Birth control (BC) and family planning is a very personal journey and decision that I honor in every client I work with around the topic. With that said however, I have a strong opinion on the use of prescription medications for imbalances without total and full education around all options and potential side effects. Yes, birth control pills are a medication. Yes they have side effects. YES there are other options to consider like FAM (fertility awareness method) and various barrier methods. Yes your hormones are out of balance and you feel like total crap- NO this is not a birth control pill deficiency.
My opinion, research and passion around educating women in this area began when I was 30 (omg that makes me sound so old- ahem). For a few months I had been feeling “off”. Not just my usual kinda crazy, all over the place self- this was different. My emotional state was absolutely intolerable and I could not figure out what had flipped. I ran to a doctor in the middle of my workday as I literally could not deal with myself one more moment. This was not my preferable choice of care as I was nervous about his 10 minute assessment, but I was desperate and he had an appointment. After losing it in his office he wrote me a prescription for Paxil. I hate meds, but didn’t care. I took the Paxil and in 3 weeks time I had not only fallen apart even more- I now felt numb and lifeless.
I finally went to an ND for a full assessment. She asked me a series of amazing questions- actually listening. After hearing everything the one question that really hit home was “why are you on birth control pills?” I was tongue tied and confused. “Isn’t everyone on BC?!”- “I just am and always have been”- “I don’t really know anymore as my partner and I are apart”. What happened next may be too much for some of you but I am all about full disclosure.
I stopped taking BC just like that. Within 2 weeks my head cleared and I began to feel this sense of myself that I hadn’t in years. But, then came the layers of what a medication does to your system… I broke out into a full fungal/yeast infection from mid thigh to my navel. Everything I ate bothered my belly and manifested through more outbreak. No matter how much I tried to calm the itching and craziness nothing would work. I began to research my symptoms and what I discovered was I had gone into a healing crisis due to my gut trying to repair itself after the years of birth control pills disrupting my gut lining. The yeast and fungus finally cleared but the effects of BC remained for years to come adding to my struggle with hypothalamic amenorrhea.
The BC pill is a relatively new medicine only making its official debut in the 60’s as an approved contraceptive method. It was originally only prescribed for intense dysmenorrhea (painful menses) before being allowed to be used as a contraceptive method. It is the most studied medication in history and carries a legacy of controversy around a woman’s right to choose how she manages her reproductive health. The original formulas were pulled from the market as they were highly carcinogenic. New formulas were developed and now over 150 million women world wide take BC pills.
Lately it seems that almost every client I work with has concern over her use of BC pills and is quite frustrated at her lack of guidance from her doctor. Most of them originally started taking BC pills for painful and irregular periods and acne. The clients still on BC complain of a sense of disconnect from their body. Those recently off the pill realize that not only have their imbalances not gone away but they are left with some serious side effects. All that I ask is that we tell our women the truth around the BC pill…
The problem is that so many women today use hormonal contraception for the wrong reason: to mask the symptoms of an underlying hormonal issue. According to a 2011 study by the Guttmacher Institute… 58 percent of women use hormonal birth control for purposes other than preventing pregnancy.
The TRUTH About Birth Control Pills
The BC pill does NOT help your hormonal imbalances. It only addresses symptoms through a synthetic, “masking”, action on your reproductive system. The original imbalance is still there quietly running in the background. I see women with symptoms of adrenal burnout and thyroid imbalance who cannot seem to find relief as their hormonal symphony is bound in the BC pill never allowing for a true read on what is really taking place in the body.
BC pills destroy the beneficial bacteria in your gut. They are a medication. And, like most medications they break down the integrity of the gut lining allowing a proliferation of yeast and digestive disturbances to take place.
Long term use can contribute to fertility challenges? I put a question mark because some research says yes and some says no. (It depends on who is conducting the study) The concern is we don’t know. The BC pill is so new to our recent generations that the long term impact on reproductive health and the impact on our children’s health is really unknown. I would say that if you are one of the 58% taking the pill for hormonal and skin issues, then the likelihood that you have difficulty conceiving post pill could be high as a hormonal imbalance is going to cause some fertility challenges. Fertility challenges are on the rise and a relatively new issue compared to our mothers and grandmothers; we don’t know why. Many women come off the pill and conceive within a month to a year. Many women come off the pill and have long term issues and loads of regret.
Not having your period is NOT healthy. Many BC pills now stop your period. Your body was designed to create life and each month is a beautiful ritual of building, bursting and shedding. Through out history women have used their cycle as a way to tune into their creativity and intuition. The period is a beautiful release for the body and the spirit- to shed what needs to go so that new energy can grow. Also, having a regular period is a sign of vitality. Even after women stop the pill 5-10% do not resume a period for a very long time only to begin very irregular periods. No period is no good.
The BC pill can increase cancer risk. The pill and cancer is a 2 sides of the same coin issue. In 2005 a group of scientists from the WHO (World Health Organization) pointed to the pill as increasing the risk of cervical, breast and liver cancer. However, the pill can lower the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. I believe that a healthy, balanced, pill free body is your best defense against all disease.
Other Side Effects Worth a Mention:
- Weight gain and bloating
- Low libido
- Mood Swings
- Blood clotting issues
- High blood pressure
- Decreased bone density setting you up for osteoporosis and fracture
So What Do You Do Now!?
So you’ve had it with feeling disconnected and unsure of your decision to take BC pills for so many years. You want to tackle your hormone issues and be in tune with your body but you don’t want to get pregnant right now and still be able to have wild passionate sex with your love.
First you want to work with someone who can help guide you through this decision and support you around nourishment and lifestyle choices that help transition the body off of the pill. The body is resilient but will need a good gut rebuild protocol, liver support and hormone friendly foods that help establish a hormonal rhythm.
Next you want to learn how to tune into your cycle and understand the cues around when your body can and cannot conceive. Sounds scary and difficult I know. Good news- couples that work together to understand the rhythms of the woman’s body not only have great success in preventing pregnancy they find that their bond is stronger and the woman’s body becomes a bit juicier. Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) and barrier methods such as contraceptive foam and the diaphragm are highly effective when used properly and with great awareness. I always recommend using a condom during transition time until you, your body and your partner all sync up with your cycle. Eventually, in monogamous and supportive relationships, FAM alone will be easy and worth the work. Working with someone to help you tune into your cycle and begin understanding FAM is very beneficial. These books (here and here) are also VERY informative and I can’t imagine any woman not owning one.
The data show that in women who are ideal users-who use the method (FAM) correctly every time- barrier methods and even FAM can be 95-98% effective.
If all you desire is convenience and tuning into your rhythms and working on your hormones sounds like an addition to the pile of daily stress, I do hope this article made you think just a bit and I still honor your decision. I am here for questions regardless of where you are at.
As I said earlier, how women manage their reproductive livelihood is a very personal journey. I don’t think any woman would agree that a system that severs our natural rhythms, causes severe short and long term side effects, mostly removes the burden from their male partners to learn about the female body and take any contraceptive responsibility is a great leap in reproductive health and freedom. I do think, however, that we would all agree that there are cases in which birth control pills offer a positive solution. There will always be controversy on the tails of something that alters the chemistry of a system that produces life and creativity. Knowledge is power and puts the freedom back in the hands of our women- you decide.
Learn to Listen to Your Gut
- Northrup,C, M.D. Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. 2010- Random House
- Vitti, A. Woman Code. 2013- Harper Collins
- Nikolchev, A. “A Brief History of the Birth Control Pill”. 2010 PBS.org
- Gates, D. “The Dangers Every Woman Needs to Know About the Birth Control Pill”. 2008 bodyecology.com