What I wish I knew about birth control
I’m not sure if things have changed but when I was growing up birth control pills were being given out like candy. Nearly all the girls I knew were on birth control despite not being sexually active. Birth control was used to help calm down a problematic cycle or acne and other skin problems as well as preventing pregnancy. So when it came time for me to take birth control I really didn’t think anything of it. I was 21, recently married and much too young to fall pregnant. Everyone I knew had tried birth control with seemingly no problems at all so it was really a no brainer. I am not saying that birth control doesn’t work to prevent pregnancy or correct the problems it is used for. In many cases, it really does help and can initially be a great relief for many women, but birth control works by masking the problem and not really correcting the underlying issue. Considering that there are so many other ways to prevent pregnancy without the use of hormones I often wonder if the long term effects are really worth it?
For the most part, I knew nothing about what side effects to expect with my birth control except for what I read on the little paper that comes inside the box. I remember reading about headaches and nausea and increased risk of cancer. I also remember thinking “but that won’t happen to me” and I was right. I never got nausea or headaches (or cancer) I got a completely different set of side effects that absolutely no one warned me about. I found that doctors had no idea what to do with me because my symptoms didn’t fit into the typical list of side effects.
There was (and still is) very little information on what to expect after you stop birth control, and much of the information is outdated and not clearly understood by doctors. Doctors will tell you that within a few days the artificial hormones will be flushed from your system and your period will return to what it was before you took birth control. Depending on what form of contraception you take you should be back to your previous fertile self in no more than 6 months. Doctors also stress that unless you want to get pregnant there is no reason to take a “break” from birth control as your body will always return to normal. Of course, this is hardly ever the case. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever met a single woman that didn’t react to contraception in some way whether big or small. You can read about my experience with birth control here:https://hazelandcacao.com/my-experience-with-the-implanon/
So in hindsight here are all the things I wish I would have known before taking hormonal birth control:
1. Birth control shuts down natural hormone production:
while on hormonal birth control our own hormone production completely shuts off. Instead, we are operating under synthetic hormones that mimic our real hormones but have different effects on the body (including creating neurotoxins in the brain). Coming off birth control means that our body needs to learn to make its own hormones again which is not always easy.
2. Post-birth control syndrome is very real :
This can present itself in a range of symptoms, experienced four to six months after going off of hormonal birth control: headaches, hair loss, libido loss, mood swings, insomnia, depression, chronic yeast infections and UTIs, acne and rashes, irregular periods, and difficulty conceiving. This happens because birth control creates HPA axis dysfunction. This means that the brain has lost the ability to communicate effectively with endocrine glands. some women have difficulty establishing their own hormone production leading to low hormones and infertility and other women can go through a rebound effect where they produce too many hormones, Rebound is mostly seen with testosterone and leads to PCOS and acne
3. Young women and girls are more at risk of severe side effects with birth control:
It takes 12 years after the start of girls first period at puberty for the body to establish a mature hormonal system. If birth control is taken before this point, hormonal dysregulation is almost guaranteed, especially if the girl is also underweight or less than 65kg. (This is the weight that most birth control is based on in trials)
4. Birth control can cause infertility and pregnancy complications.
hormonal deficiencies are common once stopping birth control as the body is still trying to establish normal hormone production. Often estrogen levels are not high enough to reach ovulation leading to infertility. Low progesterone levels post-birth control also lead to recurrent miscarriages, premature births and pre-eclampsia
5. Birth control severely impacts the gut:
Contraception lowers stomach acid and disrupts normal gut bacteria. This leads to leaky gut or intestinal permeability as well as gluten and dairy intolerance (probably the main reason 95% of all people with gluten intolerance are women ) IBS and even more serious conditions like Chrones Disease. Studies have shown that women with a predisposition to chrones disease are 300 times more likely up develop the disease while on hormonal birth control. Other studies have suggested taking birth control has similar effects on the gut as antibiotics.
6. Birth control causes vitamin and mineral deficiencies:
until recently I was unaware of just how strong birth control is at depleting nutrients. It is classed as one of the worst offenders for nutrient loss in the body. When contraception was first introduced it came with a warning on the label that women must supplement their diet while on contraception as it was extremely powerful at depleting nutrient stores especially B group vitamins and all essential minerals: zinc and magnesium in particular.
