Post-Birth Control Syndrome symptoms generally arise within the first 4-6 months after going off hormonal birth control and can be as drastic as a total loss of your period or as benign as acne and hair loss.
Now don't get me wrong, acne and hair loss are terrible, but the pill, the patch, the IUD and other hormonal birth control options can make breaking up with birth control a whole lot more difficult.
As a women's health naturopathic physician, I've helped many women eliminate their symptoms after stopping birth control and take back their periods. It is possible to in many cases to resolve the very hormonal issues that drive us onto birth control. Cystic acne, debilitating periods, severe mood swings, depression, anxiety, and vaginal infections are only a few of the issues that can arise on and coming off of birth control.
Post-Birth Control Syndrome Symptoms:
- Acne, cystic acne, rosacea
- Amenorrhea (loss of menstruation), average 3-6 months
- Blood sugar dysregulation
- Depression, Anxiety, and other mood symptoms
- Changes in bowels
- Hair loss
- Heavy, painful periods
- Gas or bloating
- Gut dysbiosis
- Inflammation and other immune imbalances
- Intestinal hyperpermeability (commonly referred to as “leaky gut”)
Is Post-Birth Control Syndrome Real?
For years I've been documenting women's stories and symptoms coming off of hormonal birth control within my medical practice. What I find is that many of women struggle in some way when they discontinue hormonal birth control. And it makes sense, right?
These drugs are designed to shut down your entire reproductive system. They stop your brain from talking to your ovaries and stop ovulation, which is a very good thing if you're trying not to get pregnant. The trouble is, there's a lot we don't know about longterm suppression of the reproductive system. Just because we've been doing it as common practice doesn't mean we completely understand all the nuances of this treatment.
There is also evidence showing that side effects that begin while on birth control don't just go away when you stop. Things like low libido, anxiety, depression, gut symptoms, autoimmune disease, and inflammation.
And while doctors may be telling you that your symptoms are all in your head, I want to assure you that they are not.
It is well documented that birth control leads to nutrient depletions—something we've documented since the 1970's. And there is the known association with mood symptoms that women have reported for generations. The more concerning side effects like cancer, blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks are much more rare, but not always discussed.. Women round the world have complained of post-birth control syndrome symptoms since the introduction of hormonal birth control, but sadly, they are told there is no relationship to birth control and this is just their new normal.
As a doctor, I firmly believe that a woman's experience has value and her story needs to be considered in our diagnostic workup.
If you're a woman who has ever taken the pill, had a hormonal IUD, placed a patch, inserted the nuvaring, been given the shot, or has had an implant please keep reading. These hormones can take a serious toll on some women's bodies and any woman who has ever used hormonal birth control needs some level of support to address her body's needs.
Clinically, I have found that women do not heal from their symptoms unless addressing the systems most effected.
How Many Women Start The Pill
Maybe you started taking birth control for its intended use— to prevent pregnancy. And maybe your doctor told you that your mild acne would resolve as an added benefit. Or maybe your periods were so heavy and so painful, your doctor felt this was the only choice. In truth, sometimes birth control is the best choice for endometriosis, seriously heavy periods, or PMDD.
Or maybe, and this is the one that really displeases me, your periods were irregular, you had acne, difficulty losing weight, hair loss or growing hair in unusual places and your doctor started you on birth control and told you that you could figure out what was going on when you wanted to become pregnant.
Women are passed the pill at such a high frequency that things like PCOS, endometriosis and autoimmune disease are often left undiscovered, undiagnosed and untreated. And sadly, sometimes they find out only when they are ready to have children that they have a condition that makes it so much harder.
Your symptoms have a root cause. And while hormone symptoms suck, understand that birth control won't fix them.
Sure, maybe your periods and skin get better, but the cause of your period problems isn't addressed by birth control.
Birth control was designed to deliver you enough hormones to shut down your reproductive function. Yes, hormones that suppress your body and therefore, can't fix the true issue.
