The birth control pill was originally thought of as a fabulous tool to help women take control of their fertility. Not that there weren't other methods out there, some that have been used for thousands of years, but admittedly the birth control pill made things so much easier. However, there's a dark side to the birth control pill (BCP) that I'd like to introduce you to today.
The BCP is a bandaid solution for a myriad of ailments including period pain, PCOS, endometriosis, acne and more. It doesn't solve the root cause of these issues and additionally, it brings along with it a host of other nasty side effects and detrimental health consequences that I'll touch on in a moment. And of course, it's one of the most common contraceptives used by women today. Lets take a quick look at what's actually in the BCP, the harmful mechanisms by which it works and the side effects that you need to be aware of.
What's in the BCP?
The BCP contains ethinylestradiol (synthetic estrogen) and a progestin (synthetic progesterone). These synthetic hormones do NOT act the same way in your body as your natural estrogen and progesterone do. It's true that they are similar in molecular structure to your natural hormones, but they are not identical. Because they are not identical they behave differently in the body – and not in a good way. In fact, the BCP's synthetic progesterone (levonorgestrel or drospirenone) can have an opposite affect to your body's own natural progesterone. As the name would suggest, “progesterone” allows for pregnancy to occur (think “pro-gestation”). However, synthetic levonorgestrel aborts pregnancy (and is used in the morning after pill). Your natural progesterone reduces the risk of blood clots. The synthetic progesterone drospirenone increases the risk of blood clots but up to 7 times. The synthetic progesterone levonorgestrel can cause hair loss, which may be hard to reverse, whereas your natural progesterone encourages healthy hair growth.
The BCP doesn't “balance” your hormones: it switches them right off
It's best never to think about the pill as a solution to “balancing” your hormones because it actually does just the opposite: it switches them right off. A common misconception is that you still have a period when you're on the BCP. You don't. What you have is a “withdrawal bleed”, which has been manufactured by the pharmaceutical companies to keep you thinking you have a cycle. In actual fact one of the most alarming things about the BCP is that it suppresses ovulation. Why is this alarming? Because ovulation is the only way your body can manufacture progesterone. We need progesterone for a plethora of functions in the body. From gut health to mood balance and so much more. It's not a great idea to run on empty when it comes to natural progesterone.
Side effects of the BCP
There are so many side effects from the BCP that I've decided to simply list them in bullet point for you. Take a deep breathe and settle in. Here goes:
- One study showed the BCP doubled the risk of developing candida
- The BCP increases Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG), which can decrease the amount of thyroid hormone available in the body, which can lead to symptoms of hypothyroidism.
- The BCP reduces testosterone, which decreases libido.
- The BCP taxes the liver and therefore, our detoxification system. The metabolism of the BCP by the liver also requires extra amounts of B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc and therefore BCP can subsequently deplete these nutrients (more about the nutrient deficiencies brought on by the BCP below).
- The BCP has been linked to depression and other mood disorders.
- The BCP increase inflammation and CRP (C-Reactive Protein) levels.
- The BCP promotes oxidative stress in the body.
- Studies show the BCP increases blood pressure, raising your risk for heart attacks, blood clots, and strokes.
- The synthetic hormones in the BCP have been shown to promote breast and liver cancer. High “estrogen” pills are the worst, increasing the risk by 3 times. The good news is that it only takes about a year to reduce your risk back down to normal once you've come off the BCP.
- The BCP can reduce muscle gain because it reduces testosterone.
- The BCP can cause weight gain because it messes with our insulin signalling. It can also cause sugar cravings.
- The BCP's synthetic estrogen and progestins can cause cellulite and fat to be deposited around your hips and upper thighs.
- The BCP increases your chance for headaches and abnormal pap smears.
- The BCP can negatively impact your bone health.
- The BCP can cause a negative change in your gut bacteria.
- The BCP can cause hormone imbalances: the body eliminates hormones via phase 1 and phase 2 liver detoxification The BCP may impair detoxification leading to a buildup of excess hormones in the body.
- Post-pill amenorrhea can occur when the ovulation-suppressing affects of the BCP are still in effect once you've come off the BCP. When this occurs, vitex can be helpful.
In addition, there are a host of nutrient deficiencies that can occur when you're taking the BCP. Studies have shown that the BCP depletes these nutrients:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin B2
- Vitamin C
What are the healthy alternatives to the BCP?
I think how Lara Brinden put it in her book “The Period Repair Manual” hits the nail squarely on the head: “In order to avoid pregnancy, birth control has to fight against the very thing that your body is trying to do (become pregnant). When healthy, your body wants to be pregnant. Therefore, there are really only two ways to avoid pregnancy: damage your body or outsmart your body”. So how can we “outsmart” our body and what are the BCP alternatives? Here are some of the best:
- Daysy – a fabulous option when used correctly, this tool tells you which days you are fertile and which days you aren't.
- Condoms – a great solution, if somewhat old fashioned, but it gets the job done!
- Copper IUD – this is an “OK” solution but it's down the bottom of this list as it's not my favourite by any means.
Bottom line: the BCP is detrimental to your health as well as to your fertility. Coming off it can make your perimenopausal years much smoother, too. Please reach out to me if you'd like help transitioning off the BCP and repairing your body or getting it ready for pregnancy.
In happiness and health,
- Period Repair Manual – Lara Briden ND