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Birth control pills enhance a woman's health

March 11, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
All medications have their risks and their benefits. But new findings on oral contraceptives find these pills may do more than they promise. They might actually enhance a woman's health.The pill spawned a revolution in birth control for women. And those who take it know the warnings.

"If you're over 35 and a smoker taking the pill there is an increased risk of heart attack, stroke or blood clot formation," said Tiffany Seifer.

British researchers followed 46,000 women for more than 40 years. The conclusion: the pill may actually benefit women's health.

The results show that women who took oral contraception longer than ten years had a lower rate of death from any cause including: heart disease and all types of cancer, compared to women who never took the pill.

"We know definitely for two cancers, ovarian and endometrial cancer." said OB-GYN specialist Dr. Kerry Park. "Those two cancers decrease by 40 to 50 percent if you've been taking it for that long."

Dr. Park says the protective effect of hormones in pills is well known. He also believes women who take prescription medications tend to visit their doctor regularly.

"People who are not on birth control pills usually don't see their doctors until their first pregnancy," said Dr. Park.

However, women on the pill did have a higher rate of violent or accidental death compared to non-users. Researchers are unable to explain this persistent finding. While the risk of blood clots may be increased for pill users, the incidence is very rare. So doctors say the benefits continue to outweigh the risks.

Tiffany says if the pill offers benefits on top of its intended purpose its great news.

"It's so easy. You just take it every day," said Seifer. "I think it is a convenient and effective means of protecting yourself."

Women who are candidates for birth control pills should have their blood pressure under control and no prior history of blood clots. The Royal College of General Practitioners' oral contraception study is published in the British Medical Journal.