Birth Control — What Doctors Don’t Say

Dr. Jolene Brighten Hormones Comments

Worldwide, 100 million use some form of birth control… without knowing how it actually works and the possible damage it can do to their bodies.

Are you aware that most women, at some point in their life, have been recommended the birth control pill by their doctor? The CDC estimates 10.6 million women use oral contraception in the U.S. alone.

Doctors often offer up the pill in response to common complaints, such as acne, heavy menses, PMS symptoms, or irregular periods. And yes, the pill can help with all of those symptoms for some women, but this approach certainly doesn’t address the underlying cause.

What most doctors don’t share with women is that the birth control pill has its own share of side effects, some of which are irreversible.

Microbiome Disruption

Birth control pills can disrupt normal flora and create an environment that allows for the overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeast. Our gut bacteria influence our mood, breast milk production, and are the first inhabitants of our child’s sterile gut in utero and during vaginal birth. They play a pivotal role in our health as women and mothers, a role that research is only beginning to understand.

Healthy gut function is essential…

A healthy gut is needed to remove excess estrogen and other waste from the body. When gut function is inhibited, the body is unable to remove estrogen, which contributes to a state of estrogen dominance. Symptoms of estrogen dominance include ovarian cysts, fibrocystic breasts, weight gain, irregular or heavy menses, and irritability.

Your mood & mind are intimately tied to the function of your gut. If we know that the microbiome influences our mood and that birth control disrupts the microbiome, then we can deduce that using birth control to treat mood disorders is not a root cause solution, but rather a masking of symptoms with a drug that is known to make the underlying cause worse.

 

depression pregnancy gut birth control paleo

Increased Risk of Cancer

The risk of certain cancers are increased with the use of birth control pills. Breast, ovarian, cervical, liver, and uterine cancer risk is higher in women taking oral contraceptives.

Lowers Thyroid and Testosterone Levels

Birth control pills increase the proteins Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) and Thyroxine Binding Globulins, which bind free hormones, making them unavailable for use by the body.

Low thyroid hormone causes multiple symptoms including inability to lose weight, depression, cold intolerance, constipation, memory and cognitive issues, dry skin, hair loss and many other symptoms. Women with insufficient levels of thyroid hormone have an increased risk of infertility and miscarriage. You can listen to me share more about thyroid hormone in fertility and pregnancy on my podcast interview.

Women need testosterone to maintain muscle mass and a healthy libido. It is part of the intricate symphony of optimal hormonal health.

Elevated levels of these proteins can remain after a woman discontinues the pill and result in long standing hormonal issues, including estrogen dominance.

Increased Risk of Stroke and Blood Clots

That daily dose of estrogen isn’t free from risks. The pill has long been known to increase the risk of blood clots, stroke, and pulmonary embolism (a clot that is lodged in the lungs). It also raises the risk of heart attacks.

Increased Inflammation

The pill increases oxidative stress in the body and raises inflammation, as seen by the elevation of the blood marker C-reactive protein (CRP).  Inflammation is involved in the development of depression, autoimmune disease, cancer, and chronic pain.

Nutrient Depletion

During pregnancy and while breastfeeding, your body’s nutrient requirements are the highest they’ll probably ever be in your lifetime. Unfortunately, many women find themselves nutrient depleted when they become pregnant, which is only exacerbated by the demands of motherhood.

Essential nutrients you need…

The birth control pill depletes the body of vitamins and minerals that are essential to both mother’s and baby’s health. Antioxidants, B vitamins, and important minerals such as selenium and zinc are depleted when a women is taking an oral contraceptive. These nutrients are critical for a creating calm-inducing neurotransmitters, balancing hormones, liver detoxification, thyroid hormone synthesis, immune system regulation and tissue repair.

For women wishing to become pregnant, the pill can create a nutrient deficit, which can impact the health of your pregnancy and the health of your baby. For a mother wishing to conceive again, the pill can rob them of the nutrients they need to recover from their previous pregnancy and diminish the essential vitamins and minerals needed for fetal development.

Birth Control— What Your Doctor Didn’t Tell You

Post-Birth Control Syndrome

The pill has far reaching effects in the body, which is why any woman who has ever taken the pill needs to heal all the key areas discussed above. This is why the symptoms of Post-Birth Control Syndrome can be so far reaching and show up in ways that can be confusing to you and your doctors.

Working with a Post-Birth Control Syndrome Expert can help you repair your body, improve your health, and even help you transition off of the pill if you haven’t quite come off. Of course, if you choose to stay on the pill that is entirely your choice, but do take care to nourish your body to protect against the harmful effects of the pill.

In my clinical practice I have helped many women support their health on the pill, and completely restore their health after the pill. I have developed my own protocols for treating Post-Birth Control Syndrome that are effective at eliminating unwanted symptoms and restoring balance to the body.

I want you to know you can recover and repair your health! Learn more about treating Post-Birth Control Syndrome here.

Alternatives to oral contraception

If you or someone you love are using oral contraceptives as a means of preventing pregnancy — I urge you to consider alternatives. Not all of these methods will work for everyone, but here are some of the more common non-hormonal alternatives to the pill. 

Fertility Calculators like Daysy

Fertility Awareness Method

Condoms

Paragard IUD

What next?

The most important thing for you to understand right now is…

Oral contraceptives used to treat symptoms of hormonal imbalances are doing nothing more than masking symptoms and offering temporary relief at the cost of your health.

It is one of the greatest disservices that doctors do to women — offer a symptom managing medication without addressing the root cause.

And to be clear, I am not anti-birth control. Not at all. I am pro-informed consent and helping you make the best decision for you.

If you chose to take the pill because you don’t want a baby then I support that. It’s your body, your life and no one knows how to live it better than you do.

But if you’re taking the pill because you have irregular, painful periods or acne, or aren’t having a periodwe need to figure out why you have these symptoms in the first place. 

Clinically, I have found that it women experience symptoms of hormone imbalance, inflammation, digestive disturbance and as well as many other symptoms for an average of at least 4-6 months after coming off the pill. And even after that time they may feel something is not quite right or they’ll settle for what they think is the “new normal.”

This constellation of symptoms is referred to as Post-Birth Control Syndrome.

In my clinical experience, women need support to undo the damage the pill has created in their body. Because the basic mechanism of the pill is to flood your body with so many hormones that your brain stops communicating with your ovaries and you cease to ovulate. And as you can imagine, that can have some long term effects if you’ve taken the pill for a substantial amount of time.

I recommend women begin with personalized lab testing to understand the underlying cause of their symptoms. Interpreting your lab results in conjunction with your symptoms will help us understand which hormones are in need of support and what systems need to be restored to achieve optimal balance. Together, we partner in creating hormonal health, free from dependency on pharmaceutical sex hormones.

Sounds pretty great, right? And it is totally possible too!

2 Steps to Take Today!

If you haven’t grabbed my Post-Birth Control Syndrome Quick Start Detox Guide, do it now. It is the first step to creating amazing hormones!

If you need a medical ally to teach you how to be your own medical detective, you can apply to be a patient here.

A version of this article was originally published in the July/ August 2015 issue of Natural Mother Magazine as “The Truth About the Birth Control Pill”. 

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten is a licensed Functional Medicine Naturopathic Doctor, best selling author, speaker, and mother. Dr. Brighten specializes in women’s health, from fertility to postpartum care, adrenal and thyroid support, autoimmune conditions, and digestive disorders. In her patient centered practice, Dr. Brighten thrives on navigating the space between conventional and alternative medicine, all while working with patients to help them achieve optimum balance, health, and happiness.