Oral contraceptives are one of the leading prescriptions used by women today and since their introduction over 50 years ago (1).
In the U.S the majority of women of reproductive age have used at least one method of contraception in their lifetime (2).
Hormonal contraceptives, in particular, use synthetic hormones to suppress the body’s own natural cyclical hormones in order to prevent pregnancy.
There are different types of birth control pills and the most common include a combination of estrogens and progestins.
These combination pills stop ovulation from occurring by preventing the release of an egg in the ovaries. They also thicken cervical mucus and thin the endometrial lining to prevent fertilization between the sperm and egg.
There are also progestin only hormonal contraceptives, known as the mini pill. They prevent pregnancy by thickening cervical mucus and thinning the endometrial lining.
Combination pills may be slightly more effective than the progestin only pills.
Though oral contraceptives are effective at preventing pregnancy (typical use is around 91% effective in preventing pregnancy (3)), many women today are taking hormonal contraceptives for other reasons, such as to alleviate hormonal symptoms.
However, hormonal birth control is unfortunately not the solution to hormonal imbalances as it merely suppresses our own hormonal production. This can alleviate symptoms in the short term however, whatever problems we were dealing with before will usually return. And many of these symptoms come back with a vengeance.
What we need to remember, is although oral contraceptives can restore a bleed, this is not a true period, it is merely a withdrawal bleed from the synthetic hormones.
A true period comes after ovulation – which does not occur with the use of hormonal birth control due to its ovulatory suppressing effects.
What are the risks associated with hormonal birth control?
There are some benefits to oral contraceptives as they can help to reduce unwanted symptoms such as cramping, heavy periods, and acne. But as mentioned these are usually only short lived. In addition, OCs may reduce the risk of ovarian, colorectal, and endometrial cancers (4).
The most commonly known risks associated with oral contraceptives include blood clotting or deep vein thrombosis, low libido, weight changes, and recurrent yeast infections.
But there are actually many more that you may not be aware of. Oral contraceptives have been associated with an increased risk of crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (5), nutrient depletions (6), glycemic variability and metabolic changes (7), cervical cancer (8), breast cancer (9)(10), ischemic stroke (11), shrinkage of the reproductive organs, migraine headaches, cardiovascular disease (12), anxiety, nausea, painful intercourse, breast tenderness, depression (13)(14), suicidal thoughts, and low testosterone (15).
What are non hormonal alternatives to hormonal birth control?
Fortunately if you are still looking to avoid pregnancy without the use of hormonal birth control, there are other solutions:
- Fertility Awareness Method
The Fertility Awareness Method is a system of observations and recordings of your body’s natural indicators of fertility (ovulation) across your female cycle.
The Fertility Awareness Method works because for most of the days of your cycle, you are not fertile. However it is important to establish that FAM is not the same as cycle tracking, also known as the calendar or rhythm method.The rhythm method, tracks your menstrual history to predict when you’ll ovulate each month. However this is highly inaccurate and not a reliable form of contraception because our cycle changes every month thus ovulation and fertile days will also change.
The Fertility Awareness method uses 3 key indicators to either predict or confirm ovulation: cervical mucus, cervical position, and basal body temperature.
When used correctly, the Fertility Awareness method has a 0.6% failure rate. We recommend working with a certified instructor before using FAM as a method of contraception.
- Copper IUD
One of the oldest forms of birth control with a 0.6% failure rate.
An IUD is a small device which is placed inside the uterus. It contains copper which is slowly released into the uterine cavity. It does not change your hormones and does not prevent ovulation but prevents fertilization. The copper IUD can stay in the uterus for up to 10 years, making it quite convenient.
The Copper IUD prevents pregnancy in two ways:
– The copper ions impair sperm motility
– The physical presence of the IUD in the uterus prevents embryo implantation
Though the copper IUD is non hormonal it can still impact hormones indirectly. Copper toxicity is a potential concern therefore we recommend regularly verifying your copper and zinc levels with your physician and supplementing if necessary. The copper IUD can also worsen cramping and heavy bleeds.
- Barrier methods
- The diaphragm is a silicon or rubber cup that is inserted inside of the vagina to cover the cervix, blocking sperm from reaching the uterus. For best results it requires the use of spermicide which can be applied at the same time as the diaphragm before intercourse. It can be inserted several hours before and stay inside the vagina for up to 24 hours, The diaphragm is a cheap option that is fairly easy to use, it does however require a physician for fitting. Effectiveness ranges from 84-94% depending on accuracy of use.
- Male Condoms: When used properly, condoms are 98% effective. They are cheap and easy to use and also prevent STD’s. Conventional options are usually full of toxins, chemicals, and even carcinogens, that can harm your health. However, there are now increasing varieties of vegan and non chemical condoms on the market that are non-toxic and are often more sustainable options that are better for the environment and for humans. Some clean brands include: Sustain Natural, Glyde, L Condoms, Sir Richard’s, B Condoms, Fair Squared.
