Metabolic effects of oral contraceptives: fact vs. fiction

Contracept Rep. 1996 Jan;6(6):4-14.


PIP: Many studies show that low-dose OCs have little adverse effect on carbohydrate metabolism and are safe for healthy women, women with a history of gestational diabetes, and women with insulin-dependent diabetes to use. In fact, large epidemiologic studies indicate that OCs, even the high-dose OCs (=or 50 mcg) for long periods, do not increase the risk of diabetes. There is some evidence indicating that OC use does not heighten the progression of diabetic retinopathy, nephropathy, or cardiovascular complications among women with insulin-dependent diabetes. There is no significant difference in carbohydrate metabolism among the different OC formulations. One must carefully consider the risk:benefit ratio of OC use in diabetic women since pregnancy has serious consequences for both mother and fetus. Cardiovascular complications in OC users do not originate from atherogenesis. The androgenic properties of the progestin in low-dose OCs and their effect on lipids are inconsequential for later development of coronary atherogenesis. The estrogen in OCs may protect against atherosclerosis, particularly among women at high risk of atherosclerosis. Former OC users are not at an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, or other heart disease. Lipid changes in OC users tend to remain within the normal range and return to pretreatment values during the pill-free week. All OCs suppress gonadotropins and subsequent ovarian androgen production. They partially suppress androgen production by the adrenals as well. This suppression from two fronts outweighs any androgenic action of the progestin alone. Further, androgenic action probably cannot overpower the estrogen effect. The dose of levonorgestrel used in OCs is too low to express androgenic effects. Since OCs suppress androgen production, all OCs tend to improve acne. OCs reduce free testosterone and increase sex hormone binding globulin levels.

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris*
  • Biology
  • Carbohydrates*
  • Contraception
  • Contraceptives, Oral
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Combined*
  • Dermatitis
  • Diabetes Mellitus*
  • Disease
  • Family Planning Services
  • Glucose*
  • Lipids*
  • Metabolism
  • Physiology


  • Carbohydrates
  • Contraceptives, Oral
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Combined
  • Lipids
  • Glucose