The Pill: What Your Doctor Isn't Telling You
*Disclosure: some of the links on this page are affiliate links. If you'd like to learn more about what that means and my standards of recommendations, please read my full Affiliate Disclosure.ALRIGHT LADIES. Yes, let's ruffle some feathers and get into this. I'm stoked. Partly because I'm slightly majorly caffeinated, but MOSTLY because I am super passionate about opening this dialogue about birth control pills, and the effects they have on our body and mind. Also, I love blowing up myths that doctors seem to unknowingly perpetuate—always.
Please note: this is NOT to shame anyone on the pill or demonize it in any way, I fully support our right to make informed choices about the best birth control option for our individual bodies. As my girl crush, Dr. Jolene Brighten puts it “I am not anti-birth control, I am PRO informed consent”. But, in order for you to make these choices, you actually have to be INFORMED, which we often are not when we get prescribed the pill for everything from acne, to PMS, to pregnancy prevention. I seek to give you facts most medical professionals aren’t telling you so YOU can make an informed decision that is best for YOU and YOUR BODY (Yes its an all caps kind of post guys).
In today's world, girls as young as 13 are prescribed a form of the pill for anything from acne or cramps to simple ‘menstrual discomfort’. Despite its name, more than half of users are actuallynot prescribed the pill for protecting against unwanted pregnancy,but instead mostly for hormonal symptoms causing pain and frustration. The CDC estimates around10.6 million women use oral contraception in the U.S. alone. The normalcy with which women are recommended and taking the pill are staggering, mostly when considering how little they’re told about it.
Though the pill has been shown to help—not heal—menstrual symptoms like heavy bleeding and cramping, many doctors fail to inform their patients of the likely side effects, some of which include increased cancer risk, Depression, decreased ability for blood clotting and….wait for it….Loss of sex drive.
1. Nutrient Depletion
It is well documented that The Pill (no matter what form) is depleting of many key nutrients your body needs to function well. As a matter of fact, it is MOST depleting of the nutrients your body needs desperately in the beginnings of conception. Take Folate: a necessary nutrient needed in the first trimester to develop healthy brain and nerve functioning for the baby. A lack of which can cause spinal cord defects and insufficient brain development. This is a major problem when I see women stop the pill because they want to get pregnant, but are in the worst possible nutrient state to be growing a developing fetus and baby brain!
The pill also critically depletes B vitamins, particularly B12, B6, and B2; all of which are crucial for energy metabolism (think weight, mood, physical energy) and have been shown to be in drastically depleted levels even MONTHS after stopping the pill. The pill has also been proven to deplete minerals like Selenium (which are crucial for thyroid health) and important antioxidants like Vitamin E.
If you are on the pill or have been on it at all in your lifetime, I HIGHLY recommend supplementing with a food grade B vitamin complex (I personally takethis one). And if you are considering trying to conceive, I recommend taking a methylated folate asap (this one is phenomenal).
2. Higher Risk for Cancer
Different pills have been associated with raising risks inbreast cancer (particularly high progesterone pills). Ovarian,cervical, uterine, and evenliver cancer risks are all higher in women taking oral contraception.
3. Lower Hormone levels post-pill
The synthetic hormones in the pill up-regulate our Thyroid and Sex Hormone Binding Globulin. What are these? These are basically little guys that bind with thyroid hormones and testosterone when they think there are too much in the body, and dispose of them or render them useless. In a well-oiled machine, they are the security guards making sure our hormone levels don’t get too high or go off the deep end. On the pill, we see women’s levels of these dudes increase a TON because your body is trying to react and adjust to the influx of synthetic hormones.
Unfortunately, when you go off the pill,Studies have shown that your body won’t return to normal SHBG levels even months after stopping the pill. (Considering these studies stop at 4 months post-pill only, I would bet the effects extend even longer than just months).
