New research published in the British Medical Journal may provide some relief and assurance to oral birth control users: The pill is not associated with long-term risk of death, compared to those who have never used birth control.
On an even more positive note, birth control users also had significantly lower rates of death from all cancers than non-users.
Using data from the Royal College of General Practitioners’ Oral Contraception Study, researchers observed 46,112 women in the United Kingdom for 39 years. The average age of the participants was 29, and most were married and Caucasian. Smoking habits, social class, and medical history were also recorded.
At the completion of the study, researchers found that while women 30 years and younger who took the pill had a three-fold greater rate of any death than those who never used oral contraceptives, women ages 50 and up had significantly lower death rates. Among users, researchers also found significantly lower rates of death from a variety of cancers, including uterine, ovarian, and bowel cancers. They also had lower rates of death from heart disease or stroke.
One odd (and unexplained) finding of the study: Women who took the pill at some point in their lives were more likely to die from violent or accidental deaths.
Researchers also noted that this study began in 1968, so the type of birth control used by the women may differ from modern contraceptives. “Our findings might not reflect the experience of women using oral contraceptives today, if currently available preparations have a different risk than earlier products,” the study said.
It should also be noted that certain women should not take the pill, depending on their health. It’s recommended that women who get migraine headaches with aura, have blood-clotting disorders, have had serious heart problems, or have liver problems should avoid the pill.
The full study was published in the British Medical Journal.