Estrogen is often considered a crucial ingredient in birth control pills — yet, did you know that some pills contain low levels of the hormone or even no estrogen at all?
Low-estrogen birth control pills can be an excellent option for women who are not well-suited for regular-dose estrogen pills. These pills work the same as regular dose pills and can provide effective contraception and menstrual cycle regulation.
This article discusses everything you need to know about low-estrogen birth control pills, including brands available in Canada.
Many birth control pills contain two main hormones — estrogen and progesterone.
For some women, a high dose of estrogen is unsuitable due to certain health conditions or lifestyle habits. As such, some alternatives contain lower doses of estrogen and are called low-estrogen birth control pills.
Low estrogen pills work the same as regular dose estrogen pills by inhibiting the ovaries from releasing an egg, thickening the cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching an egg, and thinning the lining of the uterus to prevent egg implantation.
The main difference between low estrogen birth control pills and regular-dose pills is that low-dose pills are more suitable for women with certain health conditions, like high blood pressure.
Some low-dose pills contain no estrogen, such as the mini-pill containing only progestin.
Women over a certain age or with a high risk of developing high blood pressure or heart-related conditions may prefer non-estrogen pills.
Every birth control pill will have a varying level of estrogen and other hormones, depending on the brand.
In Canada, regular-dose estrogen-containing birth control pills typically have between 35 to 40 mcg of ethinyl estradiol per pill.
Low estrogen pills generally have 10 to 30 mcg of ethinyl estradiol.
The highest dose of estrogen found in pills available in Canada is 40mcg, found in a multi-phasic birth control pill called Triquilar.
You can receive the lowest estrogen dose in Canada in estrogen-containing pills is ten mcg.
However, some low estrogen pills may have up to 30 mcg of estrogen per pill, depending on the brand. A healthcare practitioner can help you determine which dose is best for you.
As we have covered, women with certain health conditions or lifestyle habits can be ill-suited for regular-dose estrogen-containing pills.
This may include women who:
Low estrogen pills' effectiveness is considered around the same as regular ones.
With typical use, the effectiveness of all hormonal birth control pills is 91%, while with perfect use, it is 99.7%. Typical use is consistent use with an occasional forgotten or late pill. Perfect use is taking the pill simultaneously every day and never missing a pill or taking a pill late.
Low estrogen birth control pills have many of the same benefits as other pills.
These benefits can include the following:
If a low estrogen pill is taken continuously without a hormone-free interval, these pills can also prevent your period from occurring. Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before skipping a planned hormone-free interval.
An unexpected pregnancy is the most significant risk with low estrogen birth control.
When birth control pills are taken continuously without a hormone-free interval, the user may not have a regular monthly period. As a result, a pregnancy may go undetected for several weeks or months since the user is not interpreting the lack of a period as a sign of pregnancy.
For this reason, some women prefer a seven-day hormone-free interval to allow their regular period to occur.
Additionally, any estrogen-containing birth control pill may increase the risk of high blood pressure. A non-estrogen, progestin-only birth control pill may better suit anyone at risk of this condition.
Like any medication, some side effects can occur when starting your prescription.
These side effects may include:
Most side effects should go away after a couple of months of taking the pill. If your side effects persist beyond 2 to 3 months or worsen in severity, contact your healthcare practitioner immediately.
The BC Drug & Poison Information Centre provides a complete list of all the hormonal and non-hormonal birth control agents available in Canada.
In this list, you can find the following low estrogen birth control options (listed here in order of lowest dose to highest dose):
The progestin-only birth control pills available in Canada include:
Aside from hormonal birth control pills, there are a variety of other birth control methods to choose from.
Some can be used in tandem with birth control pills (like condoms), while others are meant as an alternative to birth control pills (like IUDs).
These birth control methods include:
Sex & U — an initiative of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada — offers excellent educational resources on both hormonal birth control and non-hormonal birth control methods available in Canada.
When it comes to which birth control pill (or birth control alternative) is right for you, it highly depends on factors such as age, pre-existing health conditions, and lifestyle habits.
The best way to choose the ideal birth control option that meets your needs is to speak with a healthcare practitioner. Professional guidance will thoroughly assess your needs before any prescription is given.
If you are curious about low estrogen pills, mention this to your healthcare practitioner at your next visit or consultation.
Having open and honest conversations with your healthcare practitioner about your health and goals is essential — especially when seeking a birth control prescription.
Here are some essential questions to consider and ask your healthcare practitioner about:
No, not all types of birth control pills are suitable for everyone.
Some women are incompatible with estrogen-containing pills due to certain health conditions, age, and lifestyle habits.
No, low-dose estrogen pills are not less effective.
These pills have the same effectiveness as regular-dose estrogen pills.
Most birth control pills can cause minor weight gain when starting the prescription.
If your weight gain is extreme and persistent, contact your healthcare practitioner immediately about this — you may want to switch to a pill or other birth control option that is more compatible with your body’s needs.
Low estrogen birth control pills can be an excellent option for women who experience unwanted side effects from estrogen or have health conditions or lifestyle habits that are not suitable for estrogen.
Get started with Felix today to discuss what birth control options may suit you.
The views expressed here are those of the author and, as with the rest of the content on Health Guide, are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare practitioner.