This means that your body is sending out way more security guards than necessary and getting rid of critical Testosterone and Thyroid hormones. Both of which are necessary to have a sex drive, build muscle, have energy, control your mood and weight, regulate temperature, and not lose all your hair!
This explains the most common complaint from women who go off the pill and feel like their body and mind goes crazy, to which they freak out and think the solution is to go back on the pill (spoiler alert: it's not). You will continue to see a rise in Thyroid and SHBG and will continue to do damage to your hormone levels in the long run.
4. Increased risk of Blood Clots
One of the first major discoveries of the pill is its effect on blood clotting. It has been linked to strokes, heart attacks, excessive clotting, and pulmonary embolisms.
5. Disrupts the Gut Microbiome
Remember my last post when we talked all about poop?! When we discussed the bacteria bouncing around in your gut involved in everything from immunity to mood to hormonal balance? WELLLL, the pill really messes with their mojo. Meaning, all the effects that happen when your gut is imbalanced that I talked about last weekare fair game: skin issues, weight disruption, anxiety, depression, GI symptoms, muscle weakness, suppressed immunity, etc.
Your gut also has a DIRECT relationship to your hormone balance--it’s #1 role when it comes to hormones? DETOXIFICATION. Your gut has to take ALL the hormones you make/use and excrete them. If your gut microflora isn't balanced or your poop isn't healthy, solid, and regular, that means your used estrogen and testosterone are getting absorbed BACK in the body. This is BAD. This can contribute to a very common condition called Estrogen Dominance, which is linked to Ovarian cysts, PCOS, weight gain, irritability, andhorrible PMS. You only want fresh, new hormones floating around, not the used up ones that have been around the block a few times.
6. Exacerbation of Mood Disorders like Anxiety or Depression
As just mentioned, the pill can wreak havoc on your gut health, and since your mental health is directly associated with your gut health, you can see how that is problematic for us folks who struggle with anxiety or depression.
Gut aside, there are staggering statistics linking many different birth control pills to higher rates of Depression and Anxiety. Studies have shown women on the pill have higher instances of Depression than those who aren’t. Also, 13 prospective trials present the case that any woman with a psychiatric personal or family history of mental illness (aka most of us) should be advised to be extra cautious when considering the pill. This warning also applies to any women with a history of Premenstrual Mood Symptoms, as they are at a higher risk for mental illness on the pill.
All those with PMS breakdowns and mood swings, SAY I.
7. Often makes the original symptoms worse in the long run
This. This right here is actually my BIGGEST concern for women going on the birth control pill for PMS symptoms, acne, heavy bleeding, or pretty much anything other than pregnancy prevention. Most women in this country have less than perfect hormones…And by less than perfect, I mean most of us have a such a shit show going on in our endocrine system right now we could make a profit selling tickets.
The vast majority of us struggle with things like mood swings, water retention, acne, anovulation (inability to ovulate), amenorrhea (missing or irregular periods), PCOS, cramps, bloating, extreme fatigue, cortisol resistance, etc. And, contrary to what our moms told us, this is not just “a part of being a woman”. These are SIGNS, signs our body is giving us to say “HEY GIRL. WHERE YOU BEEN. WE GOT SOME SERIOUS ISH TO WORK OUT.”. To which we only listen once our symptoms are invading our life enough to go to the doctor or dermatologist, and we get handed this pretty pink box with colorful pills that are supposed to make our uterus shut up and stop yelling at us...which, I mean, HELLO why wouldn't we? That sounds wonderful...
Until we realize birth control serves as a muffler for our bodies communication. It masks symptoms (your body’s way of telling you something's wrong) without ACTUALLY solving the problem that caused them in the first place. So, your imbalances and underlying ailments just keep getting worse and worse secretly, while you rely on the synthetic hormones to get you through the day and keep your cramps at bay.
This is why I feel very strongly about prescribing birth control exclusively for hormonal symptoms. Mostly because you are told by your doctor that the pill can make you better:
THIS IS NOT TRUE OR SUPPORTED IN THE LITERATURE.
