, well, birth control. Here are eight things oral contraceptives can do that have nothing to do with pregnancy prevention.
1.It Can Make Endometriosis Bearable
With this painful condition, tissue that normally grows inside the uterus (and sheds during your period) also grows outside of it, commonly on the ovaries, bowel, and bladder. This excess tissue causes swelling, inflammation, and scarring, which leads to extreme pain. The Pill will decrease the severity of monthly menstrual symptoms, says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, which means that there will be less monthly uterine buildup, less shedding, and, for those with endometriosis, even less migration and growth of uterine tissue throughout the body. Which all adds up to less pain.
2.It Can Conserve Your Blood
How much red you see in each month varies from woman to woman, but normal bleeding is considered anywhere from a few tablespoons to 80 ml (about a third of a cup), according to Cleveland Clinic. If your flow is much heavier than that, it could potentially up up your chances of anemia, resulting in fatigue and lack of energy. The Pill can help by lessening your monthly tides. “Basically, the Pill thins out the lining of the uterus, and less lining means less bleeding each month,” says Dweck.
3.It Can Save You Money on Foundation (and Waxing)
That colony of pimples mentioned earlier can often be cleared up by contraceptives. The same thing goes for the few stray hairs on your chin. Those two nuisances are often caused by an excess of androgens, a type of hormone (testosterone is one), in the body. “When you’re on birth control pills, your liver makes a protein that prohibits testosterone from floating around in your bloodstream, lowering acne and unwanted hair growth,” says Dweck.
4.It Can Offer Some Cancer Protection
Fifteen years of pill-taking can cut your risk of developing ovarian cancer by 50 percent; for endometrial cancer, that number shoots to 70 percent, according to a study in the journal Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology. Ovarian cancer protection comes from stopping ovulation, sats Dweck. “The thought is that the repetition of ovulation over many years can up the chance of ovarian cancer, but the Pill prevents that,” she says. The prevention of uterine cancer is similar—since the Pill thins out the uterine lining, less tissue buildup means a lower risk of developing the disease. It should be said, however, that oral contraceptives may increase your risk of developing breast and cervical cancers, due to higher levels of estrogen.
5.It Can Shield Against Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a sexually-transmitted infection of the female reproductive organs. Left untreated, it can cause chronic pelvic pain or infertility. And while the birth control pill doesn’t protect against the sexually-transmitted infections that may cause PID, the Pill can still offer protection by thickening your cervical mucus, making it more difficult for infected bacteria to make it to your uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries.
6.It Can Help with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Normally, a woman’s body releases at least one egg each cycle, but with polycystic ovary syndrome, those mature eggs aren’t released and instead stay in the ovaries, which can lead to infertility. Other symptoms of PCOS include irregular periods and excess body hair. Because hormone imbalances are at the root of this issue, contraceptives can help regulate your levels so your body releases eggs on time and sticks to a regular menstrual cycle.
7.It Can Help You Chill Through Perimenopause
Normally, birth control is associated with women of childbearing age, but staying on the Pill while you’re going through menopause can make the transition a little easier. “It helps keep your hormone levels balanced and controls some menopuase symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and irregular bleeding,” says Dweck. (Find out if hormone replacement therapy really is safe.)
8.It Can Keep You Healthy During Flu Season
Women who take an oral contraceptive with estrogen may have more protection from the flu virus than others, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Physiology – Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology. Researchers found that estrogen levels in Pill takers reduced the amount of flu virus that replicated in infected cells nearly 1,000-fold, compared with the cells that weren’t exposed to estrogen. The increased estrogen levels didn’t have the same effect on male participants, as their normal estrogen levels are already much lower than those of women. And because hormone levels in pre-menopausal women not on the Pill fluctuate throughout the month, simply being female isn’t enough to offer flu protection. (Here are 9 power foods that boost immunity.) But it’s not recommended that women begin taking oral contraceptives to protect themselves against the flu. “If women are taking estrogen-like hormones for other reasons, an added benefit might be less susceptibility to influenza during flu season,” says Sabra Klein, Ph.D., study author, in a press release