Many teenage girls are put on the oral contraceptive pill in an effort to control heavy or painful periods. However, there are some big concerns around this. From menarche (a girl’s first period) the reproductive system takes 6-8 years to fully develop. For most girls, this means that she will be 20 before her neural and hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) negative feedback pathways are fully developed. Girls who are put on the pill during this crucial developmental stage are placed at risk of dysfunctional signalling and feedback mechanisms, leaving them with a potential lifetime of hormone disturbances and menstrual difficulties.
Another factor to consider is the nutrient depletion caused by taking the pill. A systematic review published in 2014 found a decrease in the serum concentrations of zinc, selenium, phosphorus and magnesium in OCP users, proportional to the duration of contraceptive use. Teenage years are a time of rapid growth and development. Taking a drug that depletes nutrients at a time when nutrient requirements are increased has implications for future health and may lead to a reduction in the probability of having a pregnancy and/or an increase of serious illness for the unborn baby.
Heavy and painful periods are effectively controlled with herbal medicine combined with dietary and lifestyle measures. It is not necessary to take the pill. However, if a teenage girl is sexually active then education around contraception and open communication with her parents is vital. Education around the importance of condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases as well as a method of contraception should be highlighted.
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