Women who took birth control pills at some point in their lives can expect to live longer, according to a 39-year study that shows those on the pill were less likely to die from heart disease, cancer or other ailments.
Published online March 11 in the British Medical Journal, the research began in 1968 and tracked 46,000 women—comparing death and disease rates between those who had taken the pills with those who never took them. Overall, use of oral contraceptives was linked to a 12 percent lower risk of dying from all diseases, along with a 15 percent reduction in death from cancer and a 25 percent decrease in death from heart attacks.
These findings are especially encouraging for women who took birth control pills during the 1960s and 1970s. “Many women, especially those who used the first generation of oral contraceptives many years ago, are likely to be reassured by our results,” note the researchers from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. “However, our findings might not reflect the experience of women using oral contraceptives today.”
That’s because the overall death risk was slightly higher among younger women who were recently on the pill, though the risk disappeared after about 10 years.
“This study indicates that concerns about heart attacks from oral contraceptives are not justified,” says Daniel R. Mishell, M.D. professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and editor of the medical journal Contraception, who was not involved in the study but has been following its progress for years. “Birth control pills do not accelerate atherosclerosis,” he notes.
David Plourd, M.D., an obstetrician at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego and another expert in contraception, says: “The findings in this study are consistent with my clinical impression that the birth control pill is a multivitamin for women that requires a prescription. Only one in 250 reproductive-aged women has a medical reason why they shouldn’t use it.”
Sid Kirchheimer writes about health and consumer issues.