This post is all about the problems associated with the birth control pill and more importantly, what you can do about some of the health issues it can cause, including digestive problems and nutritional deficiencies.
I spent well over a decade on different brands of oral contraceptives from Alesse to Ortho-Cyclen and more. And no, this wasn’t so I could avoid getting pregnant, instead, it was in an effort to “balance my hormones,” which unfortunately seems to be a standard practice in many western medical practices.
Guess where it got me? Feeling worse – the pills increased my incidence of headaches, anxiety, caused digestive problems and totally killed my sex drive. Of course, at the time I never in my wildest dreams thought the Pill and my health problems could possibly be linked, but they were.
Over 150 million women worldwide are on the birth control pill and many more are prescribed every single day as a way to relieve “symptoms".
As you may have read on Joyous Health before, the Truth About The Birth Control Pill is not the first thing your doctor typically advises you. They also don’t tell you about the side effects (aka risks) that are symptomatic of hormonal imbalance, perhaps they just don’t know.
Some common side effects of the pill include:
(Note: Originally I was going to copy and paste the side effects from the FDA but it would have made this post way too long. So here is a summary.)
The pill puts you at an increased risk of breast cancer, liver disease, cervical cancer and mood disorders (including depression and mood swings). There are cardiovascular risks as well, such deep vein thrombosis (DVT = blood clot). Even though these risks are lower, I’ve had two girlfriends that have both had to go off the pill because they developed blood clots and no, they didn’t smoke, weren’t overweight and had NO pre-existing medical conditions.
Of course, every pill may have a slightly different list of side effects, depending on the amount of synthetic hormones, so these more serious side effects listed above are subject to change.
But what about the benefits, we should also look at those too, right?
If you were actually told by your medical doctor the risks vs the benefits of the birth control pill, you would probably say no thanks.
So just how does the Pill work?
First, it’s important to understand the natural harmony of the body without the pill. Every month you ovulate and an egg will either be fertilized and implant itself in your thickened uterine lining, or it will shed along with your uterine lining.
The birth control pill throws a wrench in those plans by stopping you from ovulating due to the presence of synthetic estrogen. Your uterus still thickens with the expectation of an egg coming down the fallopian tube, but as your progress through the sugar pills in your birth control package, estrogen levels drop dramatically and you get your period.
Now, I’m not even going to get in to how horrendous it is that some doctors suggest women only take the sugar pill for four days or worse, continually take the pill and only go off every three months to menstruate. This is just totally wrong. Every month when you shed your uterine lining, you are actually detoxifying your body. This is absolutely essential for hormonal harmony.
The Pill forces your body into a specific hormonal cycle and there’s nothing natural about it.
Don’t worry if you have been taking the Pill for years to suppress bad PMS or acne, or you’ve been doing the “four periods per year method” as mentioned above. No matter where you’re at, it’s never too late for positive change.
Before I share supplements you should consider if you are taking the Pill, let me first start off by saying if you went on the Pill to manage symptoms like myself, it’s important to address the root cause of those symptoms, which can be hard to identify if you don’t first get off the pill.
I have four posts on balancing hormones I recommend you read:
Correct nutritional deficiencies the Pill has caused in your body.
The World Health Organization has strongly advised healthcare practitioners to recommend natural health supplements to women taking the Pill. But has your doctor ever told you to take a vitamin or mineral supplement?
If you take the Pill or if you’ve recently come off it, here’s what you need to be taking. Of course, talk to your natural healthcare practitioner, such as a certified nutritionist or naturopathic doctor to get brand and dosage recommendations.
The Pill depletes vitamins B2, B6, B12 and folic acid (folate). These nutrients have hundreds of functions in the body. The production of specific neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin (your brains “happy hormones”) are dependent on adequate amounts of B6. B12 deficiency manifests as anxiety, nervousness and tension. Lack of folate is linked to depression and neurological birth defects.
While supplementation is often important when dealing with specific health concerns, such as Pill-induced nutrient deficiencies, it's also important to eat lots of foods rich in the nutrients you might be missing. You can find folate in asparagus, as well as legumes like lentils and beans. You can get B6 in spinach, turkey and salmon and B12 in sardines, salmon and eggs.
The pill also depletes tyrosine, this amino acid and along with B vitamins are absolutely critical to prevent depression. The largest segment of the population who suffers from depression is of child-bearing age and millions upon millions of women of child-bearing age take the birth control pill. Coincidence? Perhaps not. Tyrosine is most abundant in animal foods such as dairy, beef, fish, lamb, chicken, turkey and smaller amounts can be found in plant-based foods such as nuts and seeds.
The pill depletes magnesium. Magnesium is needed for over 300 chemical reactions in the body. It maintains the nervous system function, keeps bones strong, supports a healthy immune system and the helps relax the heart muscle as it is the opposing mineral to calcium, which helps the heart contract. It is also essential for the production of energy and so much more. It's no surprise that many women complain of low energy and fatigue when taking the pill. Magnesium is easy to supplement. Again, as mentioned above it's best to talk to your natural healthcare practitioner regarding dosage and brand recommendations.
To get magnesium right from its nutritional source, make sure you're eating fish regularly, avocados, bananas, dark leafy greens like spinach and swiss chard, as well as seeds like pumpkin and sesame.
Your body only needs trace amounts of selenium for healthy reproduction, thyroid health and to help make antioxidant enzymes that protect your cells from damage. Selenium is considered a nutrient very important for cancer prevention. Under normal conditions, if you eat a wide variety of plant foods you likely get enough selenium, however, this may not be the case if you're taking the birth control pill. I would suggest taking a high-quality multivitamin to help fill in the nutrition gaps.
To get an extra daily dose of selenium, try eating brazil nuts, mushrooms, salmon and eggs.
Zinc is needed for the function of more than 100 enzymes and it's involved in more body functions than any other mineral. It's important for normal growth and development, the maintenance of body tissues, sexual function, the immune system, and detoxification. Carbohydrate metabolism is influenced by zinc, and zinc is needed for the synthesis of DNA, which aids our body's healing process. It is also essential for taste. I don't recommend supplementing zinc specifically because it can offset other minerals. However, due to mineral depletion in soil across the world, many experts believe that zinc deficiency is more common than once thought and therefore may be something to discuss with your health care practitioner.
Beef and lamb are excellent animal-based sources of zinc while spinach, nuts and seeds like pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and cashews are rich sources of zinc, as are legumes like chickpeas and lentils. Oysters are high in zinc but it is very important to make sure they are sourced sustainably and from a reputable source.
The pill affects your good bacteria and this may be one of the many reasons women on the pill often experience digestive problems. I recommend eating fermented foods daily and taking a high-quality probiotic.
Over the years I've worked with hundreds of clients and received countless emails from many of you letting me know the benefits you experienced when you went off the pill. And a common question I get is "how long will it take until I get my period again and balance my hormones"? It can take anywhere from 3 months to a year and sometimes longer if you aren't detoxing effectively for your hormones to balance out.
Wishing you joyous and balanced hormones!