“Does the birth control pill cause adrenal fatigue?,” Charlotte, a 31 year old patient at my clinic asked. As a women's health expert that specializes in helping women with the side effects and long-term consequences associated with the birth control pill, this is a question I hear often.
Charlotte, like many other women, had become concerned about what role the pill was playing in her health concerns. Fatigue, headaches, anxiety, and an inability to concentrate topped her list of concerns.
She had started the pill the summer before she began college. She explained that her mother and doctor thought it would be a good idea for pregnancy prevention and Charlotte felt comfortable beginning it—”mostly because everyone else I knew was taking it.”
Nine years later and Charlotte was curious why she slept a full 8 hours and sometimes more on weekends, but still felt like she could nap through the entire afternoon.
There's no denying the birth control pill has had an incredibly positive impact on women's lives with regards to how many of us have graduated college and are making more money in our careers. And yet, there are many ways this little pill can and does impact our health.
As I explain in Beyond the Pill, hormonal birth control can disrupt adrenal health in a number of ways. First, let me explain a bit about adrenal fatigue, or what is more accurately termed HPA dysregulation.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
What is commonly referred to as adrenal fatigue is actually a miscommunication between your brain and adrenals, what is called the HPA-axis. Your HPA-axis is how your brain signals to your adrenal glands to make hormones—cortisol, DHEA, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and aldosterone.
So while it feels like the adrenals are fatigued, what is really going on is much more complex as it is an issue of HPA Dysregulation. This is partly why the pill can cause trouble for the adrenals and really, all your hormones.
You see, your adrenals, ovaries and thyroid all have a relationship that when in balance creates great moods, easy periods, plenty of energy, and a robust resiliency to stress. This relationship is known as the OAT axis, and when it is good, it is good…and when it's not…well…
What HPA Dysregulation (aka adrenal fatigue) looks like:
- Difficulty waking in the morning
- Afternoon fatigue
- Craving sugar, salt or fat
- Frequent illness
- Hormone imbalance
- Acne and other skin problems
- Low libido
- Poor memory
- Increased PMS and menopausal symptoms
- Dizziness, feeling light headed or “head rush” when rising from a lying or seated position
- Inability to cope with stress
The Birth Control Pill & Adrenal Fatigue
The birth control pill interrupts the communication between your brain and ovaries by design. But it is also inflammatory and depletes crucial nutrients! This impacts your adrenals in a significant way. I've recorded a short video to explain more about this and answer the question—Does the birth control pill cause adrenal fatigue?
Does the birth control pill cause adrenal fatigue?
The pill is one of many factors that can contribute to HPA dysfunction and the symptoms associated with it. Chronic hormone imbalances likes this are often multifactorial and require a thorough investigation to get to the root of your symptoms and improve your energy. Here are the two ways the pill can contribute to HPA dysfunction.
The pill disrupts adrenal function.
When you take your birth control pill, you’re introducing more estrogen, which triggers your body’s inflammatory response. Your adrenals know what’s up and respond to inflammation by producing cortisol to suppress it (yup – cortisol is anti-inflammatory!). This would be fine on a one-off basis, but the daily dose of estrogen and that subsequent cortisol response is just too much for your body’s HPA-axis to handle long-term.
The pill binds cortisol so your body can’t use it.
If that’s not bad enough, the pill also raises levels of a protein called cortisol-binding globulin, which grabs onto cortisol and keeps your body from being able to use it. This means you have a ton of bound cortisol pumping through your system that your body can’t even use to squash inflammation. Meanwhile, inflammation keeps rising.
This result is a vicious cycle of your body responding to the pill with an inflammatory response, your adrenals pumping anti-inflammatory cortisol, and your body binding the cortisol so you can’t use it. Over time, an increase in inflammation can cause a whole host of symptoms and conditions, and your brain and adrenal glands stop talking in a way that’s affective for your body after so much abuse.
Common Symptoms of Post-Birth Control Syndrome Include:
- Amenorrhea (loss of menstruation)
- Heavy, painful periods
- Hair loss
- Blood sugar dysregulation
- Gas or bloating
- Changes in bowels
- Inflammation and other immune imbalances
- Adrenal associated fatigue
Birth Control Pill & Adrenal Fatigue — What Now?
Lifestyle goes a long way in healing your adrenal glands and hormones. For Charlotte, we got her eating regular hormone friendly meals, sleeping 8-9 hours per night regularly, and incorporating daily stress reducing practices—all of essential to recovering. Helpful lab testing includes a cortisol panel (we use saliva or urine testing), ACTH, LH, FSH, Estradiol, Progesterone, Testosterone, SHBG, and a full thyroid panel.
Leveraging adaptogenic herbs and nutrients like, Vitamin C, B5, and magnesium can also aid in healing. We got Charlotte working on her diet and on an adrenal support supplement to help her start feeling better sooner. These same therapies can be highly beneficial to women who choose to stay on the pill…because yes, some women just aren't ready to make that transition yet.
You can read more about 7 Adaptogenic Herbs that can help you support your adrenals.
Charlotte also choose to transition off the pill after a couple of months of making these changes. She wanted time to weight her contraceptive options and to adopt some lifestyle therapies to reduce her symptoms of Post-Birth Control Syndrome.
In time, Charlotte was able to recover her energy and with it, her anxiety faded and her headaches stopped. She was feeling sharper mentally and on top of her game at work.
Get the Support You Need
If you’re on the pill or have a history with the pill, you need an expert in post-birth control syndrome and holistic health.
If you're in need of additional support, join us in the Birth Control Hormone Reset. It's a crew of women dedicated to restoring their hormonal health while they transition off of hormonal contraceptives. In this program I teach you how to understand what your hormonal symptoms mean and restore balance to your system so you can enjoy better moods, more energy, a boost in libido, and way easier periods.
Check it out and see how good your hormones can be!
Here's to creating amazing hormones!
Dr. Jolene Brighten