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The Birth Control Pill: Sex, Drugs and Mood Swings

 

It can be tough to know where to begin when discussing the birth control pill. What was once believed to be the ticket to women's lib and free love has turned out to be anything but. It goes well beyond the common side effects of weight gain and mood swings.

Let's say that I suggested you eat something every day that could potentially cause not just weight gain and mood swings, but also breast tenderness, breast cancer, blood clotting, heart attack and stroke, migraines, gall bladder disease, increased blood pressure, nausea, benign liver tumours, and had no ingredient list to be found - would you eat it? What if I suggested you bathe the cells that make up your body in synthetic chemicals and petroleum waste, oil-slick-style, would you bathe in it?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes. Yes we would. Well most of us would, most of us do and have for several years. I did too, once upon a time. That is what f-bombing around with our hormones does and that is just the parts we can see.

Before we all get our knickers in a knot and you email me the thousand and five ways the pill has helped you manage things like acne, heavy periods, ovarian cysts etc., all I will ask is this: has it healed anything? Has it cured anything? Has it resolved the root of the problem?

As long as you are relying on a drug and/or chemical to function 'normally', the problem or health challenge has not been healed or resolved. Instead, it's only masked and suppressed deeper, which often leads for future complications. In this case, those complications are often associated with fertility issues.

Most of us failed to get out of our teens without being prescribed (often on our own request) a prescription birth control drug that we would take daily for years, and often decades on end, that controlled something that was not fully developed, and definitely not in a balanced place: the endocrine or hormonal system of our body.

The birth control pill is considered by many to be the most socially significant medical advance of the twentieth century. I can't help but wonder if the birth control pill didn't also contribute to the dramatic level of breast cancer in the women who were the first Pill guinea pigs. I wonder if  the common mood swing side effects don't contribute to the incredible quantity of mood and nervous system altering drugs we are now being prescribed (what's a little Xanax, Celexa and Zoloft between friends?). I also wonder if the pill (perhaps better referred to as the estrogen supplement) has also contributed to how digestively dysfunctional most women are through their 20's, infertile into their 30's and 40's and viciously sweaty into their 50's with menopause.

The pill wreaks havoc on our body biochemically, from a hormonal perspective as well as from a nutritional perspective. If we never correct these imbalances, we continue to tip further and further out of balance. Yes, we do ladies. And then we grow beards and have to get IVF in order to get knocked up after spending fifteen years doing our best not to get knocked up.

How Does The Pill Work?

The pill works by inhibiting the development of the egg in the ovaries. Lower estrogen levels will trigger the pituitary gland to sneeze out the hormone that triggers egg development. The pill, however, releases enough synthetic estrogen to inhibit that hormone from being released. The pill also contains progestin, another synthetic hormone that increases the thickness of cervical mucous and puts a hold on the development of the uterine lining, which further helps to prevent sperm from making its way to any egg.

The Early Warning Signs That Something Was Very Wrong

Another interesting fact I discovered in my research is that shortly after the birth control pill was introduced, the high falooten ladies supposed to be taking it began to raise concerns about side effects and safety.

As early as 1961, reports were circulating claiming that the birth control pill increased a woman's risk of suffering a stroke or a heart attack by causing blood clotting.

As early as 1961, reports were circulating claiming that the birth control pill increased a woman's risk of suffering a stroke or a heart attack by causing blood clotting. In 1965, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided a scientist (ie. perhaps a wee biased?) to study the side effects of the birth control pill and established an Advisory Committee on Obstetrics and Gynecology to study the relationship between oral contraceptives and blood clotting, and the increased risk of breast, cervical, and endometrial cancer. This committee established by the FDA reported that it had found no evidence to render the birth control pill unsafe for human use.

Does this surprise any of us?

To its credit, the FDA called for a larger study on the effects of the birth control pill on blood clotting, later determining that the pill hadn't been used long enough to study these effects.  It was also determined that studies as to whether the pill increased risk of breast, cervical, or endometrial cancer were inconclusive and required longer study periods.

