Birth Control: Does it Make You Gain Weight? 

Dr. Christopher McGowan
August 4, 2022

Birth control in one form or another has been around since antiquity, but it was only in the 20th century that it became safe, effective, and widely available. Beyond its core function of preventing an unplanned pregnancy, birth control medication has been additionally used for the treatment of menstruation symptoms and some health conditions specific to women. Yet as useful—and in some ways life-changing—as birth control can be, there are also some possible side effects. One side effect some women have experienced is weight gain. 

Common Birth Control Methods  

Birth control (also known as contraception) is a fairly broad term that can refer to a variety of different approaches. Women (and men) now have numerous methods of birth control to choose from that fit different bodies, lifestyles, and stages of life. Below is a list of some of the most common types of birth control: 

  • Permanent: Permanent birth control refers to surgical procedures that prevent pregnancy from being possible. For women, this is called bilateral tubal ligation—or having one’s “tubes tied;” in this procedure, the fallopian tubes are either severed or removed to prevent an egg from traveling to the uterus. For men, the procedure is called a vasectomy and involves cutting and tying the vas deferens in the penis so that sperm cannot leave the body.   
  • Pills: Birth control pills are a type of hormonal contraceptive and one of the most common forms of birth control. Women take a pill once a day, and it releases hormones that inhibit pregnancy by preventing eggs being released by the ovaries and the thickening of the uterine wall. The two main options are a progestin-only contraceptive pill (a synthetic version of progesterone) or a combined pill that has progestin and estrogen.  
  • IUD: An intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, T-shaped object that is inserted into the uterus. There are two main types: the non-hormonal copper IUD releases copper ions that are toxic to sperm; the hormonal IUD is made of plastic, and it releases progestin which prevents ovulation at the same time as preventing the thickening of the uterine wall.  
  • Implant: This type of hormonal contraceptive involves a small tube being placed under the skin on the woman’s non-dominant arm. Implants last for three years, gradually releasing progestin into the bloodstream to prevent the release of eggs.
  • Injection: Though less common, another option is a birth control shot that is administered once every three months. This injection contains medroxyprogesterone (Depo-Provera), a hormonal medication that has the same effect as progestin in preventing the ovaries from releasing eggs and making the uterus more difficult for sperm to enter.  
  • Vaginal ring: A vaginal ring is made of flexible silicone and is inserted into the vagina for three weeks each month. During that time, the ring releases hormones that prevent pregnancy.   
  • Patch: A contraceptive patch is similar to other hormonal methods in that, when applied to the skin, hormones are released into the body to prevent pregnancy. A patch lasts for one week before being replaced.  
  • Condom: A male condom is typically a latex sheath that fits over the penis and prevents sperm from entering the vagina. A female condom is similar in function but fits inside the vagina. Unlike most other forms of birth control, condoms can also prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Diaphragms and cervical caps are also inserted into the vagina and act as a barrier against sperm, but they don’t include protection from STIs. 

Birth Control and Weight Gain  

The wide variety of birth control methods give women many options for meeting their personal needs and lifestyle preferences. For the most part, non-hormonal birth control has few side effects other than occasional irritation related to the insertion of a device or barrier. Hormonal birth control, on the other hand, has been shown to cause mild nausea, headaches, breast tenderness, decreased sex drive, missed periods, or mood changes. These side effects are largely a factor of oral contraceptives that are taken daily.    

One other side effect of birth control that some women have reported is weight gain. Researchers have looked into whether there is a connection between birth control pills and weight gain, but so far there is no real evidence for a strong link. Rather, the reason some women experience weight gain is related to the effects of progestin and estrogen; these hormones have been known to cause the body to retain more salt than normal. This can then lead to additional water to be drawn into tissues around the body and create a feeling of bloating. This kind of fluid retention can also cause body weight to be temporarily higher. 

There is also some evidence for weight gain related to two other forms of birth control: the birth control implant and the birth control shot. In a study of the medroxyprogesterone acetate injection, women gained an average of 11 pounds and 3.4% more body fat over a period of three years. Research into the birth control implant showed an average gain of three pounds over a similar time frame. In both cases, doctors can’t currently explain why the weight gain occurred, and therefore more research is needed.       

Managing Weight Gain Related to Birth Control         

The bottom line: research indicates that most weight gain associated with birth control can be explained by water retention due to an increase in levels of estrogen and progestin in the body. This is normal, however, and will most likely go away over time. Extra water weight can be somewhat mitigated by minor lifestyle changes like drinking more water, consuming less salt, and increasing regular physical activity levels. In cases where bloating or swelling are especially unwelcome, diuretics can also cause the body to excrete more water through the urine. 

How to Achieve Long-Term Weight Loss

The truth is that most weight gain of any significant amount is more likely to be the result of consuming more calories than are burned through exercise and normal bodily functions. This is the main reason why over 40% of adults in the United States are either overweight or obese. At the same time, more people than ever are attempting to lose weight, usually by adopting strict diets or unsustainable exercise regimens. 

If you’ve been attempting to lose weight through traditional methods without much success, you’re not alone. At True You Weight Loss, we understand the challenges of the weight loss journey, and we want to help you find a new path with a new approach. Our non-surgical weight loss procedures are designed to help you finally find the freedom you’ve been seeking by offering long-term solutions that help you lose weight and keep it off. If you’d like to learn more about what we offer and how we can help, please contact us today to request a consultation.

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan
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