Contraception, the pill, and weight gain
How different methods of contraception can affect your weight
Whether contraception makes you gain weight is a concern for many people. It’s commonly believed that some forms of contraception, particularly hormonal methods, do cause weight gain. But the truth is that it’s hard to say either way.
Each person has a different body, lifestyle, and level of health. How a type of contraception affects you will depend on these things. As people age, they often put on more weight. So, the longer you’re using contraception, the more weight you’re likely to gain naturally.
How contraception affects weight
There’s no research that directly links using contraception with gaining weight. It’s been found, though, that some contraception can change the way your body stores water, fat, and muscle, which can lead to weight changes in some people.
Contraceptives that contain oestrogen can make your body turn carbohydrates from your food into fat cells more quickly, and make your body store more fat. This was more of a problem in the past when contraceptives contained more oestrogen than they do today. The amount of oestrogen in today’s contraception is unlikely to cause long-term weight gain.
Contraceptives that contain progesterone may cause your body to retain more water than usual and increase your appetite for food. These changes may lead to weight gain over time.
People who are more likely to have diabetes might notice more changes in their weight than others when using hormonal birth control.
Combined hormonal contraceptives
Combined hormonal contraceptives contain lab-made versions of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone.
Studies have shown mixed reports on the effects of different brands of the combined contraceptive pill on weight changes.
Some studies found that compared to people not using any contraception, there was no clear weight gain. Other studies found that some people gained about 7% of their weight after 1 year, and some actually lost weight after a year.
Progesterone-only contraception tends to cause bloating and water retention at first, but that should go away in the long term.
The contraceptive injection has been shown to cause an increase in weight, especially around the tummy. Black people were also found to experience a larger gain in weight compared to other ethnicities using the same contraceptive injection.
But other studies showed no changes in weight as a result of using the shot when compared to using non-hormonal birth control methods. So there’s still no clear evidence linking the shot to weight gain.
Studies on weight gain when using hormonal (IUS) and copper (IUD) coils have shown mixed findings. Results show that people using both types of coil have experienced weight gain.
It’s possible that hormonal IUDs with lower doses of progesterone might cause less changes in weight, but studies are yet to confirm this.
What should I do if I think I’m gaining weight because of contraception?
If you think your contraception is making you gain weight, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor. They should be able to help you work out the cause.
A doctor may suggest a different contraceptive and ask you to keep an eye on any further changes in your weight over time.
There are a number of different reasons why people gain weight. Women usually gain about half a kilogram every year as they get older. Other common reasons for weight gain are changes to your lifestyle like what you eat and how much you exercise.
If you want to lose weight, you can start by cutting down on food and alcoholic and sugary drinks, and becoming more active by exercising regularly.
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Lopez, L. M. et al (2016). Progestin only contraceptives: effects on weight. Cochrane Database Syst rev. 28:8. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27567593/ [accessed 24th May 2019].
NHS (2018). Healthy weight. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight [accessed 24th May 2019].
NHS (2017). Combined Pill. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/combined-contraceptive-pill/#how-do-i-change-to-a-different-pill [accessed 24th May 2019].
Contraceptive pills are a reliable way of reducing your risk of getting pregnant from sex. ZAVA offers most common brands of pill, so you can order your preferred brand by visiting our contraceptive pill service page.