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".
How does the pill affect our health?
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
- 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
- fibrocystic breasts
- foggy thinking
- hair loss
- increased blood clotting
- irregular menstrual periods
- mood swings
- polycystic ovaries
- slow metabolism
- uterine cancer
- uterine fibroids
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 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.
|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.|
|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.|
|PABA||25-50 mg.||Fatty acids, olive,
or Flaxseed oils
|Vitamin C||1?3 g.|
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- Solutions carrying a binding agent are stirred into the powder mass, which is wetted until it takes on the consistency of brown sugar.
- The powder mass is forced through a mesh screen.
- The moist material is then placed on shallow trays covered with large sheets of paper and placed in drying cabinets.
- A lubricant, in the form of a fine powder, is screened onto the dried material (known as dry granulation).
- The lubricant and the dry granulation are then mixed in a blender, using a tumbling-type action.
- 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 up. All 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.
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.
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 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:
- Watch and Read: Sweetening The Pill
- Read: Taking Charge Of Your Fertility and Taking Care of Your Fertility Website
- Explore: Justisse Method website where you can find a trainer in your area
- Explore: Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research has some great info
- Follow, Watch, Listen, Engage: Red Tent Sisters offer fantastic individual and group coaching.
- Use: Monthly Info is a great and free online temperature calendar.
- Use: Fertility Friend allows you to track cervical fluid along with waking temperature.