Long term exposure to hormonal birth control almost killed my best friend. Right after her 42nd birthday, she traveled from her home in California to New York, attended a conference for the week, (just like she does every year) and was planning to spend the weekend with me before going back home. She’s an avid runner, self-care enthusiast and healthy eater. Earlier in the year she began struggling with random breathing trouble… even on an easy morning walk or just climbing the stairs to her apartment. Her Dr. told her to see a pulmonologist, which she did, and was diagnosed with ‘adult onset asthma’. Which both she and I thought was ridiculous because of her healthy lifestyle. She never smoked, she ate clean, she exercised, managed her stress with regular self-care. Asthma just didn’t make any sense.
When she arrived at my house that Friday afternoon, she could barely drag her suitcase up my steep driveway. Every kind of physical activity left her winded and exhausted. Sunday morning came quickly and I dropped her off at the airport so she could head back home across the US. Until…
She called me in a panic because paramedics were rushing her to the hospital. She couldn’t catch her breath again… and this time it was worse. She spent the next week in the hospital due to a pulmonary embolism (blot clot in her lung). She actually had several of them. They were the cause of her breathing challenges, not asthma. They almost killed her, at 42 years old. Had she stayed on the airplane when it took off, she most likely would have died in the air.
And there was ONE contributing factor to this mess in her life… The Birth Control Pill. She had been taking it for over 20 years.
The Most Effective and the Most Hazardous Form of Contraception
Today, women take the birth control pill (AKA “the pill”) for many reasons. Trust me, I get it. The pill is convenient (as long as you can remember to take it every day). It prevents pregnancy, it can make irregular periods more regular, it can make horrible periods less horrible and sometimes it can clear up problematic skin (acne), PMS and night sweats. But at what cost?
The truth is… the pill doesn’t actually “treat” problems, it’s a temporary cover-up, masking the issues. It simply hides the symptoms by introducing synthetic hormones that alter the function of your REAL hormones. And just like a pain pill that numbs the pain temporarily, as soon as you stop taking the pill, all of those horrific symptoms will come storming back, and potentially worse than they were before.
The birth control pill doesn’t “consult with and listen to your body”. It’s not interested in discovering and addressing the root causes of your health challenges. It’s a quick fix to mask annoying symptoms. It’s convenient and easy to get your hands on. I admit, it can be less time consuming and less challenging than figuring out what is really causing the problems in the first place. But what about the health risks you are exposing yourself to?
Did you know the hormone containing birth control pill can mask serious health issues like ovarian cysts, PCOS, and endometriosis? In some cases, taking birth control pills can even magnify the existing hormone imbalances or problems and cause those annoying symptoms to become worse.
The pill actually comes with some very serious side effects. You’ve probably heard it can cause breast tenderness, headaches, nausea, or spotting. Some women gain weight, some lose weight. Some women experience crazy mood swings and feel like they are constantly in a dazed state.
But what about the more serious side effects that are not discussed as often? They are real possible side effects! Why aren’t we talking about the super scary side effects of hormonal birth control, like increased cancer risk, serious digestive disorders, blood clots and fertility issues?
What is the Pill and How Does it Work?
Birth control pills are made up of synthetic hormones – (fake) estrogen and progesterone. (These are also two of the hormones that our bodies make). The naturally occurring production of hormones in our body is super important. Hormones are messengers that transport signals throughout the cells in the body. So, if hormones are messengers, then by taking oral contraception (the pill), you are essentially sending a message that overrides your body’s natural hormonal rhythm. Think of it as something that has been made in a lab, put inside of your body, and is now sending messages to your body telling it what to do… instead of relying on your body’s own innate intelligence.
Here’s how the pill works: a woman’s natural menstrual cycle causes the rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone levels throughout the month. Enter the pill, patches and shots… which keep estrogen at an unnaturally high level all month long. This tricks your body into thinking you’re pregnant, which stops ovulation, and prevents pregnancy.
As you can probably guess, these super high estrogen levels are not natural, and can actually be toxic. The synthetic estrogen used in birth control is much stronger than natural estrogen, which can cause the creation of fibroids and other hormonal disorders like PCOS and endometriosis. There is a ton of research and evidence showing serious problems linked to synthetic hormones, and many experts now suggest that women should stay away from them all together.