7. Birth control causes generalised inflammation and gum inflammation.
This came as no surprise to me as I had learned about it at university, but my patients were always shocked to find out that women on birth control are about 1/3 more likely to have sore bleeding inflamed gums which lead to periodontal disease and other associated diseases. This is because Birth control is also highly inflammatory to the body as is known to greatly increase CRP levels and inflammatory markers.
8. Birth control is the main cause of hormonal imbalances:
Depending on the type of contraception as well as the length of time, birth control has been linked with pretty much every hormonal imbalance under the sun: thyroid dysfunction, insulin resistance, PCOS, infertility, estrogen dominance Pms, PMDD and many more.
9. Birth control can cause mood disorders:
Emotional disturbances on birth control are extremely common. Depression anxiety and irritability are common companions on birth control as well as a general sense of apathy and loss of interest in life. This is because birth control depletes vitamin b6 and interferes with the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin (happiness neurotransmitter) birth control also interferes with the GABA neurotransmitter (responsible for keeping you calm) because it shuts off natural progesterone which is needed to help our nerve cells take up GABA. Women on birth control are much more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than those not on birth control and studies suggest that 90% of teenage girls on progestin-only contraception will go on to take antidepressants. Emotional disturbances also occur once off birth control most likely due to the resulting hormone imbalances.
10. Birth control can cause skin disorders and hair loss:
Although birth control is used to treat acne, in some cases it can make acne worse. Coming off birth control can mean acne worsens due to the rebound of testosterone in some people. Other skin issues have a strong link to contraception like eczema, psoriasis and fungal infections (candida) this is likely due to the affects birth control has on the gut as well as the inflammatory burden of hormonal birth control.
11. Birth control can cause weight disturbances:
hormones all work together so it’s no wonder that a hormonal imbalance can also affect the thyroid and adrenals leading to fluctuating weight issues. Imbalances also lead to water retention (water weight) and bloating. Hormonal imbalance is strongly linked with reduced insulin sensitivity which leads to gaining weight and difficulty losing weight.
12. Birth control can lead to vaginal dryness:
because birth control interferes with all things pregnancy, usually cervical mucus dries up (as to not support pregnancy) this can lead to painful and itchy vaginal dryness. Hormone deficiencies caused by contraception can also lead to vaginal dryness.
13. Birth control causes low libido:
Most women will experience a significant drop in libido due to the synthetic progestins in birth control as well as the way the birth control interacts with testosterone. Birth control dramatically lowers testosterone production and further binds up any free testosterone by increasing sex binding globulin in the body. Low testosterone leads to low libido. Read my article about the main causes of low libido here: https://hazelandcacao.com/top-6-reasons-for-low-libido-in-women/
14. Birth control increases the risk of some cancers:
Birth control is a different dose of hormone replacement therapy given to women in menopause. HRT has been strongly linked to breast cancer and other female cancers. The World Health Organisation labels hormonal birth control as a type 1 carcinogen. That’s on the same level as smoking and asbestos.
15. Birth control can cause life-threatening blood clots:
There is more awareness of this one simply because more and more women have experienced blood clots and unfortunately there have been deaths.
I want to stress that these issues apply to hormonal contraception only. The type of side effects depends on the woman, the contraception is taken, dosage, length of time on contraception, and many other factors. I also want to stress that all forms of hormonal birth control will have side effects. I find it interesting that most women buy into the idea that they just haven’t found a birth control that’s right for them. While this may sound good in theory, constantly changing birth control only puts more stress on an already weakened hormonal system and leads to greater chances of developing hormonal imbalances.
Hormonal Birth control affects 150 different bodily functions and interferes with every organ in the body. It comes as no surprise that there are many other issues that can arise but from the research, I have done these are the most common. In actual fact, not a whole lot is known about how birth control really affects women so it is impossible to predict exactly how each woman will react.
“Giving birth control pills and other medicines to women to regulate their periods, improve their fertility, or enhance their sex drive is akin to putting a piece of tape over a flashing indicator light on the dashboard of your car and pretending you have addressed the engine problem rather than looking under the hood and addressing the underlying issue .” Christine Northrup MD