7 Reasons to Go Off The Pill. This inside look into hormonal birth control uncovers the scary truth about birth control pills and the serious side effects, like increased cancer risk, digestion disorders, and fertility issues.
The Truth About Birth Control Pills
I get it–hormonal birth control (also known as The Pill) is easy and effective. Not only does it accomplish the job its name implies (preventing pregnancy), but some doctors also prescribe the pill to treat things like irregular periods, acne, PMS, and cramps.
But here's the thing–the Pill doesn't treat those things. It's a band-aid.
It simply masks the symptoms by synthetically altering your hormones, and as soon as you stop taking birth control, all of those awful symptoms will come screaming back, and likely worse than they were before.
Birth control pills aren't about listening to your body and treating the root cause… they're about immediate gratification of “fixing” problems. Much like caffeine “fixes” energy or Ambien “fixes” insomnia or duct tape “fixes” a leaky pipe.
It's what we do when we just want the problem solved… when we'd rather ignore signs that our bodies are out of whack, than actually deal with what's really causing the problem in the first place.
I'll admit, I used to be like this. I ignored the signs my body was giving me, hoped for my doctor to just prescribe a pill, something easy… it had never before occurred to me to do my homework about these powerful drugs.
Did you know hormonal birth control may mask substantial medical issues such as ovarian cysts, PCOS, or endometriosis? In some cases taking birth control pills can even compound the existing hormonal problem and cause worsened symptoms.
And the Pill actually comes with some pretty scary and very serious side effects. We've likely all heard about breast tenderness, headaches, nausea, or breakthrough bleeding. Some women gain weight, some lose weight. Some women feel better on the Pill, others experience crazy mood swings and feel like they're in a fog.
But keep reading to learn about the even more serious side effects of hormonal birth control, like increased cancer risk, digestion disorders and fertility issues.
How Do Birth Control Pills Work?
Ever wondered how the pill even prevents pregnancy in the first place?
Here's the skinny: a woman’s natural menstrual cycle is composed of rising and falling levels of estrogen and progesterone throughout the month. But hormonal birth control pills, patches and shots keep estrogen at an unnaturally high level all month long in order to trick your body into thinking you're already pregnant, which stops ovulation, and so another pregnancy cannot occur.
As you can imagine, these super high estrogen levels are neither natural nor safe. The estrogen in hormonal birth control is much stronger than natural estrogen, which can result in fibroids and other hormonal disorders like PCOS and endometriosis. In fact, researchers have now gathered evidence regarding significant problems associated with the effects of synthetic hormones and now some suggest women should not take them at all.
And yes, birth control pills contain synthetic hormones, which don’t have the same effect as our body’s natural systems and also cause other imbalances, like an increase in thyroid and sex hormone binding globulin, which then decreases the available testosterone and thyroid hormone in circulation, which can then cause a whole host of other issues.
Take a look:
7 Reasons to Go Off The Pill: Birth Control Pill Side Effects
- The Pill Increases Your Risk of Cancer: Perhaps one of the only good things about taking birth control pills: it can reduce your risks of endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer. But did you know that scientists have questions about the Pill's link to breast cancer, cervical cancer, and liver cancer? In fact, the pill is actually classified as a carcinogen, putting it in the same class as toxins like tobacco and asbestos, according to the World Health Organization. Not exactly something I want to put into my body every day!
- The Pill Screws Up Your Gut. We all know how badly antibiotics can affect our digestive tracts. But did you know birth control pills are just as bad as antibiotics for your gut? It's true: the pill is throwing your gut out of whack, and in the process impairing your overall wellbeing. Take a look: first of all, you have hormone receptors everywhere in your digestive tract and the added hormones in your body from the pill can affect those receptors, often leading to candida. In fact, yeast overgrowth has been closely linked to estrogen dominance in a woman’s body, which as we've learned, the Pill makes all women. So if you're using hormonal birth control, you may have more yeast infections, which can lead to other problems like migraines, infertility, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, psoriasis, PMS, depression and digestive disorders. What's more? 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 Harvard study linked use of oral contraceptives to a 300% increase risk for Crohn’s disease. AND if you have IBD, use of high-dose synthetic estrogen for birth control will likely make your condition 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 also alters hormone regulation and detoxification, meaning that long-term birth control use can lead to a build-up of those excess hormones. Bad all around!