Why the Pill Can Be the Wrong Prescription
Since the introduction of the Pill just over five decades ago, the undesired effects of synthetic hormones on emotions, cognition, and memory have remained largely unexplored. Just recently, the effect the Pill provokes upon women’s bodies has started to be discussed.
Increased Cancer Risk: The Birth Control Pill is classified as a carcinogen, putting it in the same category as other toxic substances such as tobacco and asbestos, according to the World Health Organization. Researches have linked it to breast cancer, cervical cancer and liver cancer.
Loss of Interest in Sex: Women who take the pill are in danger of losing their interest in sex, because the oral contraceptive pill inhibits testosterone, the hormone that drives sexual desire. This can cause a decrease in libido, energy, and muscle tone as well. In addition to being less interested in sex, it can become less enjoyable, due to decreased lubrication, pelvic pain and trouble with orgasm.
Creates Chaos in the Gut: When it comes to creating disturbances in the gut, birth control pills can be just as bad as antibiotics. The pill can throw your gut balance out of whack, right along with your hormones! The hormone receptors in your digestive tract collide with the synthetic hormones from the pill, and this can affect those receptors, by leading to an overgrowth of candida (the bad gut bugs). It’s no surprise that yeast and bacteria overgrowth have been closely linked to estrogen dominance in a woman’s body, which the pill can cause. If you choose to use the pill, you may have more yeast infections, which can lead to other problems like migraines, infertility, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, psoriasis, PMS, depression and digestive disorders. In addition, oral contraceptives impact gut flora, adversely affecting estrogen metabolism, which can increase your risk for inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease, and cause weight-loss resistance. A recent study linked use of oral contraceptives to a consistent increased risk for Crohn’s disease. Using high-doses of synthetic estrogen for birth control will likely make inflammatory gut conditions worse by increasing your risk of forming tiny clots in your gut’s network of blood vessels. This is really serious! These estrogen-digesting bacteria, known as “estrobolome,” have already been attributed to conditions like PMS, PCOS, heavy bleeding, and even infertility, not to mention gas, bloating, and constipation, acne, and eczema. Plus, your gut health alters hormone regulation and detoxification, meaning that long-term birth control use can lead to a build-up of those excess hormones. Need I say more?
Hormones and the Brain: Although you may have been told that your PMS could potentially be controlled or reduced with birth control pills, most women actually experience an increase in mood swings, depression and/or anxiety when on the Pill. Both estrogen and progesterone influence the brain in many different ways. Hormonal contraceptives are associated with functional and structural changes in the brain that affect cognitive performance, behavior, personality and emotion. The pill suppresses vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 metabolism, which then causes a decrease in serotonin and GABA levels in the brain. There’s evidence that with estrogen and progesterone levels in the body getting knocked out of their natural equilibrium, the brain’s response system is then altered, and this can lead to experiencing undesired psychological side effects. A recently published study of over a million Danish women over age 14, using hard data like diagnosis codes and prescription records, strongly suggests that there is an increased risk of depression associated with all types of hormonal contraception.
Blood Clots, Heart Attacks and Stroke: Risk levels are higher for women on hormonal birth control
It’s probably not the first time you’ve heard about the link between the risk of blood clots and taking the birth control pill. This information has been out there for a very long time, especially if you are a smoker, overweight, or over 35. But did you know that Estrogen-Progestin birth control pills have shown a strong connection to increased blood pressure, heart attack and stroke, too?
According to the National Blood Clot Alliance, “most birth control pills do increase a woman’s chance of developing a blood clot by about three to four times.” They report that 1 in 1,000 women on hormonal contraceptives will suffer from a blood clot. Certain types of hormonal contraceptives have higher risks than others, such as the patch, vaginal ring (Nuvaring), combination hormonal birth control pills that contain the progestin called desogestrel, and those that contain the progestin called drospirenone (found in pills such as YAZ or Yasmin).
