Education around women’s health is something I have become very passionate about. Looking back on my own health history, there are so many things that likely could have been avoided had I known to look into root causes then rather than years later when I was trying to start a family. All too often birth control pills are prescribed as a “fix-all” tool to help with irregular cycles, period pain, PMS, acne, and more. But does hormonal birth control really “fix” any of these issues? Let’s take a deeper look.
When the pill first emerged to the market in the 1960s, it was seen as a huge win for women’s rights. For the very first time women were in control of their reproduction in a way that they never were before. At that point in time, women had no choice but to quit their jobs when they got pregnant. So in that regard, it still was an amazing achievement and push forward for women.
These days though it is almost expected for young women to go on birth control when they become sexually active, or even before. It is often seen as a sign of responsibility. As though the responsibility of preventing unwanted pregnancy falls solely on women. Many teens these days are already on birth control, sometimes to prevent pregnancy, but often to regulate their cycles or help with hormonal acne. This piece unfortunately is a myth because hormonal birth control actually blocks ovulation, so far from regulating a woman’s cycle it actually removes the natural cycle altogether.
I remember when I first went on hormonal birth control. I was 20 years old. I went on birth control in part to prevent pregnancy, in part to help with my hormonal acne, and in part to help with my period pain. Shortly after starting birth control, these symptoms went away so I figured I was good to go and I kept taking it. Month after month, year after year. Fast forward to age 27 when my husband and I decided we wanted to start a family. I stopped taking birth control about 6 months before we wanted to start trying because I had heard it can take a few months for your cycle to regulate after coming off.
Little did I know what was coming for me. After going off birth control my acne came back with a raging vengeance. My period pain went from some cramping to excruciating, crippling pain. I remember being on the phone with my doctor’s office in tears because I didn’t know what was happening to my body and I was being told they couldn’t see me for weeks. And of course I still wasn’t getting pregnant. I was devastated.
Now after years of digging I have more answers. I know that I have endometriosis. You can read more about my journey with that here. But still nobody ever talked to me about birth control, its impacts on my body, or its side effects. That part I discovered 100% on my own.
My story here is not unique. I hear this story time and time again from my clients, from people sharing online, from people I talk to. It is a story that needs to be rewritten. Women who decide to go on hormonal birth control have a right to do that from a place of understanding the pros and cons and the impacts it can have on their bodies. Most importantly, to understand what hormonal birth control can and cannot do. That is the women’s rights of the future that I would love to see. I hope that by you taking the time to read this and sharing it with a friend or loved one we can get one step closer!
The truth that every woman needs to be aware of is that hormonal birth control has a lot of side effects and causes a lot of nutrient depletions in the body. These are both things that women need to be well informed about and take into consideration when deciding whether or not birth control is a good option for them. I have listed below just a few of these considerations, but the list is long. See the resources below for even more links and information.
How does hormonal birth control work?
Before we get into the side effects and nutrient depletions, it is important to understand a little more about how hormonal birth control works. Hormonal birth control is an umbrella term covering a lot of different products such as the combination pill, Nuvaring, birth control patch, Mini Pill, Nexplanon implant, Depo-provera injection, and Plan B pill. Each of these forms of birth control contains different combinations of synthetic hormones, which are different from the real thing. They contain either a combination of ethinylestradiol and progestin, or some are progestin only.
What happens when these synthetic hormones enter our bodies is that they mimic our body’s natural hormones. For our bodies, this means that it shuts down ovulation and does not allow for natural cycles to occur. Many women think that their cycles have been regulated when they begin hormonal birth control, but what really happens is their cycles are shut down altogether. Their bodies are no longer producing natural hormones, at least not in the quantities needed for reproduction and the bleeding that occurs each month is actually a withdrawal bleed, NOT a real period. This is why bleeds while on hormonal birth control are often shorter, lighter, and less symptomatic. It is not a real period at all!!
Side Effects and Risk Factors
This is a list of many of the side effects and risk factors women experience while on hormonal birth control. Not all women will experience these side effects and some women may experience them more severely than others. The important thing here is that if you are currently on birth control this can give you some insight as to where some of these symptoms might be coming from. If you are considering birth control it can give you some factors to consider as well as things to watch out for.
- Weight gain
- Blood clots
- Autoimmune disease
- Cancer risk
- Heart attack and strokes
- Gallbladder disease
- Thyroid disease
That is a lot. It is a lot of risk you take on when you swallow that pill. Take a moment to take a deep breath and let that all sink in.
