(NaturalNews) Women who take oral contraceptives may have more plaque buildup in their arteries, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Ghent, Belgium, and presented at a conference of the American Heart Association.
Researchers conducted a long-term observational study on 1,300 healthy women living in the small town of Erpe-Mere, Belgium. Approximately 81 percent of participants had taken birth control pills for at least a year at some point in their lives, and 27 percent were currently taking the contraceptives.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 80 percent of U.S. women use oral contraceptives at some point between the ages of 15 and 44. Current users are estimated to number 16 million.
The researchers conducted ultrasound examinations of the participants' leg and neck arteries to measure levels of plaque buildup. Every 10 years of oral contraceptive use was correlated with a 20 to 30 percent increase in plaque buildup.
According to lead researcher Ernst Rietzschel, the plaque buildup observed should be too small to lead to an increase in heart disease risk. But because any increase in plaque buildup is thought to place a person at risk, the study has caused some to call for new tests into the safety of oral contraceptives.
"It's incredible that a drug which has been taken by 80 percent of women ... is almost bereft of any long-term outcome safety data," Rietzschel said.
The researchers noted that many of the women in the study had taken first-generation birth control pills, which contain much higher levels of estrogen than the contraceptives currently prescribed. Because of the small size of the study, it was not possible to determine how the risk of plaque buildup might be affected by the type of birth control medication or when it was used.
According to Daniel Jones, president of the American Heart Association, more studies need to be done to confirm the current study's findings.