Have you ever gone to your doctor for symptoms like acne, irregular or painful periods and come out with birth control pills? Many of you have been told this is the solution to your problems without being informed about how the pill works and what it is doing in your body. I had that experience when I was 19 years old.
I was experiencing significant acne. Someone told me that Birth Control might help, so I went to the campus medical center and was prescribed birth control pills. The doctor didn't mention anything about the potential side effects or what pills were actually doing in my body. And she certainly didn't tell me that a few simple dietary tweaks could help my acne disappear naturally.
Like most women, I was told that the pill would balance my hormones and take care of my symptoms. I wish someone would have told me that while the pill might get rid of my symptoms it would not balance my hormones, and it would not get to the root cause of my acne.
If you are suffering from a nasty symptom, getting rid of it sounds like a wonderful thing, but is it really that simple? Are birth control pills effective in balancing your hormones or is there more to the story?
Let’s look at this issue and ask whether the pill is really your best option.
The Natural Hormone Cycle vs. Your Hormones on the Pill
In order to understand the effects of birth control pills on your body, you must first understand the basics of the natural hormonal cycle. It is a delicate dance with your hormones ebbing and flowing throughout the cycle.
- Follicular phase (approximately days 1-13) - Begins the first day of your bleed. Estrogen gradually increases during the phase of your cycle while progesterone stays low. It peaks at the end of this phase, and there is a burst of luteinizing hormone resulting in ovulation.
- Ovulation (approximately day 14) - Egg is released.
- Luteal phase (day 15-28) - Progesterone takes over and estrogen rises towards a second peak.
- If you are pregnant the progestogen remains high. If not, progesterone and estrogen begin a major decline bringing you back to the follicular phase.
Each of these hormones have a specific purpose in the body, and the pill prevents you from going through this intricate cycle.
Chart from: Core Health Coaching
How Birth Control Pills Affect Hormones
Most birth control pills are combination pills, meaning they contain a mixture of both estrogen and progesterone. Giving your body a daily dose of these hormones overrides your body's own mechanisms for balancing your hormones. Instead of the natural cycle that is shown above, hormone levels are pretty much flat-lined.
You don't get the hormonal ebb and flow you would in a normal cycle, therefore you don’t ovulate. While this is great for giving women freedom in their sexuality and minimizing the chance of unwanted pregnancies, hijacking the natural cycle of hormones comes at a cost!
Periods as a Vital Sign
I like to think of your period/cycle as one of your important vital signs like your pulse, temperature, and blood pressure. If your natural cycle is working appropriately, this can give you VALUABLE information about your health, hormones, and fertility. If you have pain, bleed too much or not enough, have a cycle that is too long or too short, or aren't ovulating, this tells you so much about your health.
If you have any of these issues, figuring out what is at the root of your symptoms and fixing them can improve the symptoms and help you to feel your best throughout the month! Symptoms are our body's way of communicating with us that something isn't quite right. When we listen, we can work towards achieving ideal health. If we take a pill that flat lines our hormones, the symptoms might go away... but they might also get worse! Or come back with a vengeance once we stop taking the pill.
Risks of taking birth control include:
Most of the women that I've talked to about birth control aren't given full informed consent about the benefits, risks, and alternatives to taking the pill. According to Jolene Brighten, author of "Beyond the Pill" the following are the risks associated with the birth control pill.
- Hormonal Confusion: missing or irregular periods, light or heavy periods, short cycles, infertility, headaches
- Digestive Problems: leaky gut, gut dysbiosis, inflammatory bowel disease
- Energy Reduction: fatigue, adrenal and thyroid dysfunction
- Skin issues: Hair loss, dry skin
- Mood disruption: depression, anxiety
- Lady part disturbance: low libido, vaginal dryness, chronic infection, pain with sex
- Vitamin mineral, and antioxidant depletion (such as B12, folate, and magnesium)
- Increases risk of blood clots and strokes
- Can lead to weight gain
- Increases the risk of breast, cervical, and liver cancers
- Increases the risk of diabetes and insulin resistance
On the other hand, the rise in progesterone that we have during a natural cycle after ovulation not only leaves us feeling chilled out, calm, and in love with our partners, it helps our bones, brains, thyroid hormones, and stress hormones.
As you can see the natural cycle, including ovulation, is critical for female health in many ways!
Many women who are on the pill think they are having a period, but without ovulation, there cannot be a true period, so this is really just a hormone withdrawal pill bleed.
Masking the Symptoms
In addition to the negative side effects, controlling irregular cycles through birth control only masks the symptoms. Your hormones aren’t really coming into balance and a healthy period is not truly established.
If a woman's period is irregular, painful, heavy, or "off" in some other way, it is important to figure out WHY that is happening and not just suppress her body's natural hormones to deal with the symptoms.
Getting to the root of your hormonal imbalance will improve your health in ways that masking your symptoms ever will.
Is Hormonal Contraception Ever Appropriate?
If you've made it this far, you might think that I feel that hormonal contraception is never appropriate. I do think that if a woman is given the proper informed consent (presented with the benefits, risks, and alternatives) it can be appropriate for some, but only when the benefits outweigh the risks.
Each woman needs to make her own decision about what is right for her body, and what makes her feel best! While I am always a fan of finding the root cause, this can be difficult in some cases. Having a reprieve from symptoms (if that is what B.C. brings) can bring a much-needed break.
What does This mean for Those With PCOS?
Getting to the root cause of your hormonal imbalance is especially important for those struggling with the symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). For many women with PCOS, cycles can be very irregular and long. This is because the excess androgens and hormonal imbalance can make it hard to ovulate. Unfortunately, going on the pill forces a monthly bleed, but doesn't fix the root cause of why ovulation isn't happening. The pill will not make you ovulate, and often when you come off of birth control the symptoms can return just as severely if not worse.
Dealing with the root causes of your symptoms will be much more effective for your overall health both now and in the future.
The most common root causes are inflammation, insulin resistance, thyroid dysfunction, and stress/cortisol imbalance. When these areas are addressed with appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes, symptoms often disappear with no medication at all!
When we mask these symptoms with birth control pills, it allows us to leave the underlying issues untreated. If you are ready to address the root cause of your PCOS, check out my free webinar here.
Don’t settle for anything less than identifying and addressing the root cause of your symptoms. Follow me on social media to learn how to address your symptoms naturally! You can find DuPage Family Wellness on Instagram or my Hormone Balancing Group on Facebook.