- Sponge: The contraceptive sponge is a small, round sponge made from soft plastic which is inserted inside of the vagina before intercourse. The sponge covers the cervix and contains spermicide to help prevent pregnancy. It can be used by itself, or with condoms. With typical use the sponge alone is about 78% effective. Using the sponge plus a condom gives you extra protection from pregnancy as well as STD’s.
How can we start to balance our hormones and regulate our period naturally?
We believe that every woman has the right to choose what is right for her body. When it comes to oral contraceptives many women are told hormonal birth control is the solution to their hormone problems. However this is simply not accurate. Therefore the proper education and freedom of choice is imperative in order for women to feel confident with their choices and do what is best for their situation. Whether you are transitioning off hormonal birth control or want to gain a better understanding of your hormonal health and venture into a more natural way of managing your symptoms, the tips below can help you to achieve that.
- Replace nutrient deficiencies
Oral contraceptives have been shown to deplete key nutrients in the body including vitamin B2, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, selenium, magnesium, zinc, and coenzyme Q10 (16). Choosing a good quality prenatal or mult-ivitamin/multimineral supplement to help cover your nutritional bases may be a good idea alongside a diet rich in whole foods that contains a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
- Optimize gut healing
The gut has also been shown to be impacted by oral contraceptives. OCs can promote intestinal permeability by increasing inflammation in the intestines, disrupting the microbiome, and promoting a pathogenic environment such as yeast overgrowth (17). Which means we need to take extra care of it while on hormonal birth control and post pill.
OCs have also been associated with an increased risk of inflammatory bowel diseases such as crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (18).
Removing inflammatory foods is an essential step for proper gut healing and these include the obvious processed and fried foods. However there are also many other common foods that are more reactive in humans than others which include corn, soy, wheat, gluten, and dairy. An elimination diet may be useful for a few weeks to help calm inflammation and investigate any foods that you may be reacting to. Choosing whole nutrient dense foods will help to replenish the body and also promote repair and healing.
Some of our favourite gut healing foods include bone broth, turmeric, aloe, ginger, pineapple, papaya, and fermented vegetables.
- Manage your blood sugar
Insulin resistance is also known as pre-diabetes, and is impacted by diet and lifestyle the most. However certain medications, such as hormonal contraceptives, can also alter insulin signalling and blood sugar regulation.
How can you improve insulin sensitivity and manage your blood sugar? Eating regular meals is key! Balancing them with a healthy source of fat, protein, and complex carbohydrates will help to keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day.
Increasing your intake of whole fruits and vegetables with your meals can make a big difference not only for your blood sugar and insulin but also your overall health.
- Practice stress management
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis includes the hypothalamus and the pituitary in the brain, and the adrenal glands. These make up our central stress response system which is responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body.
Proper HPA axis function is essential for a healthy stress response and endocrine system but will also impact your energy levels during the day and your ability to fall asleep (and stay asleep) at night.
This means it’s even more important to have daily stress management practices in place if you are on the pill or recently came off the pill. A bedtime routine away from electronics that sets you up with at least 7 hours of sleep per night is recommended in order to establish a healthy circadian rhythm and promote proper healing and repair.
Stress management practices that can fit into any daily routine may include meditation, nature therapy, journaling, low impact exercise, and deep breathing.
Natural remedies that can be taken as an additional aid for a healthy stress response include herbal adaptogens such as ashwagandha, astragalus, and schisandra.
These are included in our stress formula Restore alongside vitamin B5 for extra support for the adrenal glands during times of stress.
- Support detoxification
Hormonal contraceptives are classified as endocrine disruptors as they introduce synthetic hormones into the body. The liver takes quite a hit as it not only needs to process these hormones, alongside its other 500 jobs, but the nutrients required to do its job are also depleted from hormonal contraceptives.
Supporting the liver requires avoidance of toxin exposure (as much as possible) while including liver supporting foods and nutrients to which includes a variety of amino acids, B vitamins, minerals, etc. This is why a whole foods diet with plenty of fiber rich vegetables is essential in order to supply the nutrients the liver may need and support the removal of toxins via the digestive tract.
Be careful if you choose to stay on the pill and work on your liver as increased detoxification could make the effectiveness decrease.
If you are looking to come off hormonal birth control naturally, there are many herbs and supplements that can make this transition easier by providing extra support to the liver and digestive organs.
Our hormonal detox formula Resët is a clever combination of all natural ingredients that cleanse your body’s liver and uterus, taking a holistic approach to providing you with post Birth Control Support. Resët uses a combination of milk thistle, ginger, chaste tree (vitex agnus-castus), resveratrol, folic acid, and vitamins B6 and B12 to support ovulation, liver health, healthy estrogen levels, and optimal digestive function. Each of these ingredients work harmoniously to improve the balance in your body and contribute to your overall health and well being.