I believe giving women hormonal birth control to treat symptoms without ever asking why they are there in the first place is not only a disservice, but a short sighted approach to a complex issue.
Got heavy periods? Could it be thyroid disease or anemia?
Painful periods? Could it be endometriosis, but instead your doctor is telling you to take the pill, ignore it and deal with it when you want to have a baby…only to find yourself unable to have a baby?
Irregular periods? Could it be PCOS? Instead your doctor gives you a medication to induce an artificial bleed while issues related to this condition like heart disease, diabetes and infertility is left to progress.
Women deserve better. You deserve better.
I believe women deserve both access to hormonal birth control for whatever reason they choose and a true informed consent, that is, all the info to make the best decision for themselves.
One problem with using birth control without knowing why you have symptoms is you can't be sure you're fully addressing the problem. Using birth control to treat symptoms is is only covering up an underlying issue and potentially allowing the symptoms to get worse or the underlying disease to progress.
Birth control is not a root cause solution to these very complex problems.
But if you're like me, it has already happened (10+ years for me!). You had already signed up and committed to the daily little pill. And because you've found yourself reading this, I would imagine you're wondering now what? Or maybe, you've already going off birth control and are wondering how to bring back some sense of normalcy to your hormones and your body.
So, where to start? Increasing the nutrient density of your diet and supporting your body's natural ability to optimize hormones.
In my practice, I have successfully supported many women with Post-Birth Control Syndrome…even those who were told they had no hope of seeing their period return. I've developed a comprehensive protocol for healing after hormonal birth control that has helped women not only enjoy more energy, better periods, and better moods, but it has also helped many become pregnant too. In my clinical experience and within the Brighten Protocol™, there are the 5 key areas that must be considered in Post-Birth Control Syndrome to recover support your overall health.
Post-Birth Control Syndrome Support
Is there a need to support your body on or after birth control?
There is a whole lot of evidence that would suggest yes.
Clinically, I have seen that women are not able to eliminate the unwanted symptoms after birth control without directly addressing the systems it has affected.
Here are the 5 Steps of the Brighten Protocol™ to Heal Post-Birth Control Syndrome
- Replenish nutrient stores
- Identify Your Hormone Imbalance
- Heal Your Gut
- Support Natural Hormone Detox
- Metabolic Repair
Restoring Your Nutrients
The birth control pill specifically has been shown to deplete the body of key nutrients. In fact, the pill depletes your body of folate, which is vital for fetal development if you were to become pregnant. Other nutrients that can become depleted with long term pill use include B12, B2, B6, Selenium, Vitamin C & Vitamin E.
The European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences states that supplementation is an appropriate consideration for women prescribed oral contraceptive pills.
Since women who take OCs not always have adequate diet, may have unhealthy life style or may suffer from pathologies of malabsorption, the possibility to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies by taking appropriate dietary supplements should be considered a first-line approach by clinicians.
While supplementation may be necessary, it doesn't negate the need for a nutrient dense diet. I recommend that my patients begin incorporating a variety of vegetables, fruits, quality fats, wild caught fish and grass fed meats into their diet. If you're vegan or vegetarian, take care to ensure you're getting enough protein with an array of amino acids. By making changes to your diet and optimizing your gut health, you can begin to balance and restore your body's needs. If you're looking for a place to start, you can grab a my free birth control quick start guide with nutrition recommendations here.
If you have an underlying gut issue or a pre-existing health condition you may require more nutrients then you can get from your food.
Identify Your Hormone Imbalance
Synthetic hormones can impact your estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, insulin, thyroid, and cortisol. Because of this, it can be confusing for you and your doctor to figure out what is driving all your symptoms.
Partnering with a licensed health care practitioner and having proper testing can be the most definitive way to ensure you're addressing the right hormones. While on the pill or any form of birth control that suppresses ovulation you will not get accurate measurements of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, but you can test your other hormones.