If you are confused at this point, to summarize: the FDA hired a scientist to say that the pill was safe. When these results were questioned, they changed their answer to "we don't know".

Over the last 30 years, all sorts of new pills have been introduced with lower doses, different doses, different hormones and varying effectiveness ratings, resulting in roughly 40 different pills and the freedom for us ladies to try a cocktail of them to determine which make us less crazy, less fat, less blood clotted, less pimply, less ovarian cysty, less edometriosisalicious and less pregnant. No pill has ever made us healthier, or even healthy.
The Pill: Sex, Drugs and Mood Swings via @MeghanTelpner #womenshealth

How does the pill affect our health?

Birth control pill health risk

The Pill, in its inherent function, messes up our natural hormonal balance and removes our connection to our cycles. Though they may not be everyone's favourite time of the month, knowing what's happening in the body can help us better care for ourselves and understand why we feel the way we feel. The pill takes much of this away. Additionally, the pill depletes a myriad of essential nutrients that then cause a whole other basket of conditions and disorders. There are too many to mention so I am going to summarize the main issues, which include estrogen dominance, yeast overgrowth and nutrient depletion.

Estrogen Dominance and The Pill

When our hormones are in balance, we feel more in balance. Our moods are stable, our digestion is regular, our sleep is sweet and deep, our appetite is healthy, our immune system is strong and our energy is good. Perfect health, right? Hormones aren't just the sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone, but also adrenalin, insulin, cortisol and thyroid hormones among others. When any one of these is out of whack, the rest tumble along domino style to compensate. Our endocrine system is just that, a system, and it needs a sweet balance to operate at its best. When we take hormones in the form of supplements, Humpty Dumpty has a great fall and we timber to a place of imbalance.

Estrogen dominance is one of the most common results of long term birth control use. Not only is estrogen in the pill, but we also are highly exposed to xenoestrogens in our environment that have a hormone mimicry effect. Elevated estrogen levels have infiltrated our world, and this affects us and the poor hermaphrodite minnows.

Symptoms of Estrogen dominance include:

  • acceleration of the aging process
  • allergies
  • asthma
  • hives
  • rashes
  • sinus congestion
  • autoimmune disorders
  • breast cancer
  • cervical dysplasia
  • impaired thyroid function
  • decreased sex drive
  • depression with anxiety or agitation
  • dry eyes
  • endometrial (uterine) cancer
  • extra fat around the abdomen, hips and thighs
  • fatigue
  • fibrocystic breasts
  • foggy thinking
  • hair loss
  • headaches
  • hypoglycemia
  • increased blood clotting
  • infertility
  • irregular menstrual periods
  • irritability
  • insomnia
  • mood swings
  • osteoporosis
  • polycystic ovaries
  • PMS
  • slow metabolism
  • uterine cancer
  • uterine fibroids
  • bloating

Yeast Overgrowth and The Pill

I have yet to meet a woman who was on the birth control pill and had never experienced a yeast infection. There is nothing appetizing about cottage cheese discharge and an itchy, inflamed vagina. We take the pill, which contributes to this, then take an antibiotic to get rid of it, which further contributes to the microflora imbalance. It's a lose-lose.

Candida and yeast are commonly found in the digestive tract, where a healthy balance is imperative to digestive health and immune health. Common lifestyle choices like the birth control pill, antibiotics, processed and refined grains and sugar, oodles of stress, and acidic or negative thoughts can all lead to a yeast overgrowth. Toxins from yeast overgrowth then lead to a kit and caboodle of other problems, commonly starting with some vaginal or anal yeast infections.  We can then move onto other things like migraines, infertility, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, psoriasis, PMS, depression and digestive disorders.

But we can treat all those as symptoms, right? And keep taking the pill while being flummoxed about why they keep coming back. Basically, yeast overgrowth has been closely linked to estrogen dominance in a woman's body caused by the pill and the risk increases with length of usage.

