What Are in Placebo Birth Control Pills?

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Oral contraceptives are made of two types of pills: actives, which contain pregnancy-preventing hormones, and inactives, or placebos, which contain inert ingredients. Both kinds of pills look similar, but the active pills contain something very important: the active ingredients.

What Are Birth Control Placebo Pills?

  • Placebo birth control pills, or the last week of pills in a typical oral contraceptive regimen, look almost exactly like the active birth control pills, although they differ in color. Placebo pills are meant to be taken the week you have your period. These pills contain inert ingredients that have no affect the body and are meant only to be taken as reminders so that you do not forget to start a new pack of pills the following week.

Fillers

  • Fillers are products that are meant to add volume, or bulk up, the pill. Because the active ingredient in most pills is extremely tiny, fillers are added to give the pill sufficient size so that it can be taken by the person to whom it has been prescribed. Common fillers, including those in placebo birth control pills, are cellulose, sugars, lactose, whey, corn starch and yeast.

Binders

  • Binders are ingredients that help keep the pill from falling apart. They bind ingredients of the pill together in the same way an egg binds ingredients of a cake together during the baking process. Common binders include xanthan gum and natural resins.

Disintegrants

  • Disintegrants help pills, including birth control placebos, to dissolve in the stomach. Common disintegrants include crospovidone and gellan gum.

Coatings

  • Coatings such as shellac are used to keep the pill from disintegrating in the mouth or esophagus and to prevent patients from tasting or smelling the ingredients of the pill. Most pills, including most placebo birth control pills, are coated with shellac.

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