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Weight Gain and Birth Control

Does Birth Control Cause Weight Gain?

Millions of women in the U.S. take hormonal birth control to prevent unintended pregnancy and alleviate adverse health conditions and side effects. There are many different types of birth control, and every woman will respond differently to each one. For hormonal contraceptive methods, there are a few birth control side effects that women need to be aware of before starting the pill, such as water retention, bloating, and weight gain.

What are the different types of hormonal birth control that can potentially cause weight gain?

Non-hormonal birth control methods will not affect someone’s weight. But some hormonal contraceptives can cause many different side effects.

  • The birth control pill
  • Hormonal IUD
  • Birth control patches
  • Birth control shots
  • The vaginal ring

Copper IUDs and barrier methods will not cause side effects commonly associated with more popular hormonal birth control products.

Can birth control cause weight gain, or is it a myth?

Unfortunately, there is a slight connection between weight gain and starting hormonal birth control. Not every woman will experience this side effect, but excess weight can cause other health problems and also affect someone’s self-esteem. It’s important to be aware of the risks.

What is the primary reason why birth control causes weight gain?

In most cases, birth control can promote water retention, which increases the number on the scale and also gives the appearance of excess weight. In some cases though, birth control pills can also increase appetite and cause a woman to consume excess calories, leading to weight gain. If birth control pills are causing water retention, stopping the pills will reverse this side effect and lead to weight loss.

Which types of birth control are more responsible for weight gain side effects than others?

Birth control pills prevent ovulation and trick the body into thinking it is already pregnant. Excess estrogen in birth control pills is the primary vehicle for preventing ovulation and making the body think it has already conceived.  But estrogen causes the body to retain water.

Water retention occurs when renin-angiotensin, a compound that the kidneys create, is stimulated via excess estrogen circulating throughout the body. The higher the amount of estrogen in a birth control pill, the more water a woman will retain while taking the pill.

Most birth control pills contain between 30 and 50 micrograms of estrogen and will promote higher levels of water retention than pills with lower levels. For women who are concerned about water retention and weight gain, they can benefit from a low-dose estrogen pill, containing around 20 micrograms of estrogen.

Some birth control pills, like Yaz, contain drospirenone, a progestin component. Drospirenone acts as a diuretic, and won’t cause a woman to retain water. However, women who have a history of blood clots, high blood pressure, adrenal disease, and take NSAIDS frequently should not take Yaz.

It’s also important to note that individual differences will account for weight gain when taking birth control. Some women are more prone to water retention than others, and birth control can worsen this natural tendency. Once a woman starts her period while on birth control, however, water retention will subside.

The birth control shot is designed to last for three months. As a result, birth control shots can cause the most significant amounts of weight gain from retained water. Women who are already prone to water retention may want to steer clear of birth control shots and go with low-dose estrogen pills, or non-hormonal birth control instead.

What types of birth control stimulate appetite?

Some birth control pills can cause women to feel hungrier than usual, which can lead to excess calorie consumption and weight gain. Unlike water retention, this type of weight gain is much harder to get rid of and is more permanent. It can be incredibly hard to make smart diet choices when a person is experiencing cravings for calorie-dense foods thanks to hormones.

Certain oral contraceptives increase insulin levels. High levels of insulin cause any calories obtained from carbohydrates to be converted into fat cells. Women who already have abnormal glucose metabolism are at high-risk of experiencing this side effect.

The types of hormonal birth control that are the biggest culprits for appetite stimulation are, again, pills with higher levels of estrogen. Low dose estrogen pills do not cause significant increases in appetite and insulin levels. For women who do experience weight gain on the pill, the average weight gained is 4.4 pounds within 12 months on a progestin-only pill.

Also, if a woman experiences significant weight gain after taking the pill, the pill isn’t necessarily to blame. It’s possible that another health issue is causing weight gain, and it’s crucial that women speak to their doctor if this happens. Cushing’s Syndrome, thyroid disorders, and diabetes can cause sudden, unexplained weight gain.

Can birth control help women lose weight?

Birth control pills won’t decrease appetite or improve a woman’s metabolism. However, some birth control options can prevent water retention and also act as a diuretic, which can give women who would otherwise retain water a slimmer appearance.

The birth control pill Yasmin is the only pill that has this effect. It is not marketed as a weight loss pill, and women can only expect to lose maybe a pound or two in excess water. As always, making smarter diet choices and exercising are the only ways to prevent weight gain or promote weight loss.

For women who are concerned about water retention and bloating while on birth control, they should try low-dose estrogen pills and steer clear of birth control shots. A woman may need to try a few different types of pills before finding one that works for her lifestyle and physiology. Some women may not like the side effects of hormonal birth control and may need to stick with barrier methods or use a non-hormonal IUD.

If you’re curious about hormonal birth control pills that do not cause water retention, it’s important to speak to your doctor to explore your contraceptive options.