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According to a study by the Group Health Research Institute (GHRI) scientists, the use of birth control pills can reduce a woman’s bone density and may be a cause of osteoporosis.

The effects of the pill on bone health are varied, depending on the age of the user and the prescribed dose.  This difference in bone density between users and non-users was measurable after two years use.

The study focused on 14 to 18-year old women. Its aim was to determine if there were any changes in bone density once participants stopped taking the pill. Generally, a woman’s risk of fractures later in life is dependent upon the bone mass gained during her teenage years.

The study revealed that the use of oral contraceptives has a slight effect towards bone gain. However, it took a long time to improve bone density, and was dependent upon the dosage of hormones taken. An extensive experiment was done by measuring bone densities in 301 women 14-18 years old, as well as in 305 young adult women 19-30 years old. The bone densities of 389 women who were taking the contraceptive pill were compared against 217 women who were not using it. The age of the women and dosage of the hormones taken were also taken into account. The baseline bone density was recorded, and then updated every 6 months for between 2 and 3 years. However, 172 participants discontinued using the pill during the study, forcing the researchers to measure bone changes ahead of time.

The results revealed that after two years, the teenagers who took 30-35 mcg pills had 1% less gain in  bone density compared to those who didn’t take the pill. The young adult group (users and non-users of the pill) didn’t show any difference in bone density. At 12-24 months after discontinuing the use of oral contraceptives, the young adult women showed minor bone density losses in the spinal area compared to small gains among the women who hadn’t used the pill.

Further studies are recommended, particularly evaluating bone density changes after the pill has been discontinued for a long time, to show if it can truly be a cause of osteoporosis in the long run. Currently researchers encourage women to make informed choices. In choosing which contraceptive method to use, bone health should be one of the priorities to consider. 

According to GHRI Senior Investigator, Dr. Delia Scholes, women may maintain bone health by engaging in healthful activities that prevent complications and eliminate possible causes of osteoporosis, such as eating the right kind of food, engaging in weight-bearing exercises, and staying away from smoking and drinking.

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