The Truth about Hormonal Birth Control
By Ashleigh Iredale, BHSc (Naturopathy) student
You may know that the oral contraceptive pill (hormonal birth control) can cause depression, loss of sex drive, hair loss and weight gain. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there; high blood pressure, nutrient deficiency and reduced thyroid function can also occur as a side effect. It also alters intestinal and vaginal bacteria which can lead to digestive problems and yeast infections. Finally, studies have shown it can decrease the formation of healthy bones by the absence of not having a true period. If you have not had your period for more than three months, then you are slowly increasing your lifetime risk of osteoporosis. It is your real hormones oestrogen and progesterone that are essential for bone health. How can one pill cause so much disruption over so many systems in the body? The answer is the synthetic hormones.
The human hormones synthesised by your ovaries are estradiol and progesterone and they have many benefits not just for reproduction; for mood, bones, thyroid, muscles and metabolism. These hormones are essential for human physiology and are HUMAN hormones. These are unfortunately not the hormones administrated every day in the form of the oral contraceptive pill. In contrast, the pill consists of steroid hormones called ethinylestradiol, drospirenone, levonorgestrel and others and serve their purpose as chemical messengers, also known as pseudo hormones. Their chemical make-up is different from our human hormones, therefore do not carry out the same beneficial roles that our human hormones do.
A natural period is a sequence of hormonal events including ovulation, and the making of progesterone and ending in menstruation if an egg has not been fertilised. A natural period represents healthy ovaries and if you know how to listen and interpret your body signs, it can give you a healthy report card every month. A pill bleed is not resulting from ovulation; it is a withdrawal bleed from the synthetic hormones. When you stop taking the synthetic hormones that stimulate uterine lining and shut down your hormones, the drop in pseudo hormones results in a bleed. Yes I did just say shut down your hormones, on the pill you do not have any of your own sex hormones, they go on holidays and the pill provides steroid hormones as a hormonal replacement method.
As a student at Endeavour Wellness Clinic, I commonly see heavy periods, painful periods and/or irregular periods being prescribed the pill as a band-aid. Yes, the pseudo hormones do regulate your bleed but they do not address the underlying pathology as to why there were symptoms in the first place. The good news is that there are other options that do not come with side effects and compromises on your health whether you’re on the pill to ‘regulate your menses’ or to avoid pregnancy.
It is important to note that there is no hormonal herbal alternative for the contraceptive pill. There are other options that work by acting as a barrier between you and the sperm or don’t interfere with ovulation and they are known as type 1 contraceptive methods. These options include FAM (Fertility Awareness Method) and when used correctly can be just as efficient as the pill, however, requires training by your doctor, taking your basal temperature in the morning before you get out of bed to determine when you ovulate by a drop in temperature. This way you can determine the best time to avoid sexual intercourse. You could try male condoms, female condoms, withdrawal or pull-out method with education around charting etc. (see your naturopath for further information) and diaphragm without spermicide. These are all type 1 contraceptive methods that do not carry some toxicity or health risk. If you want to research into type 2 and 3 contractive methods, I recommend some further reading “Period Repair Manual- Every Woman’s Guide to Better Periods”- Lara Briden. This will be your bible!
As a naturopathic student, I have used a lot of great supplements and herbal medicine to achieve the desired results whether it’s pain, heavy periods, loss of periods, spotting throughout the cycle, nausea, headaches etc. There are herbs that encourage communication between the pituitary gland and the ovaries via the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovary (HPO) axis to bring on a period after coming off the pill, there are herbs to reduce pain by alleviating uterine spasmodic actions, there are herbs to decrease nausea, there are herbs to reduce inflammation via inflammatory pathways. I also have referred for testing to identify any differential diagnosis that may the reason behind the symptoms. Through thorough case taking on your diet, reproductive history and depending on the case itself, other systems I will be able to determine an appropriate treatment to address the correct pathology. For further information, feel free to book a naturopathic consultation via Endeavour Wellness Clinic.
Let’s have a chat about your options.