Should Climbers Take Oral Contraceptives?

Birth control pills contain estrogen, and this affects tendons and ligaments, which complicates the simple conclusion that hormonal contraceptives are bad for athletes.

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Let’s cut to the chase: For many girls and women, training or performing on your period sucks.

Menstruation can affect your weight, mood and ability to perform. When symptoms land on game day, they’re usually unwelcome. For decades, to mitigate these symptoms and even to avoid otherwise unfortunate timing, many women athletes have used hormonal contraception. Contraceptives can alleviate cramps, regulate and lighten periods and even clear up skin.

But introducing extraneous hormones into the body can be troubling for a host of reasons. For an athlete, the effects of estrogen go far beyond developing boobs and regulating a monthly cycle. Estrogen can impact overall performance by impacting recovery, rate of injury and power.

Seeking information on whether supplementing estrogen is good or bad for athletes, Gym Climber interviewed Keith Baar, Ph.D., a professor of Physiology and Behavior at UC Davis and renowned expert in tendon health. Baar has published 168 papers, totalling nearly 8,000 citations throughout his career. One of his studies, published early in 2019 in Frontiers in Physiology, directly addressed the role of hormonal contraception and athletic development.

In Effect of Estrogen on Musculoskeletal Performance and Injury Risk, Baar and Nkechinyere Chidi-Ogbolu, a Ph.D. student at UC Davis, discussed the role estrogen plays in the development of muscle, tendons and ligaments and thus, athletic development and performance. The simple answer: it’s complicated. …

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