Because all of our hormones work together it is important to consider them together and take a comprehensive approach to restoring hormone balance.
After hormonal birth control some women struggle to ovulate again and may experience other symptoms like mood swings, painful period, headaches, or acne. These are common signs of a hormone imbalance and something you can absolutely bring back into balance naturally.
Often, women who seek help for symptoms of PBCS are put back on hormonal birth control without any regard for what may be the root cause. That is, unless they state they want to become pregnant. I encourage you to determine your hormone imbalance and work with your provider to restore hormone health.
Heal Your Gut
There is evidence that birth control pills may disrupt normal gut flora and create an environment that allows for overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeast, and may even lead to intestinal hyperpermeability, also known as leaky gut.
In addition, there is also evidence showing a risk of inflammatory bowel disease with oral contraceptive use.
Because your body depends on your gut to remove excess hormones, restoring gut health is a necessary step in balancing your hormones.
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.
After discontinuing birth control, I often begin my patients on a gut repair protocol tailored to their needs. If they are having gut symptoms we may also order a comprehensive stool culture, analysis or lactulose breath test to check for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), and a referral to a gastroenterologist.
The Brighten Protocol™ teaches you how to heal your gut, identify food sensitivities, and optimizing gut function so you can effectively eliminate your hormones and other waste. By healing your gut you will also ensure you can replenish your nutrients.
The Top 10 Herbs & Nutrients to Heal the Gut:
- N-Acetyl Glucosamine
- Slipper Elm Bark
- Citrus Pectin
In my practice, I recommend these herbs and nutrients in capsule form for generally 2-3 months, depending on the patients needs. I have found great success while using this product during an elimination diet. Talk with your provider about what would be the best approach for you.
Support Natural Hormone Detox
Your body depends on your detox system to remove excess hormones from the body. This is a natural system that supports optimal hormone health. These detox systems depend on adequate nutrients, including B vitamins, the same ones which are depleted when taking an oral contraceptive.
If you've read my book, Beyond the Pill, then you're familiar with the detox chapter. The chapter's original name was Liver Health 101. Apparently that wasn't a name that my publishing team felt was catchy enough. Fair enough. I mean, is “liver” anything something that makes people want to read a book. We changed it to Birth Control Detox 101, as the chapter's purpose was to teach you how your liver and detox system functions on it's own and how to support it naturally. Sadly, what I've seen arise as a result is much confusion thinking that without a special set of supplements your liver will never be able to detox. Your liver can and will, but sometimes it does need support by way of diet, lifestyle, and the removal of things like environmental toxins.
Your liver, which is responsible for processing and readying estrogen for removal from the body can benefit from added support. Eating foods, like in the list below, reducing or eliminating alcohol and unnecessary pharmaceuticals, can help your liver function at its best. The liver is one of the primary organs responsible for detoxing synthetic hormones from the body. Some women using hormonal birth control have a higher risk of developing liver tumors.
Eat Liver Loving Foods.
Beets, carrots, dandelion root, burdock root, broccoli, cauliflower, broccoli sprouts, and kale are all foods I encourage my patients to get plenty of daily. During times when you especially want to show your liver some love, I recommend juicing some of these foods and mixing in 1 tablespoon of grass fed collagen.
Post-Birth Control Syndrome Metabolic Repair
In fact, most women find their concerns about metabolic issues dismissed.
Some women will find these issues resolve when they discontinue birth control, while others will need to work with a provider to address their cholesterol and other factors.
Post-Birth Control Syndrome: It's Not in Your Head
If you're a woman struggling with Post-Birth Control Syndrome I want you to know your symptoms are not in your head. Many women experience this condition, especially if they've been on it for a long period of time. The good news is that it can be reversed and you can restore health, hormone balance and maintain your fertility if motherhood is in the plans. Partnering with a licensed practitioner experienced in hormonal health can make all the difference.