Mood Swings And The Pill

In Nutrition and Vitamin Therapy, Michael Lesser, M.D. has suggested that the "increased blood levels of copper generated by oral contraceptive use may contribute to depression and emotional symptoms". What about increased blood levels of copper from a copper IUD? Same.

Another professional on the subject, Sharon DeBuren, a nurse practitioner and nutritionist, has stated that the depression from The Pill could likely be a "neurochemical reaction to artificial steroids (female hormones), and from a lack of women's own superior hormones including estradiol and natural progesterone secreted with ovulation."

Several studies have demonstrated how the pill actually alters brain chemistry contributing to mood swings in susceptible populations. One in 12 women on the pill experience more than just crankiness and irritability but can be swung into fits of anger and deeper depression.

The pill causes major depletion in specific nutrients, such as the B vitamins responsible for keeping us smiling. So now let's turn to the nutrient losses.

Nutrient DEFICieNCIES The Pill

Nutrients depleted by The Pill include vitamin B2, B6, B12, Folic Acid, Vitamin C, magnesium and Zinc. Let's have a look at a few of these.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Riboflavin has a profound affect on the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein. All three of these basic food elements require riboflavin to be properly utilized by the body. Vitamin B2 is also vital for normal reproduction, growth, repair and development of body tissues including the skin, eyes, connective tissue, mucous membranes and the immune and nervous systems. A deficiency of B2 may result in bloodshot eyes, abnormal sensitivity to light, itching and burning of the eyes, inflammation in the mouth, a sore and burning tongue, and cracks on the lips and in the corners of the mouth. It may also result in dull or oily hair, oily skin, premature wrinkles on the face and arms, and split nails. Riboflavin deficiency is associated with the malfunctioning of the adrenal glands, making us unable to cope with normal amounts of stress. It can also contribute to such disorders as anaemia, vaginal itching and cataracts.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral in the body and is needed for the proper functioning of muscles and nerves, activates cellular enzymatic activity, necessary for calcium, Vitamin C, phosphorus, sodium and potassium metabolism, important  for converting blood sugar into energy and perhaps most important, it is our anti-stress mineral. A deficiency therefore results in muscle cramping, rapid heart rate, aching muscles, menstrual cramping, depression, mood swings, insomnia, irritability, hyper-acidity, and anxiety to name a few.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)

Vitamin B6 supports more vital bodily functions than any other vitamin and works as a co-enzyme (team player) in order for many other reactions to occur in the body, including the digestion and absorption of protein. The formation of histamine, serotonin (keeps us happy), dopamine (lets us sleep) and adrenaline (helps us cope with stress) are dependent on vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 helps us maintain healthy immune system functions and is required for the balancing of hormonal changes in women and the growth of new cells. Deficiency symptoms include itchy, peeling skin (dermatitis), cracked and sore lips, dizziness, irritability, depression, neuropathy, poor coordination, confusion and insomnia.

Now, don't all these deficiency symptoms sound an awful lot like PMS?

To add to that, because the pill is metabolized by the liver before being eliminated, it puts an additional burden on this already overworked organ. You may think, 'Hey, no worries. I'll just take a multi-vitamin and be on my merry, birth control pill taking way." It's not so simple.

Elson Haas, MD, in his tome Staying Healthy With Nutrition, has the following recommended nutrient program and it is kind of insane, keeping in mind this is only so that you'll break even nutrient-wise. If you already have a deficiency or are dealing with any other health challenge, you need to more than this.

Nutrient Program for Oral Contraceptives

Water 1½-2 qt.

