“Birth Control” by Rachel Mendez is licensed under CC BY 2.o
My Journey with Birth Control
My experience with birth control started when I was in my late adolescence. Like so many women I know, I struggled with painful, heavy periods, and was told by friends, family, and my doctor that taking the birth control pill would make my periods less painful, less intense. I took the pill consistently for about four years. And I have to say, my periods were regular and much more bearable.
However, I hit a point in my life where I started to feel like I wasn’t in control of my emotions, and my happiness was suffering. Was it because of a rocky relationship with my then-boyfriend? Hardships of entering adulthood? Did I have a mental health disorder? Or perhaps it was a side effect of my birth control pill…
Looking back now, I can’t say for sure what exactly was causing my emotional toil – it was most likely a combination of factors. Something needed to change. At this point in my life, I was starting to realize that what I put into my body made a big impact in my overall well-being. I was working hard to improve my diet, so I figured I would examine any substances I was taking: birth control pills.
I started to do some research online. I read about other women’s experiences with the pill. So many of them discussed feeling depressed along with many other health symptoms. I started talking to my close friends who were currently on the pill or had used the pill in the past, and several of them described similar symptoms.
Through my research, I learned how birth control pills effect the body:
1. Birth control pills prevent production of natural hormones, causing an imbalance in hormones.
Generally speaking, birth control pills work by preventing ovulation. They contain two types of synthetic hormones: estrogen and progestin. Synthetic estrogen works to prevent the pituitary gland from producing follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) to stop ovulation and thin the lining of the uterus. Progestin works to prevent the pituitary gland from producing LH.
Some forms of birth control include both synthetic estrogen and progestin, and others contain only progestin (the mini pill). Hormonal birth control does not only come in pill-form, but also in patches, vaginal rings, and some intrauterine devices.
The monthly bleeding women experience when taking the 7 days of placebo pills mimics a woman’s period, but is not in fact a natural occurrence of menstruation. The cycle of natural hormones causes the uterus to build up a lining of tissue to welcome a fertilized egg, and when the egg is not fertilized, the uterus sheds the lining – thus, your period. When birth control pills were first created, doctors felt more women would use the pills if they kept the ability to menstruate. When synthetic hormones are suddenly stopped while taking the placebos, the uterus sheds its lining. However, because the lining is already thinned due to the synthetic hormones, the perceived period is lighter than a natural period. Technically, there is no biological reason for a woman to get her “period” while on birth control pills.
A lot of women go on the pill to have clearer skin (I admit, my skin was very clear while on the pill). The reason for that has to do with the extra estrogen in birth control pills. Estrogen works to decrease the effects of hormones called androgens. Androgens are viewed as “male” hormones such as testosterone. Women also contain these hormones, but in lesser amounts than men. Androgens are linked to sebum production in the skin. The higher the level of androgens, the more sebum is produced. Having a lot of sebum can increase the chance of clogged pores.
Have you ever experienced a breakout right before your period? This is likely due to androgens being at their highest during this point in your natural cycle, and estrogen being at its lowest. Estrogen increases once menstruation occurs, which tends to be why breakouts clear up after you get you period.
Androgens are crucial in managing our moods, sense of well-being, and responding positively to exercise. Having too high or too low levels of androgens can cause problems with our sense of happiness.
Why might there be an excess of androgens in the your body? Research has shown there to be a link between spikes in insulin and increased level of androgens. Eating high-sugar and starchy foods increase insulin, which in turn increases androgens.
Birth control pills tamper with a woman’s natural hormonal cycle. While birth control pills may help alleviate uncomfortable symptoms such as heavy, painful periods or hormonal acne, birth control masks the root of the problem. When women choose to come off the pill, many of them experience worse symptoms than prior to taking them as their body attempts to regain a sense of balance.
2. Birth control pills create yeast overgrowth
Having higher levels of estrogen in the body due to synthetic hormones lead to yeast overgrowth (a bacteria called candida) in the digestive system. This happens when the beneficial bacteria is killed. When you consider other common contributors to yeast (refined sugars, high stress, antibiotics) the problem can develop quickly. An overgrowth of candida weakens the immune system, bringing a slew of other health problems.
3. Birth control pills cause a deficiency in nutrients
To metabolize birth control pills, the liver must use high levels of B-complex, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc. These nutrients are depleted quickly. A deficiency in these nutrients can lead to a variety of symptoms such as migraines, fatigue, weight gain, fluid retention, moodiness, and depression.
When you consider the potential health risks of consuming birth control pills over a period of time, it’s no wonder that taking the pill has been shown to cause an increase in risk for breast and cervical cancer, blood clots, heart disease, decrease in bone density, infertility, and benign tumors.
I, myself, had a benign tumor in my right breast that required surgical removal. Was the tumor a result of having been on birth control for years? I cannot know for sure, but it very well could be.
At this point, I had heard enough about the hardships of others taking the pill, and discovered the potential brutal consequences – so I decided I would go off the pill…for good.
In Part 2, I will discuss my journey to finding a natural solution to birth control. Stay tuned!