What’s really in those ‘sugar’ birth control pills – SBS News

Posted: December 18, 2019 at 11:41 pm

True story: when I was in high school, friends of mine would avoid taking the sugar pills included in the combination birth control pill for fear of gaining weight.

While on reflection this sounds pretty ridiculous, a Google search of the sugar content in these placebo or inactive pills (as their medically known) reveals not much.

The actual ingredients in the pills sugar tablets varies slightly depending on the manufacturer.

Essentially, each placebo pill is made up of whats known as excipients: fillers and binders that fill out the size of a tablet, provide colour, and hold the ingredients together so its convenient to consume.

According to Head of the Department of General Practice at Monash University, Professor Danielle Mazza, these usually include sucrose (sugar), calcium carbonate, magnesium stearate, glycerol, iron oxide yellow, and povidone.

There is also lactose in most tablets, but not enough lactose to bother someone who is lactose intolerant says Dr Terri Foran, sexual health physician and lecturer with the UNSW School of Women's & Children's Health, and director of Master Womens Health Medicine.

As the inactive pills contain no hormones or active ingredients, they provide no medical benefit.

The exact quantity of sugar (or any ingredient) in the placebo pills is not usually revealed by manufacturers. However, doctors say the possibility of this causing weight gain is unlikely or a complete myth.

The amount of sugar is tiny. There is not enough to cause any weight gain and skipping them will not prevent weight gain, says Dr Foran.

No, is the short answer.

People on the pill are able to manipulate their cycle in a number of ways, such as by running pill packets of the same type back-to-back so they are consistently taking the active pills only.

Those who choose to have the hormone-free break in their cycle, can choose to not take any tablet at all on these days. They may alternatively decide to take the inactive tablets for a shorter period than their packet suggests.

In Australia, women have been running pill packs together forever and it is perfectly safe to do so, says Dr Foran. In the US they have a pill with no placebo pills at all.

The UKs Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare recently updated its official guidance to say there is no health benefit from the seven-day hormone-free interval. In Australia, Family Planning NSW associate medical director Dr Clare Boerma says this remains an off-packet but widely accepted practice.

No. Dr Boerma says it is medically unnecessary to have the withdrawal bleed brought on by a break in active pills.

I hear in my clinic lots of myths that women have about the need to have this monthly break from hormones, or some women get the idea that you're going to have a buildup of lots of blood and clots on the inside if you don't let it out, Dr Boerma says.

Actually, the pill works just in the lining of your womb really well, so there's not something actually building up to be released, so to speak.

It's not actually a period people think of it as periods but the pill is stopping you ovulating so it's a withdrawal bleed from the drop of hormone as opposed to relating to a natural cycle of hormones in your body. So it's a fake period.

The pill could be more effective when the placebo pills are skipped altogether, as this allows less room for user error.

Good question. Theres a few reasons:

1. To avoid breakthrough bleeding, which is more likely to occur when the active tablets are consistently taken with no break.

2. To assure users they arent pregnant.

3. To keep users in the routine of taking a tablet a day, should they choose to have a withdrawal bleed.

4. To mimic the natural cycle.

5. To appease the Catholic Church.

Whats the Catholic Church got to do with it?

It was recently claimed that one of the pills Catholic co-founders invented the withdrawal bleed in an attempt to persuade the Vatican to accept the new form of contraception, as an extension of the natural menstrual cycle

While this attempt was unsuccessful, both Dr Foran and Dr Boerma say this was a likely reason for the withdrawal bleeds inclusion, combined with the other reasons for the hormone-free break such as to mimic the natural menstrual cycle.

Disclaimer: This article contains general information only. It is not intended to replace the advice provided by your own doctor or medical or health professional.

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What's really in those 'sugar' birth control pills - SBS News

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