Vitamin A 5,000-10,000 IUs Calcium* 600-1,000 mg.
Beta-carotene 10,000-20,000 IUs Chromium 200-400 mcg.
Vitamin D 200-400 IUs Copper 1?- mg.
Vitamin E 400-600 IUs Iron 15-20 mg.
Tiamine (B1) 25-50 mg. Magnesium* 400-600 mg.
Riboflavin (B2) 25-50 mg. Manganese 5-10 mg.
Niacin or
niacinamide (B3)
25-50 mg. Molybdenum 150-300 mcg.
Pantothenic acid (B5) 50-250 mg. Phosphorus 600-800 mg.
Pyridoxine(B6) 25-50 mg. Potassium 1-2 g.
Cobalamin (B12) 50-200 mcg. Selenium 150-300 mcg.
Folic acid 600-800 mcg. Zinc 30-60 mg.
Biotin 200-400 mcg.
PABA 25-50 mg. Fatty acids, olive,
or Flaxseed oils
1-2 teaspoons
Vitamin C 1?3 g.
Bioflavonoids 250-500 mg.

Other health issues and The Pill

According to the British Medical Journal, "A woman more than doubles her risk of breast cancer even 20 years after she has stopped taking the pill, and women who have taken the pill for more than eight years also dramatically increase their risk for all cancers." (British Medical Journal, 2008; 336: 59-60). The pill can also lead to an increased risk of gum disease by encouraging bacterial growth in the mouth.

The birth control pill causes an imbalance in vaginal pH, which may increase your susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections. So you can take the pill to your heart's content, but you may also set your vaginal terrain up for the ideal conditions to contract a venereal disease.

Before talk about my favourite and most natural methods of birth control, I want to share a recipe for the pill should you want to cook up your own.

A few reasons to reconsider the birth control pill via @MeghanTelpner #womenshealth


What Are Birth Control Pill Ingredients?

As you may know by now, I have a commitment to knowing exactly what I am putting in and on my body. I like to know and understand the ingredients of things. But what about medications? How often do we actually consider what our medicines are made of?

Birth Control Unawareness Facts

  • 82% admit to not knowing what's inside their birth control pills.
  • 74% believe there are differences between birth control pills.
  • 71% agree that certain ingredients may have certain advantages for them.
  • 75% of women believe the specific type of progesterone in their birth control pills is important.
  • Only 2% know that drospirenone is a form of progesterone.

Basically, we're taking a pill and have no clue what's in it. It might also be interesting to note that 73% of women admit they have purchased one food item over another based on its ingredients and 60% have bought an item of clothing based on its materials.

Source

Finding the exact ingredients of the birth control pill is nearly impossible. You'll find lists of different hormones in different ratios - but what are they? Where do these synthetic hormones come from? What are they made from? This resource outlines how the pill is made and offers this manufacturing process:

  1. Using a process known as the wet granulation method, the active ingredients - the powders containing synthetic versions of estrogen and progestin - are mixed together with a dilutant and a disintegrant (products that dilute the powders and cause them to dissolve in liquid) in a large mixer.
  2. Solutions carrying a binding agent are stirred into the powder mass, which is wetted until it takes on the consistency of brown sugar.
  3. The powder mass is forced through a mesh screen.
  4. The moist material is then placed on shallow trays covered with large sheets of paper and placed in drying cabinets.
  5. A lubricant, in the form of a fine powder, is screened onto the dried material (known as dry granulation).
  6. The lubricant and the dry granulation are then mixed in a blender, using a tumbling-type action.
  7. Tablets are formed from the mixture, typically using a method known as direct compression.

So what we have here is the following:

  • combination of synthetic hormones
  • a dilutant
  • a disintegrant
  • a binding agent
  • a lubricant cocktail

All unnamed, unknown and unnatural.

Alternatives To The Birth Control Pill

So how about not taking it? Yes, I know, you don't want to get pregnant, but there are many other safe, healthy and happy options.

Several pills have been recalled over the past several years (there were three recalls in Canada in 2013) for various life threatening side affects. You can read more about the pill in this series I wrote a few years ago.

