With about 10 million US women on oral contraception (a.k.a. ‘The Pill’), it’s not a surprise that there are a few questions about what it is and how it works in our bodies. Plus, not every women on the birth control pill (BCP) uses it to prevent pregnancy; some other common reasons for its use are irregular cycles, acne, PCOS and endometriosis. So, whether you’re on the pill, thinking about it, or just trying to get your hormones in check, let’s go through what you need to know.
How the birth control pill works
BCPs work by giving your body small amounts of the two main female hormones: progesterone and estrogen. The quantities in each pill are different, depending on which day you take them, but their overall goal is to halt ovulation (the release of an egg into your uterus), therefore, preventing pregnancy. The thought process is that if we prevent ovulation by controlling hormone levels, we can also effectively control symptoms related to excess hormone levels. Unfortunately, the human body isn’t that simple.
Are there risks to being on the pill?
Not every woman responds well to hormonal contraception (ask a friend who’s been on the pill how many different types she needed to try before finding the ‘right’ one). Simply put, if you’re taking the pill for any other reason besides pregnancy prevention, you’re better off getting to the real reason behind your hormonal issue instead. Here’s why:
Oral estrogen and progesterone therapy can cause a ton of side-effects, some annoying, and some more serious. A few common ones are weight gain, acne, irregular cycles, headache or mood changes. More rare adverse effects include cancer, blood clots or stroke (especially if you smoke). In addition, when you’re finally ready to come off the pill it can take months to get your cycles back & regular (not great if you’re trying to start a family).
The lesser known impacts of the pill include a bunch of nutrients depletions. Simply put, if you are taking the pill and are NOT adding back these important vitamins & minerals, you run the risk of other symptoms over time (low energy, breakouts, digestive problems, to name a few).
Birth control pill nutrient depletion:
- Vitamin B2
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B9
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
Balance your hormones naturally
Okay, so the pill may not be the best long term hormone balancer out there. What other choice do you have to regulate your cycles, improve PMS and boost your energy & mood? The truth is, I see women in my practice every week with hormonal imbalances (some caused by the pill itself) and there ARE natural ways to bring your body back into balance! Here are a few:
Focus on a whole-foods diet including healthy fats, lean protein and LOTS of veggies. Some of my favourite hormone balancing foods include: broccoli, flax, oats, & berries. Cut out red meat, dairy, processed foods and added sugars for faster results.
Chasteberry has been called the Female Friendly Fruit for PMS, and can help to balance the ratio of estrogen to progesterone. It has been shown to improve fertility, particularly for women with luteal phase defect (shortened second half of the menstrual cycle). Chinese Herbs have also been used for centuries to help balance hormones. DAO Labs' Women's Formula is based on Si Wu Tang, and can improve regularity, stabilize hormones, and tonify blood after menstruation.
You don’t have to run marathons to keep your hormonal system healthy. Instead, find an activity that you like, and do it regularly! As few as 3 times per week can make a huge difference in your PMS symptoms and mood; don’t make it a chore, enjoy taking good care of yourself!
Probably the largest factor in overall hormone balance. There is an intimate connection between our stress hormone, cortisol, and our reproductive hormones, estrogen & progesterone (this connection is poorly understood by conventional medicine, so always work with a functional medicine practitioner or naturopathic doctor if this is a weak area for you). In order to get started, consider taking some much-needed ‘me time’, sip relaxing herbal tea and do more of what makes you smile.
This simple lifestyle change should not be overlooked when it comes to balanced hormones. Aim for at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, and make sure you put your devices out of sight 60 minutes before you head to bed. If you find you’re wired at night or exhausted in the morning, you may benefit from some adrenal support for your stress glands. Consistency is key when it comes to this element!
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