The Pill Contributes to Nutrient Deficiencies. Oral contraceptives can deplete the body of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals. B vitamins and other essentials such as selenium, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc can take a significant nose-dive with continuous use of the Pill. Other minerals and nutrient imbalances may lead to a variety of health issues, including fatigue, depression, PMS, insomnia, headaches, hypertension, and many others. Women who take the pill have been shown to have lower levels of vitamin B6, B12, and folate compared to women who do not take the pill. Some research shows that low levels of B6 in women using oral contraceptives may play a role in the increased risk of blood clots.
B vitamins affect metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, as well as the synthesis of DNA, neurotransmitters, and other vital compounds. Deficiency in a certain B vitamins will result in a unique set of symptoms. For example, low folate during pregnancy can cause neural defects in infants; B12 deficiency results in higher risk for neurologic disorders; and B6 deficiency can cause anemia, depression, and confusion
The Pill Can Delay Fertility: If you’re not having a period, you’re not ovulating. And without ovulation, you can’t get pregnant. So if you can’t get your period to come back after going off the Pill, you’ll have issues with fertility. And even if you can get it back, but it’s irregular, it’s going to make conceiving that much more difficult. Why is this? Our monthly cycles tell us that our hormones are balanced, in-sync and doing what they’re supposed to do… or not. When you’re on the pill, your period is being created by the cycle of the pill you are taking and therefore you’re missing the signs that everything is (or in many cases, isn’t) working correctly. So it can take some time for your body to regulate, which can be a challenge if you’re ready to get pregnant right away. After you stop taking the pill, there can be a significant delay before your regular cycle and fertility returns. Doctors will often tell you that your cycle should resume in 1-2 months–which doesn’t happen for most of us. Sometimes this will depend on how long you’ve been on the Pill, what kind of hormones you were taking (combination, progestin-only, or extended-cycle), how much you were taking, how regularly you were taking it, etc. And if you had some kind of hormonal imbalance before you went on the Pill, that may return, unfortunately. So if you went on it to treat acne or to regulate your periods, prepare for those issues to potentially come back. I know… ugh!
The bottom line is: if you are taking the birth control pill, it can wreak havoc on your hormones and potentially cause serious health problems.
We’ve talked about how the pill makes you ignore what your body is ACTUALLY trying to tell you by suppressing your symptoms.
We’ve talked about how using hormonal birth control gives you a higher risk of breast cancer and other life threatening diseases, than women who had never used the pill.
So, What Can You Do?
The answer is: Birth Control Alternatives without Hormones
If you’re ready to ditch the Pill, but aren’t ready to start a family, here are some natural birth control alternatives to consider:
- Cervical Cap
- Natural Family Planning, or Fertility Awareness
- Hormone-free birth control fertility trackers (there is an app for that!)
If none of those options will work for you, consider a non-hormonal IUD, which is generally a better bet than the Pill when it comes to gut health, partly because it’s not ingested directly.
And if you continue to take hormonal birth control, consider the following:
Pay close attention to any symptoms of hormone imbalance (if you’re not sure you have any of these, take my free hormone quiz here!) and listen to your body.
Stay ahead of the game and protect yourself from further imbalances as best as you can. Incorporate these foods:
- B vitamins (poultry, dark leafy greens, eggs, and seafood)
- Vitamin C (dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, and berries)
- Vitamin E (dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and high quality extracted oils)
- Zinc (oysters, seafood, meat and poultry, beans, and nuts)
- Selenium (Brazil nuts, tuna and halibut, beef and poultry, eggs, and spinach)
- Magnesium (dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, yogurt, black beans, and dark chocolate)
- Supplements to replace depleted nutrients: B complex vitamins (B2, B6 and B12), together with methylated folate, vitamins E and C and magnesium, zinc, and selenium.
Create Hormone Harmony and Support Your Body
So many women are experiencing symptoms of hormone imbalance and don’t know what to do. Many of them end up hearing that The Pill is the only solution. That’s simply not true! There are other ways that are not harmful to your body. If you are dealing with hormonal chaos and want to figure out what is going on, I can help!
The choice on whether or not to take the pill is a very personal one. I encourage everyone to make an informed decision on what is right for their own body.
Ready to combat your hormonal issues by understanding your body?
Ready to Understand Your Hormones?
I created a free hormone assessment to make it easy for you to begin your hormone harmony journey. You can get it HERE!