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Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1992 Oct;167(4 Pt 2):1177-84.

The metabolic impact of oral contraceptives.

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  • 1Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley 94720.


The hormonal components of oral contraceptives exert major effects on plasma lipoprotein metabolism. Estrogens may increase production of plasma triglycerides, leading to increased levels of very low-density lipoproteins, but they may also reduce levels of cholesterol-enriched and potentially atherogenic intermediate- and low-density lipoproteins. Furthermore, estrogens increase levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs), particularly the HDL2 subspecies, an effect linked to reduced mortality rates from cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women receiving hormone replacement therapy. All combination oral contraceptives in use in the United States tend to raise levels of plasma triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein, and HDL3 to varying degrees. In contrast, changes in HDL and HDL2 reflect the combined effects of estrogen dose and relative androgenicity of the progestin component. Although in general, the lipoprotein changes are greater in magnitude with higher dose oral contraceptive preparations, they can be significant in lower dose preparations as well. Oral contraceptives also affect carbohydrate metabolism, primarily through the activity of progestin. Studies have demonstrated insulin resistance, rises in plasma insulin, and relative glucose intolerance by means of curve analysis of glucose tolerance tests. These effects are far less pronounced with lower dose preparations and with formulations using the newer progestins.

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