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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.
Now that you're aware of some of the negative effects of the pill, you may want to consider some alternative forms of contraception. The Red Tent Sisters wrote a recent post you can check out here.
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!
Amen, Joy. How I wish I'd known this 10 years ago, now I'm working to clean up the aftermath. Thanks for helping to educate, I hope people start to get it.Reply
You are so welcome, Kaleigh! Wishing you all the best :) Heather- Joyous Health Team
A doctor prescribed me birth control pills when I was only 14! Also to "balance my hormones" and to clear my acne. It did help with the crazy unbalanced periods I was having, but twelve years later I still have acne. I was on various birth control pills for seven years, and I wish I had this knowledge then! I'm sure it will help a lot of women make better decisions for their bodies. Thank you, Joyous Health team, for informing and empowering people to make healthier choices!Reply
You are so welcome, Tabitha! Thanks for sharing your story. We know all too well just how frustrating it can be :/ Heather- Joyous Health Team
Great article. Due to breast cancer diagnosis I had to take myself off birth control and it didn't dawn on me at the time I had been on it for almost 25 years (only 36 at diagnosis) Doing my own research, I was horrified to realize how much my body was being depleted of important nutrients ... On top of that one tumour was found to be slightly estrogen dominant. 5 years post treatments I am greatful to no longer be one any birth control.Reply
Hi Deanna! Thanks for sharing your story :) I'm glad to hear you were doing your research. It's so important to know what we are putting into our bodies. Wishing you all the best!!! Heather- Joyous Health Team
As a doctor-in-training, I can certainly appreciate the information in this article, so thank you. It is important that women are aware of what they are putting in to their bodies and the effects it may cause (like you said, they aren't always made clear by doctors, especially the nutritional deficiencies). However, I feel as if this article presents oral contraceptives in a very negative and biased manner. it is important to be mindful of those who have no other option! :) I am very aware of both risks and benefits of taking the pill and I still choose to be on it. Long story short...the only other options I have are taking high doses of narcotics, being hospitalized once per month for excruciating pain and probably also getting narcotics, or undergoing a hysterectomy. The benefits of taking the pill far outweigh the risks (which I haven't experienced) in my situation and the pill has truly been life changing. It isn't always bad! It is important to know your body, what you're putting in to it, and the risks and benefits of doing so! Not everything is right for everyone :)Reply
Hi Paulette! Thanks for sharing, your input is appreciated. I'm glad to hear that you have found something that works for you. It's definitely important to educate yourself on what you are putting in your body and to explore alternative options before doing so. All the best with your studies :) Heather- Joyous Health Team
Thank you Joy, a great, well written article. I was on the pill for 5 years, and two years after coming off it I was diagnosed with beast cancer. I can't say for sure that the pill was solely responsible for my diagnosis as I do have family history (and I am building up the courage to undergo gene testing), but I do believe it didn't help. Given my family history, it begs the question why I even considered it in the first place. I was on a progestogen only pill (or the "mini pill") so misguidedly believed it was OK. The pill is just not OK at all, in any circumstance, and I hope more women become more informed about it through research and educating themselves on the very real risks through platforms such as yours.Reply
Hi Joanne! Thanks for reaching out and sharing your story. The best thing we can do is educate ourselves and I'm glad you found this helpful. Keep spreading the word! Wishing you joyous health and all the best :) Heather- Joyous Health Team
Hi Joy, I am curious to know what you would recommend as an alternative, more natural form of contraception for females?Reply
Hi Tanya! We've got an awesome blog post all about this that I think you will find helpful: http://www.joyoushealth.com/blog/2016/06/14/guest-post-safe-effective-alternatives-birth-control-pill/ :) Heather- Joyous Health Team
I wish more people would adhere to this. I've tried to tell people of the dangers of bcp and how it really does affect your body without you realizing it at times. Especially since most women don't take multi-vitamins in the first place so coupled that with the depletion of nutrients that bcp does to your body....disaster waiting to happen. Even if women are going to take bcp...at the very least please take multivitamins (preferably prenatal pills assuming that they have a higher amount of the nutrients). I say this because I recently got on bcp after 12 years of not being on them and I got off of them recently and my body was out of whack. I kept getting sick and I just felt weird. I turn people against bcp, but if you must please take muli-vitamins...Reply
Hey Chrystal, Thanks for sharing your story. You're so right! The more we can make the negative side effects of the birth control pill more well known, the more we can empower women to start making more health-supportive decisions for themselves :) Rachel - Joyous Health Team
I can't seem to be able to access the "four posts on balancing hormones"... I've tried from multiple devices and computers but the pages won't load. I'd love to read them.Reply
Hi Nancy, sorry about that! Here they are:
Happy Reading! :)
Thank you! :)
Hi Joy--Do you know why hormonal birth control causes nutrient depletion? Are nutrients depleted even with progestin-only birth control methods (mini pill, IUD, etc)? Thanks!Reply
Well, it depends on the specific nutrient you're asking about. Zinc is one of many nutrients depleted in with birth control use and that's likely because the pill is blocking absorption in the relevant tissues, but it's not known why. If you do a quick search on PubMed you will find studies that cite nutrient depletions with oral contraception or other methods such as the patch, so it's not just the pill that's to blame. The pill also negatively impacts the gut microbes and this is another theory why it causes so many nutrient depletions as well because you need the right ratio of gut microbes to aid in the absorption of nutrients. As for other formulations of birth control, I'm not sure off the top of my head but my guess is they are no better. Hope that helps! If you do a little digging, you'll find plenty of research. Happy reading!
Do you have a recommendation for someone who suffers from very painful endometriosis? I really don't want to be on the pill but within 2 months of being off of it I develop debilitating cramping. I once went to the ER thinking it HAD to be something more severe going on. Within 6 months of being off the pill I developed very uncomfortable ovulation cramps. I've heard that an anti-inflammation may help. do you have any transitional recommendations?Reply
I would recommend seeing a healthcare practitioner like a Certified Nutritionist or Naturopathic Doctor. Sorry to hear you are suffering. But in the meantime, I recommend the Joyous Detox or any recipes in my newest book The Joyous Cookbook. The joyous detox focuses on many detox friendly foods which will help with hormonal balance. The root of what is going on with your health is hormonal imbalance so anything you can do to support your body's detox pathways will benefit.
Here's more information on the detox: https://www.joyoushealth.com/53-joyu-program-joyous-detox-online?utm_campaign=JDO+2019&utm_medium=bitly&utm_source=Main+Nav
You might wanna check out this podcast interview with Jenn Pike: https://www.joyoushealth.com/27388-blog-masteringyourhormones
Hope that helps you out!
Hey Joy! Love your blog - do you recommend any specific brand of vitamins that has good absorption? I know sprays and drops are typically better than pills, but I'd love to get something that has a good reputationReply
New Chapter is a great brand because their multis are made with organic ingredients and they are fermented which makes the nutrients more bioavailable.
Thank you! Appreciate the recommendation