Oral contraceptives, some of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States, are more effective than most other nonsurgical birth control methods. The newer lower-estrogen pills provide the same pregnancy prevention as higher doses when you take them as directed. They also offer multiple other health benefits and personal advantages.
Low-estrogen pills improve overall health in many ways including protecting against some life-threatening cancers.
Reduced cancer risks. Your ovarian and endometrial (uterine lining) cancer risks plummet by over 70 percent after 12 years. Even just one to five years may lower your risks by 40 percent. This protection lasts many years after you stop taking birth control pills. Women with ovarian cancer family histories benefit as well. Oral contraceptives reduce the number of times you ovulate in your lifetime. Because ovulation may trigger cell changes in your ovaries that can lead to cancer, fewer incidences are better.
Lower ovarian cyst risk. Ovarian cysts develop from egg-containing follicles that mature during your period. Because the pill suppresses ovulation, it may help prevent cyst formation.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) treatment. PCOS is a hormone imbalance that can affect ovulation and cause menstrual problems. Certain pills may accompany acne, excess hair growth and hair loss.
Endometriosis relief. If your uterine-lining tissue grows in other pelvic areas, endometriosis can lead to scarring, severe pain and sometimes infertility. By reducing the hormones that cause your lining to build up, birth control pills stop this abnormal growth.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) protection. The pill can help prevent PID-causing bacteria from entering your uterus. If untreated, this disease can cause infertility.
Diminished uterine fibroid symptoms. Contraceptive pills treat the heavy flow and cramps uterine fibroids cause by decreasing female hormone production and preventing ovulation.
Fewer breast problems. By regulating your estrogen and progesterone levels, the Pill reduces fibroadenomas, or benign breast tumors, and fibrocystic breast disease incidence.
Bone loss protection. Prevent excess bone thinning when your estrogen drops around menopause. Even minimal estrogen amounts in very low-dose pills strengthen your bones.
Low-estrogen oral contraceptives improve menstrual symptoms and help you avoid unexpected periods.
Decreased cycle length. Your period may last as little as three days.
Lighter, less painful periods. Normally, your uterus builds up a new lining every month, which sheds during your period. Birth control hormones prevent your lining from getting very thick and lower your prostaglandin level, one cause of menstrual pain. Most women have lighter, shorter periods with little or no cramping.
More regular periods. Your periods may become very irregular when your estrogen declines during perimenopause. The hormones in oral contraceptives regulate when you start and how long your periods last.
Schedule control. Combination pills help you time your cycle and frequency for convenience. Schedule your periods to be monthly, every few months or even never.
Minimized PMS. Hormonal shifts during your cycle’s second half are the main cause of PMS symptoms. The Pill can provide relief by steadying your hormones, but specific symptoms require certain pill types. For breast tenderness, choose a very low-estrogen option such as Mircette. Pills like Yaz and Yasmin contain drospirenone, a progestin hormone that helps prevent fluid retention, reduce bloating. They also may help relieve severe premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) symptoms.
Menstrual migraine relief. Stabilizing your estrogen levels may reduce headache severity or frequency.
Sexual spontaneity improvement. Ready-to-go birth control doesn’t interrupt intimate moments, so it may increase sexual spontaneity.
Reduced perimenopausal and menopause symptoms. The pill helps even out unpredictable hormone levels, which may relieve hot flashes.
Diminished acne. Estrogen helps clear your skin by decreasing levels of testosterone, a hormone that stimulates oil production.
These are some of the low-estrogen options:
Lo/Ovral (norgestrel and ethinyl estradiol). A 28-day birth control pack contains 21 active pills and may include seven medication-free reminders.
Seasonale and Seasonique (levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol). These 91-day continuous-dosing packs include 84 active pills and seven low-dose estradiol reminders. Expect just four periods per year, one every three months.
Yasmin (drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol). Take 21 days of hormonal pills followed by seven days non-hormonal pills.
Very Low-Estrogen Pills
In the lowest estrogen birth control pill category, your options include:
Loestrin24Fe (norethindrone and ethinyl estradiol). This is the first FDA-approved 24-day oral mini extended-cycle contraceptive. Take 24 active hormone pills instead of the traditional 21 and then just four non-hormonal doses that shorten your periods. These placebo pills contain ferrous fumarate iron that enhances healthy red blood cell production to improve anemic-related disorders attributed to heavy periods.
Lybrel (levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol). Take a hormone pill every day of the year to eliminate all periods.
Mircette (desogestrel and ethinyl estradiol). Start with 21 days of low-dose progestin and estrogen. Two placebo days and five very low-dose estrogen days round out your 28-day regimen.
Yaz (drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol). Follow 24 days of active doses with four days of inactive pills.
When you want to prevent pregnancy, choosing a highly effective low-estrogen contraceptive pill also promotes a healthier future.