The pill can make your symptoms improve for however long you take the pill. But the underlying imbalance that is causing them will not be healed. As a matter of fact, I would bet money it will continue to get worse as you throw endogenous hormones into the mix.
Using the birth control pill for PMS, acne, or other hormonal symptoms is essentially a band-aid solution. What you need are strategies to heal the wound, not a piece of tape to cover it up so you don’t see it. (Psst….I give you some at the end of this article!)
8. Compromised fertility post-pill
I know for many of us, we are not even close to thinking about having a baby. However, I say this to all my clients and I'll say this here: BABIES ARE NOT THE ONLY REASON YOU WANT TO BE FERTILE.
For us, amazing women, fertility or lack thereof can serve as a very clear sign of our state of health. Being fertile, whether you want to have a baby now, in 5 years, or never, affects the well-being of every other system in our body. Balanced and vital hormones are integral to our immunity, our gut function, our skin health, etc. Therefore, knowing The Pill impedes on your fertility is not just a conception issue.
While taking the pill, it is very common for women’s bodies to stop producing THEIR OWN hormones because they become dependent on the endogenous ones they were taking. This presents a major issue when you stop the pill and, depending on how long you were on it, can have a very long road ahead of you to get your body back to producing its own hormonal symphony. This is a hard reality many women face as they stop the pill to conceive and, unfortunately, their bodies aren't on the same page.
Healing your body and getting it to not only produce its own hormones but in enough of a balance to optimize fertility takes time and guided healing.
HOW TO HEAL POST PILL
1. Don't go cold turkey
For all my ladies still on the pill and figuring out how to best go off of it: WEANING IS YOUR FRIEND. I suggest dropping down the dose of your prescription over the course of a couple MONTHS. Start by taking ⅔ a pill each day, then the next month do half a pill, then the third month do ⅓ a pill. Then stop. This can help minimize the chaos that ensues when we stop cold turkey.
Do this in combination with the next steps and you will be much better off. Trust me.
2. Support your Liver
After stopping/weaning off birth control, you are going to have some serious detoxing to do. Your liver is going to be working in overdrive to rid your body of the synthetic hormones; this is necessary and good news, as it takes you closer to achieving your natural balance of hormones. Make sure to support your liver with targeted foods:
Dandelion Root ( I drink This incredible Liver detoxing tea every day! bonus: It tastes like coffee)
grass-fed liver (or if that's a bit much for you, these desiccated liver pills)
pasture raised eggs (EAT THE YOLK!)
cruciferous veggies like Brussel sprouts, kale, and broccoli
3. Support your Gut
The liver has to have an exit avenue to dump all the toxins and hormones it's filtering through, and you know where that is? YUP, you guessed it. The liver dumps them right into the colon, where you *hopefully* poop it out with regularity. In order for this process to run smoothly, your gut has got to be in tip-top shape, otherwise, the hormones get reabsorbed back into your blood which is...well...NO BUENO.
As I mentioned last week, my WH 5 Pillars for Healthy Digestion are
Remove Gut Inflaming Foods
Include Healing Foods Specific to the Gut
Support Stomach Acid
Test for Gut infections
To read about how to do these in detail,GO HERE:)
4. Focus on nourishment
When starting on any healing protocol, especially a Post-Pill rebalancing Hormones kinda one, it is critical for the terrain of your body to not be lacking in any of the vitamins and minerals it needs. Sure, as I go over the gut and liver, it's important to be supporting some of the key players, but your body is a WHOLE system whose success in healing depends on the entire machine running smoothly. So, focusing on basic--but CRITICAL--nourishment is important.
DO NOT RESTRICT YOUR CALORIES: when in doubt, in any protocol to jump start your hormone production, eat more rather than less. Your body is highly sensitive to starvation signals and the first thing to shut down is sex hormone production, which is actively what we're trying to encourage. This is NOT the time to be restrictively dieting (is there ever a time..really?). I know its tempting because a common side effect of the pill is weight gain, but trust me, if you don't give your body the nutrients and calories it needs to recover and support detoxification and hormone production, you will do more harm than good ON TOP OF damaging your metabolism in the long run. *If you need a little reminder as to why diets are not the answer, refer to my recent post all about diets HERE.