Most pharmaceuticals do cause some level of nutrient depletions in the body. Birth control is no exception and in fact is one of the medications out there that has a higher quantity of nutrient depletions. According to a paper published by the National Institute of Health, the key nutrient depletions include folic acid, vitamins B2, B6, B12, vitamin C and E, and the minerals magnesium, selenium, and zinc.
These nutrients are crucial in the body for energy production, digestion, immune function, sleep, and so much more. Depleting your body of these on a regular basis can start a cascade of health problems.
But what if I need birth control for hormone balance?
As a warrior of endometriosis, I get it. Trust me. Women with PCOS, endometriosis, acne, PMS, and painful or heavy periods do often see relief while on the pill just as I did. The issue here is that while symptoms may improve temporarily while on birth control, the root cause of these issues hasn’t been addressed. What often happens in these situations, just like in mine, is that when a woman stops taking hormonal birth control the symptoms come right back and often with a vengeance.
While healing the body in a holistic way by looking at the root causes might take more time initially, it will in the long run provide immensely more relief. Taking a look at things like supporting the body’s inflammation, digestion, immune function, blood sugar balance, and detox pathways can provide that relief for the long haul. If working with a knowledgeable practitioner, there are also natural things you can do to manage symptoms while the body is healing from the inside out.
What if I need the pill for preventing pregnancy?
The beautiful news here is that hormonal birth control is NOT the only option. Not by a long shot! I have listed out a few options below, which I would recommend discussing with your doctor or practitioner if you would like to know more.
Fertility Awareness Based Methods
This is not to be confused with the Rhythm Method or Calendar Method, which have been proven to be unreliable forms of birth control. Fertility Awareness Based Methods involve charting your body’s fertile signs and determining your fertile window based on basal body temperature (BBT) taken upon waking each morning and other signs from your body such as cervical mucus, cervical position, and more. Women are actually only fertile for 5-6 days out of each menstrual cycle, so tracking these symptoms of the fertile window can be a very effective way to either prevent pregnancy or achieve pregnancy, depending on your goals.
To learn more about this method, I would highly recommend talking to a certified practitioner and reading the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Tony Weschler. See links at the bottom of this post for more!
This includes use of condoms, either male or female, diaphragms, cervical caps, and the sponge. There are no hormones in these barrier methods, they simply physically block the sperm from entering the uterus. These methods are very effective when used properly and can be great used in combination with Fertility Awareness Based Methods as well.
Copper IUDs are a T-shaped device inserted into the uterus by a doctor in an office procedure. These devices work by inducing an inflammatory reaction that is toxic to sperm and eggs and inhibits implantation. They are known to be generally safe, highly effective, and convenient in that once they are placed they can be left for up to 12 years.
Another option that is newer to the market is Phexxi, which is a contraceptive cream that impairs the function of sperm. This is a relatively new form of birth control, so studies have not been done on it long term.
Again, I recommend talking to your doctor or a licensed professional before attempting any of these options for birth control.
The conclusion to take away here is that hormonal birth control may in fact be the right option for some, but not for everyone. If you do decide to go down the route of starting or continuing hormonal birth control, I 100% support your decision. As long as you are going to that decision fully informed and armed with an awareness of what things to look out for along the way. Because even if you do need to be on hormonal birth control for one reason or another, it does not exempt you from the side effects and nutrient depletions. Those come right along with it no matter the reason!
If you are currently on birth control and would like to come off, it is important to support your body in this too. This is where working with a knowledgeable practitioner who can support you before and after this process can help you to have the best experience possible.
Much love and happy healing to you!
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Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Tony Weschler
Association of Fertility Awareness Professionals
American Academy of FertilityCare Professionals
Fertility Awareness Method of Birth Control
Briden, Lara, ND. (2018). Period Repair Manual. Greenpeak Publishing.
Cooper, Danielle B., Patel, Preeti, Mahdy, Heba. (2022). Oral Contraceptive Pills. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430882/
Romm, Aviva. (2017). Pill: Are the Risks Too Bitter to Swallow? Retrieved from: https://avivaromm.com/the-pill-risks/
Palmery, M., Saraceno, A., Vaiarelli, A., Carlomagno, G. (2013). Oral contraceptives and changes in nutritional requirements. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23852908/
Weschler, Tony. (2015). Taking Charge of Your Fertility. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.