Many women who don't want to be on the birth control pill are taking to the risky "pull and pray" method. I think you get the idea on that one. One of the best and most empowering practices to take on, and to teach your daughters, is cycle tracking.

A woman’s egg can live for only 24 hours and healthy sperm can live for up to five days. That means there are only five, maybe six days out of the month where we can get knocked upAll we have to do is pay attention to the signals from our body. Imagine paying attention to what our body is telling us and simply monitoring our health without a pharmaceutical.

There are several options that are outlined in this video with The Red Tent Sisters and summarized below with links to learn more.

Lady Comp

Based on your morning temperature, taken orally, the fertility computer determines your fertile days and shows when you are ovulating by recording, analyzing and storing your menstrual cycle data. 
It monitors your daily status of fertility and will alert you on the days when intercourse may lead to pregnancy: 
on the day you ovulate – and the five days before ovulation.

Learn more here.

Justisse Method / CYCLE TRACKING

Short of getting our men snipped, the natural method involves three things: body temperature, cervical fluid and cervical position.

Waking Temperature (also known as basal body temperature): Wake-up, stick a thermometer under your tongue, track your temperature.  Though your temperature may vary slightly, following ovulation (usually around day 14 of your cycle), the waking temperature will increase and remain elevated. Charting temperatures makes it very easy to see the shift and thus determine when ovulation has occurred. There are now loads of apps online that can help make this easy. There are a few reasons that we want to know when the egg is dropping. For one, it's good to know that we are in fact ovulating. Another bonus is that if we experience delayed ovulation, this will result in a late period. So our period can be late without us getting freaked. As well, after ovulation we can do it without concern of getting pregnant. Now, don't go having free and easy love straight away. You do want to know your cycle a bit first and also want to make sure your temperature stays elevated. Wait about three days after the initial spike. Basically this means that the first 8 days of your cycle are safe, as are the last 12-14 or so. The rest of the time, just use other precautions.

Cervical Fluid: Cervical fluid is designed to provide a happy home for the sperm so they can make their way to the egg.  This cervical fluid, however, changes throughout the cycle. Right after our periods, the cervical fluid is dryer and more sparse. During fertile times, just before ovulation, it is most abundant, more viscous, slippery and stretchy, like egg white. It actually forms these little channels to help sperm swim along. After ovulation, the cervical fluid becomes thicker, more opaque and actually serves to block sperm.

Cervical Position. Did you know the cervix moves? Around menstruation, the cervix will be firm, low, closed and drier. Then, around ovulation, the cervix will be soft, high, open and wet - a flashing welcome sign for baby making.

This method, obviously, is also super effective for tracking fertility when trying to make wee little ones.
Learn more about the Justisse Method here

The FeMCap

The FemCap is is a reusable, non-hormonal, latex-free contraceptive device. In short, the FemCap is:

  • reusable for a year
  • made of non-allergenic, durable, surgical-grade silicone
  • designed to cover the cervix to prevent sperm from entering
  • proven in clinical trials to be to be over 92% effective in the prevention of pregnancy

The FemCap is woman-controlled birth control that’s a safe and effective alternative to other methods of contraception such as the pill, the patch, intrauterine devices (IUDs), other barrier methods or the condom.
Learn more here.

More Natural Alternatives

Some fantastic and far better than me resources include:

If you have additional tips or resources to share, please post in the comments below.