EAT PLENTY OF DIETARY FAT: A fun fact many women don't know is this: your body uses the cholesterol in dietary fat to build your sex hormones. This is why one of the most common side effects of low-fat diets is a loss of period because your body is unable to make estrogen and progesterone due to the restriction of cholesterol. Make sure you are getting plenty of Pasture-raised egg yolks, grass-fed red meat, olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter/ghee.
PRIORITIZE NUTRIENTS: Choose nutrient-dense foods as often as you can. Pile your plate high with dark leafy greens, pasture-raised animal proteins, starchy sweet potatoes and winter veggies, with decent helpings of healthy fat. In addition to this, there are particular nutrients I recommend supplementing with to help aid in your bodies recovery of the pill: VitaminD,B vitamin complex, Zinc, and probiotics.
*For a complete break down of the nutritional guidelines I use with clients (what to eat, what not to eat)GO HERE
5. Prioritize stress relief
Oh stress. We can't live with you and..... it feels impossible to live without you (mostly because you're so annoying and pop up all the time). I know stress in life is inevitable. LIFE IS HARD you guys. Shit happens.
I'm going to let you in on a little secret though: Stress Relief isn't about getting rid of all the stress in our life, it's about altering the way in which we react and cope with said stressful things.
Our perspective and coping mechanism is everything when it comes to our health. Cutting out toxic relationships and learning to say no are of course, crucial. But there are many things we cannot control in this world, so learning how to find Joy in the midst of suffering and Peace in the midst of the unknown is an endeavor worth pursuing, both for the sake of your body and mind.
When we are in the high-stress mode, our body goes through a process called Pregnenolone Steal, which is where it "steals" the materials we need to make sex hormones to instead make more stress hormones.
As you can see, stress relief is more than a necessary priority. If you want to read more about it, I also cover the topic of stress in Health Myth 4 HERE.
6. GET TESTED
If you have been doing all the above for a MINIMUM of 3 months, and don't see ANY improvement, I always recommend getting your levels actually tested. You can get a hormone panel done (tip: Also request a FULL thyroid cascade) with your local practitioner or order labs yourself. This website is a great company to order your own labs from. A little info about testing:
It is arguably pointless to get tested until at least a couple months after you stop birth control so you can get more of a semblance of your body's natural balance and give it time for the pill to leave your system
I recommend interpreting your own lab results, as the ranges most doctors use to interpret them are way too wide to actually be applicable. I would notice if my numbers were at the low or high end of any of the ranges listed.
GET A COPY OF YOUR LAB RESULTS: so you can do what I just said, and, its info about YOUR body. You deserve to have a copy.
Take into account where you are in your cycle: that will obviously affect what your optimal numbers should be, that info will be printed on the bottom right of your lab
(PSSST * For more practical, daily hormone balancing tips, follow my Instagram here.)
IF NOT THE PILL, THEN WHAT?
There are still those of us who aren't using the pill for hormonal symptoms, but actually for pregnancy prevention. Here are other options you have to the pill to consider:
Paraguard IUD (non-hormonal)
Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). Learn all about this in Taking Control of your Fertility, my all time favorite book!
Birth Control can create complicated effects in the body and requires PATIENCE to get your natural hormone cycle back on track. Remember that your healing journey is in proportion to how long you were on the pill. Longer time on the pill=longer journey back to natural hormone health. Give yourself grace and love as you allow your body to find its natural rhythm again. I promise it IS possible. If you find this all to be too confusing and want some guided help, find out how to work with meto have a partner in this process.
What was your experience with birth control? Have any more questions about how to heal your body post-pill? Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email in my Contact Page:)