From the age of consent we’re told to “be safe”, “use protection” and consider going on the pill, as if it were absolutely normal to alter our natural cycle in order to prevent pregnancy. Not only that, but the pill is also being used to treat various hormone related issues from acne, painful periods, irregular menstruation, PMS, and acne to name a few.
I think it’s time to uncover that what we think of as perfectly normal and safe, should actually come with a few warning signs. (Please note… implants and depo injections- you’re definitely not off the hook!)
How Does The Pill Work?
Contraceptive pills are essentially a combination of synthetic versions of oestrogen and progesterone. They work by convincing the body that it’s pregnant, preventing follicular development and ovulation. They also work to thicken cervical mucus, preventing sperm from getting where it needs to, and thinning uterine lining to prevent implantation. Whilst there’s no denying that this is extremely clever, it’s vital to know that any bleeding you experience on the pill or between cycles is NOT a real period. When ovulation is stopped, our natural hormones progesterone and oestradiol are not made, which can have a profound impact on our metabolism, mood, libido and overall health.
Negative Effects of The Pill
Sadly there are many side effects of taking the pill and having implants, and they can cause some issues further down the line. Here is what you need to be aware of:
- The Pill Can Deplete Nutrients
It’s been found that on taking oral contraceptives, essential nutrients like B6, B12, folate, magnesium and zinc can become depleted, which are vital for a healthy menstrual cycle. This is why some women can experience irregular cycles or amenorrhea after stopping the pill. Other nutrients that become effected are riboflavin, selenium (important for the thyroid), and vitamin C.
In my practice it’s very common to see clients who had perfectly normal cycles before taking the pill and then their health taking a nose- dive a few years later.
- Digestion Can Become Disrupted
There’s now evidence to support the idea that the pill can affect gut microbiota, which can in turn create all sorts of digestive issues from bloating, gas and even inflammation. Additionally, gut flora determines how successfully excess oestrogen is removed from the body, so a poorly functioning gut can lead to high levels of circulating hormones. Your gut bacteria can additionally determine how you utilise calories from food, potentially leading to unwanted weight gain on top of everything else!
- Mood Can Sink To An All Time Low
Depression and birth control have a very strong link, with researchers suggesting that the stress response can become much more sensitive after being on the pill. Interestingly, the implant or the Mirena IUD, which are progestin-only have the highest association with depressive moods. It’s important to note that our fabulous, natural progesterone, that our own body makes, has actually been shown to improve brain functioning and cognition, again highlighting the difference between our hormones and synthetic versions.
- Low Libido Is Common
One of the ‘benefits’ of taking the pill can be to aid skin acne by decreasing testosterone levels, however, the down side of this is that low testosterone is associated with low libido, vaginal dryness and a condition called vaginismus which can cause painful intercourse. Women on the pill also report having less sex and fewer orgasms, so it’s worth baring in mind if your sex life just doesn’t seem quite up to scratch!
- Natural Beauty Can Suffer
As mentioned above, disrupted gut flora can affect how calories are utilised from food, but not only that, the pill has been linked to insulin resistance and sugar cravings, which in itself can lead to weight gain. Another reason why our natural hormones win here is that oestradiol can actually help with blood sugar balancing… i.e. they can almost have the exact opposite result as the synthetic stuff!
As another comparison, synthetic progesterone and high androgen contraceptives can lead to hair loss, compared to our natural progesterone which can promote hair growth!
What Are The Solutions?
Firstly, I would suggest talking to your doctor and trying to find a much less invasive method of contraception if you want your health to be in better shape.
If you are suffering from menstrual pain, menstrual irregularity, or skin issues then work with a functional medicine practitioner to really get to the route of what’s going on, rather than focusing on the symptoms with contraceptives.
Other pregnancy prevention methods include:
- Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) (there are some great apps available making it much more easy to know when you’re fertile or not)
- Pull out method
- Copper Intrauterine device (IUD) – made from copper and plastic. The copper impairs sperm motility and it’s presence can prevent implantation BUT this is at the risk of heavier periods, more pain, and potential copper toxicity.
Secondly, I would address nutrient deficiencies by taking a good multi- vitamin, complete with vitamin B6, B12 and folate (NOT folic acid!). You could also target your gut health by adding in a probiotic or naturally fermented foods (unless you have issues with histamine of course), to help combat the effects of changing gut flora.
Supporting detoxification is also vital if you’re coming off the pill, as you’ll want to help remove the synthetic hormones as quickly as possible. Detoxification takes place in the liver, so using herbs like milk thistle, garlic and eating cruciferous veggies can really help support this process.
For extra support in coming off the pill or balancing your hormones, please get in touch as I’d love to chat to you!