Photos Credit
iStock/Sébastien BonaiméHamiza Bakirci / shawshot

9 Responses to “The Birth Control Pill: Sex, Drugs and Mood Swings”

  1. Carrie L said… July 20, 2016
    I have a question about balancing your hormones. I was prescribed the pill when I was 16 for irregular periods. I took it until I was about 21. I was sick of it. I am now 36 and still have irregular cycle. Is there anything natural I can take/do to help get my hormones balanced and back on track? It has been a long battle and I'm tired of it.
    • Absolutely- there is loads that can be done with diet and lifestyle to tune your body back into its' natural rhythms. Getting on a low glycemic, high fat/ high protein whole foods diet is important. Reducing exposure to plastics that have xenoestrogens that can disrupt the natural hormone balance and also choosing mostly organic foods. Pesticides are known hormone disruptors (check out http://whatsonmyfood.org for a reference). So clearing as much chemicals out of our lives is super important. You may also want to check out the work of The Red Tent Sisters (linked in the resources above) who offer online programs in rebalance post pill. Hope that helps offer a starting place.
  2. Sheena said… July 25, 2016
    Thank you so much for bringing the FemCap to my attention.
  3. Hi Meghan, Great article on a crucial subject that all females should be informed about. I agree that taking birth control pills to get rid of acne, etc is not getting to the root of the problem. However, in the past year I have had to have two operations to remove follicular cysts. After the first one I immediately had all the tests done to check my hormone levels. All normal. I have been off birth control for 10 years (I am now 30). The doctors all had the same solution- take birth control. Which I'm adamant against. BUT here is the caveat. My cyst is follicular. Which means that it is the egg that turns into a cyst. The reason why birth control will help is because it will prevent me from ovulating in the first place. My husband and I have decided to try for a family this year, so another reason birth control is off the table. But if I was younger I think I might give in to birth control. These surgeries are not only costly, but cumbersome. What's your opinion (not asking for nutritional advice or recs) about women suffering from my condition (and who are younger and not close to trying to conceive) getting solace from the pill? Like I said-I am strongly against the pill and have been since I was 20, but this is the one case I've found where the pros outweigh the cons. And thankfully, I've heard that after pregnancy the cysts usually stop....
    • The solution remains the same- to get to the root cause of why this is happening, the pill is only repressing the symptom. Normally, the pituitary gland creates a hormone that tells the follicle to release the egg. When this hormone is not released by the pituitary gland, the follicle continues to grow. It then fills with fluid and develops into a follicular cyst. So the solution is to determine why the hormone cycles are out of balance, and then use dietary, lifestyle and likely therapeutic nutritional intervention to correct the balance and allow the eggs to form, and drop normally.
  4. Thanks, Meghan! I'm really trying! I do everything by the hormonal balance book - down to the supplements (vitex, etc), diet, yoga...but I think sometimes environmental toxins can't be avoided 100%. And I currently live in China with lots of pollution. I think perhaps when I move back to the U.S. and have that fresh, clean air, things will improve. Thanks for all of your advice - I love your blog.
    • Thanks Jenna. And very true, not matter where you live, there will be environmental toxins and yes, some places will be worse off than others. Perhaps you can seek out additional therapies that can help offset the pollution in your environment- infrared sauna session, skin brushing, an air purifier for your home (or at least your bedroom), using all natural products to reduce the load.
  5. Cathy said… August 16, 2016
    This is something I've been struggling with like most of the ladies above. Birth control for 2 years in my early 20s for irregular periods, and now again at 28 for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. I chose to go on BC when I had missed a period for 5 months and had MAJOR mood swings that really began affecting my day to day life and interactions with people around me. I obviously do not want to be on it, but can't imagine finding the 'root' or an alternative solution. I feel better on the pill in terms of sanity and moods. Thoughts? I also have a minor gut problem and have been recommended the FODMAP diet. Do you have any reco's of recipes and strict week to week food plans that you could suggest?
    • Getting to the root is the only solution I can advise and finding a reputable health care practitioner who works in that way will be your best to ensure long term health. I obviously don't know your full history but it sounds like rebalancing your hormones with diet, lifestyle and supplements is a solid place to start. Some detoxification may also help. I'm not a FODMAP specialist but I do know there are sites and experts who could likely help with that. The diet could absolutely help, but healing the gut, rebalancing the gut microflora and addressing the hormonal imbalance that contributed to the dysmenorrhea is the slow and steady approach to healing.

Before you post your comment, please note that I am unable to offer nutritional advice or recommendations via my blog.

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