Monday, September 7, 2009

Adding up

The few studies that have been done into the Pill show a significant percentage of women suffer from depression as a side effect. These numbers can't take into account the millions of women who start taking the pill, immediately experience its negative impact and stop taking it - as many as one in ten, the majority within the first six months. But for more women the pill's side effects are insidious. Feelings of anxiety, lethargy and emotional unbalence can creep up so slowly they are blamed on a relationship, a job, a house move, a bad week, a bad year, anything but the pill.

I've been reading a book that only came out this month, 'The Pill: Are you sure it's for you?' which has distilled some of what I had previously understood about the pill's effects into a simple statement. The two main causes of the side effects experienced on the pill are the unnaturally high quantity of synthetic hormones being introduced into your system, and its impact on your metabolism producing nutritional disturbances.

Women on the pill are invariably deficient in many necessary nutrients. The depletion caused by the pill in just vitamin B12 can have negative consequences as far reaching as low tolerance to stress, weakness, insomnia and paranoia. Lowered levels of Vitamin B1 can lead to a lack of initiative, irritability and fatigue. The pill's effect on nutrient balences builds over time, which accounts for the slow development of problems, and the appearance of such problems years into a woman's pill use.

It is a good idea to adjust your diet, and take supplements - but as the effect is on your actual metabolism your body will still not be able to take in and utilise as much as it needs. If you decide to come off the pill however, eating foods high in B vitamins, zinc, calcium, vitamin C along with taking supplements can help your body return to its natural balence more quickly.

As we could guess, many women are prescribed anti-depressants to alleviate the mood changes brought on by the pill. In the past medical journals speculated that women's feelings of hopelessness and sadness could be attributed to their understanding that they were no longer able to get pregnant, a sort of mourning if you will. Still now, I have discovered, through interviews with practicing doctors, there are many who believe the emotional side effects of the pill should not be discussed openly incase the idea 'is put into women's heads' thus causing them to experience problems psychosomatically. From my experience in the doctor's chair, it's only when you initiate the conversation that they feel safe enough to agree the pill might be the issue.

But it is often the case that women will not connect the medication they take every day with the onset of disturbing changes. As I mentioned before, in the US, it's legal to advertise prescription medicines. I once saw the campaign for Yasmin over ten times during one 40 minute long TV show. Advertising like that can be particular powerful if you're feeling nervous, lacking confidence or falling out with your family and friends - powerful enough to have you keep popping the pills.

If you've never been in the US, these adverts can seem a little odd, so here's a couple of examples:

After that first advert came out, although it took something like a year, the Food And Drug Administration ordered that Bayer Schering put out a retraction campaign stating that Yasmin was not proven to help with 'irritability' and 'anxiety' and to make clear that any weight loss was down to dangerously high increases in potassium levels. Here that is:

And here are some of the posts by women on, and the Yasmin Survivors Forum regarding the side effects of Yasmin. I guess googling is easy than going to the doctor, especially if you have no health insurance.

Sarah, the founder of the Yasmin Survivors group, details her side effects as 'electric shocks shooting through my body, a smothering feeling, depression, numbness in my face, hands and feet, headaches. I became agoraphobic and suffered constant panic attacks.' A woman with the username '2young4this' describes suffering with 'Brain fogginess, mood swings, panic attacks to the point I'd get stuck in a state of paranoia that would last for hours and hours, constant anxiety, nausea, lack of coordination, depression, severe stomach pain, suicidal thoughts, severe fatigue, muscle weakness. I had to drop a semester of school because I was too tired and uninterested. I lost contact with nearly everyone. My sex drive went out the window. I became paranoid and suspicious.'

Lee describes her experience, 'I have turned into someone I no longer recognize. I am angry, depressed, and emotional and I cry all the time for no reason. I snap at my boyfriend or deliberately lead him into a fight. I know what I'm doing when I do it, but I can't stop.' Wodesorel lists her side effects, 'panic attacks up to four times a day, complete meltdowns twice a week (screaming, crying, throwing things, punching, rocking, banging head), self injury and attempted suicide.' Jasmine, one of Yasmin Survivors most active contributors, describes the chronic fatigue she believes Yasmin provoked, 'I'd take a walk and be overwhelmed by exhaustion. I've been physically active my whole life and strong. I lost a lot of muscle mass and found it incredibly difficult to even work-out. All my energy was gone. I was like a zombie.'

It would have made interesting reading if I had been blogging back when I was on Yasmin and had just started finding these testimonies. But of course to be doing that, I would have needed some motivation, energy and initiative.

1 comment:

  1. Partly as a result of reading your article in the Independent, I've decided to come of Loestrin. Everything you described has happened to me. I was on Yasmin, but I had terrible panic attacks on that, so switched to a low dose pill which I was assured would be fine. Initially I felt better than I did on Yasmin, but over the weeks fatigue, insomnia, nausea, headaches, anxiety, paranoia, low mood, lack of interest, no concentration, writing ability shot... what you described, 'a constant sense of dread'. My doctor advised me to stick it out, but I found myself near suicidal and my partner encouraged me to come off it for a time.

    Anyway, I still feel exhausted, but hopefully that will pass, but when I stopped to think about it I realised this. In my late teens I had CFS for a year. I had been taking Dianette for eighteen months. I got better within about 3 months of coming off it. I was also depressed twice in my twenties; both times I was taking the pill (Microgynon; Celeste). These are the only times I've ever suffered with serious fatigue, concentration problems or depression; and they are also the only times I've been on the pill. Go figure.

    What gets me is that my doctor is obsessed with me staying on the pill as I have endometriosis. She now wants me to try Mirena. I feel my experiences are completely ignored by my doctors, and yet they came close on several occasions to destroying my relationships and studies.