- The Pill Lowers Testosterone: Maybe your doc put you on birth control to help you treat your acne. But the same reason this works is because birth control suppresses the male hormones, called androgens, like testosterone. Why is this a bad thing? Other than it being unnatural, it can cause a decrease in libido, energy, and muscle tone, meaning if you're on the pill, you'll likely be less interested in sex (and enjoy it less when you actually do have it due to less lubrication, pelvic pain and trouble orgasming). Not only that but this lowered testosterone level can actually prevent you from gaining muscle effectively and can make you retain water weight through bloating. Pass.
- The Pill Causes Mood Disorders: Although your PMS could potentially be relieved with birth control pills, most women actually experience an increase in mood swings, depression and/or anxiety when on the Pill. There’s evidence that with estrogen and progesterone levels in the body out of their natural equilibrium, the brain’s response system is altered, leading many to experience psychological side effects.
- The Pill Increases Your Risk of Blood Clotting, Heart Attack, and Stroke. It's likely not news to you that blood clot risks have long been associated with the birth control pills, especially if you are a smoker, overweight, or over 35. But did you know that Estrogen-Progestin birth control pills have shown a higher correlation with increased blood pressure, heart attack and stroke, too? That's some pretty serious stuff!
- The Pill Contributes to Nutrient Deficiencies. You know what else can cause digestion problem? Nutrient deficiencies. And you know what else can cause nutrient deficiencies? The Pill. Yep, in order for the body to metabolize the pill, the liver requires extra amounts vitamins (including vitamin Vitamins B2, B6, B12, Folic Acid, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Magnesium, Selenium, and Zinc), so long-term use depletes these vitamins. Not only can this disrupt your gut function, but these deficiencies are also primary contributors to disease, and are highly linked with healthy brain function (our neuroendocrine system). I definitely dealt with this, as when I first came off the pill I was extremely deficient in Vitamin B, D, and Magnesium. These deficiencies explained a lot of my hormonal imbalances, digestion problems, and thyroid dysfunction. What's even worse? If you become deficient in certain nutrients from hormonal birth control pill use, your period may be irregular or even nonexistent even after you come off the pill. Which brings us to…
- The Pill Can Delay Fertility: Without a period, you don't ovulate. And without ovulation, you can't get pregnant. So it stands to reason that if you can't get your period 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? Well, our monthly cycles are our bodies way of telling us that our hormones are balanced, in-sync and doing what they're supposed to. Since your period when you're on the pill is synthetic, 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 really difficult if you're ready to get pregnant right away. With less time available to heal your body than if you had discovered these issues earlier (when you weren't masking what your hormones were doing with the Pill), there can be a significant delay before fertility returns. I know for me, it took over a year for my cycle to re-regulate and ovulation to resume. Fortunately, I wasn't trying to conceive, but it was stressful enough working to heal my body without the added pressure of making of baby. Doctors will often tell you that your cycle should resume in 1-2 months–and while some women do find that to be true, anecdotally, it seems most do not. Of course, a lot of this will depend on how long you've been on the Pill, what kind you were taking (combination, progestin-only, or extended-cycle), your dosage, etc. And whether or not you had signs of hormonal imbalance before you went on the Pill. So if you went on it to treat acne or irregular periods, get ready for those issues to come back in full force!
A word of caution: For some women, the adjustment period after going off the Pill can be a complicated ride of emotions and symptoms. I recommend following an anti-inflammatory diet and practicing self-care during this time–I promise, it will work wonders as your body is re-regulating.
Ready to Get Off Birth Control Pills?
Hopefully, all the reasons above resonated with you and convinced you to get off hormonal birth control.
I personally will never go back on the Pill. The risks are just too great. But what works for me, may not work for you. And the point of this post isn't to tell you what to do.
It's to give you all the information, the facts, the science, so that YOU can make an informed decision about what is best for YOU.
As you're weighing your options, be sure to get the right people on your team to help (which might mean switching OB-GYN's to someone less conventional), and read some credible literature on the subject. I recommend Woman Code and The Hormone Cure.
Natural Birth Control Alternatives
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:
- condoms (both male and female)
- Cervical Cap
- Natural Family Planning, or Fertility Awareness (this can include calendar, temperature, Cervix position and mucus methods)
- Daysy, a hormone-free birth control fertility tracker
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.
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