Today I’m diving into a topic about a medication that nearly 100% of my clients have been on at one time or another. And often for decades at a time - hormonal birth control pills.
Let me start by saying that I am not anti-birth control. More that I am pro you being fully aware of what a pill is doing to your body and your cycle. And knowing what your options are before making your own informed decision.
I know how much trust a person puts in her doctor. And when that doctor tells you that you need birth control to regulate your cycles, most of us accept that and take that recommendation- no questions asked. But it’s time we start asking questions!
So let’s talk about what we’ve been led to believe about birth control, versus what it actually does.
Myth #1 – It regulates your hormones
A far cry from regulating your hormones, hormonal birth control actually shuts down your body’s natural sex hormone production and replaces it with synthetic ones. So whatever is underlying your irregular or symptomatic periods doesn’t actually gets fixed, rather simply covered up. And more often than not, once you come off the pill, those symptoms come back right where they left off (or worse!) - hello rebound acne!
Myth #2 - It has no side effects
This one is a biggie, and because there's so much to it, I'm going to get into these one by one:
BC messes with your gut microbiome, puts you at increased risk for fungal overgrowth, decreases diversity in the gut and increases gut permeability (or leaky gut), in which case you're more likely to suffer from inflammation and food sensitivities.
Hormonal birth control increases your risk for depression and anxiety. And, ironically, decreases your sex drive. Rude!
Nutrients that have been researched to be depleted by hormonal birth control include B vitamins including folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D. Many of these are directly related to good egg quality, which is important for conception and a healthy pregnancy. I always recommend focusing on these nutrients with a long-term history of BC use.
BC increases risk for blood clots in veins or lungs. This risk is increased in women who smoke.
Missing out on your natural progesterone production
The progestin in some BC pills is not the same as natural progesterone. When you miss our on natural progesterone production, you see negative effects ranging from brain health & cognition to hair growth, bone health, and sleep. Just to name a few!
Myth #3 - It Doesn’t Affect Fertility
Tell that to all the women that don’t get regular periods back for months, or more! The average time it takes for a cycle to regulate after stopping BC is 8 months. Not to mention that the nutrients it depletes are directly related to good egg quality and conception.
Myth #4 - It Treats PCOS
If you’ve been around for a while, you are aware that PCOS does not have just one single root cause. It’s a complex metabolic condition characterized by a group of symptoms, and we do often see certain things in common across many PCOS cases. Because the pill works by shutting down natural hormone production, it does not actually treat any imbalances that contributed to PCOS in the first place. Sure, it can give the sense that you have a regular cycle since you see a bleed every 28 days, but unfortunately that’s a false security since those aren't your body's real hormones. Birth control certainly does not address underlying issues for PCOS such as insulin resistance, inflammation, adrenal dysfunction, or metabolic disturbances.
Myth #5 – You Still Get a Period When You’re on Birth Control
You get a pill bleed when you take the pill. You cannot have a true period unless you ovulate. And since BC works by preventing ovulation, you don’t get a true period.
Myth #6 – It’s the most effective form of contraception prevention
The pill is for sure effective at preventing conception when used as directed. When taking it daily, at the same time of day, the pill has a "perfect use" failure rate of just 0.3%. However, when you look at "typical use" failure rate of the pill, that number goes up to 9%.
Other methods, though, can be really effective also. I'm a big fan of FAM, or Fertility Awareness Method. With FAM, you track your cycle to identify fertile days (or days to avoid if you are wanting to prevent pregnancy). For the symptothermal (where you track temps & physical signs of ovulation, including basal body temps, cervical mucous, and cervical positioning) method of FAM, the perfect use failure rate is just 0.3%, while the typical use failure rate is 1.8%
Condoms are another option, especially if used correctly. In that case, they have a perfect use failure rate of 2%, though the typical use failure rate shoots up a bit to 18%.
The bottom line
At the end of the day, every woman's needs will be different depending on her symptoms, goals, and life circumstances. My stance is that every woman deserves for someone to listen closely to her situation, fully investigate the root cause of her symptoms, and give her all of the information and options so that she feels empowered to make the choice that truly suits her best. You deserve it!