Birth control has given women even more freedom to choose for themselves about whether or not to have a child. Hormonal birth control works by preventing conception through reducing or stopping the ovulation phase of the menstrual cycle, by preventing the release of an egg from the ovary. It thickens the cervical mucus to prevent sperm from entering the uterus, with the use of steroid hormones contained in the oral contraceptive pills. Oral contraceptives have been revolutionary, but I believe there’s a lot more to birth control that women deserve to know. As a Naturopath, this includes teaching women how to reset their hormones after coming off the pill.
Birth control is a great tool for pregnancy prevention, but surprisingly enough many women get on the contraceptive pill for reasons other than pregnancy. As a Naturopath, I have seen that women get on birth control to either reduce unbearable period pain, to regulate their menstrual cycle and some women go on the pill even to reduce symptoms of acne. But little do we know that because the pill suppresses these symptoms and that they can expect the symptoms to come right back when they eventually wean off the pill. And at that stage, the symptoms often worsen, as its root causes were never addressed.
What Happens To A Woman’s Body On The Pill
The primary way birth control works is by suppressing the communication between the brain and ovaries. It suppresses ovulation by suppressing the production of two brain hormones, the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). FSH and LH are these hormones that work together to mature an egg and trigger ovulation. On the birth control pill however, ovulation is suppressed. Menstrual cycles occur 12 – 14 days after the ovulation phase has occurred, but on the pill, the bleeding that occurs is not considered a “real” menstrual bleed; instead it is known as withdrawal bleeding.
The drop in artificial hormone which is the steroids hormones contained in the oral contraceptive pills is what causes this bleeding, giving women a placebo effect of an ovulation phase. For women, the fact that ovulation is one of the most crucial parts of a woman’s health remains true. This phase of the cycle is considered a women’s inner summer. In this phase the estrogen and testosterone rise even more creating a good feeling inside and out. Confidence and libido is at an all time high and she is the most fertile here. Being on the pill also depletes nutrients from the body.
6 Nutrients The Birth Control Pill Depletes
- Magnesium, which is responsible for regulating the nervous system, a key nutrient for creating that feeling of calmness
- Zinc and Selenium, which is necessary for thyroid function, skin and immune health as well as for mental health
- Folic acid which is necessary for healthy red blood cells
- B-vitamins which is responsible for regulating the nervous system, mental health and metabolism
- Vitamin C and E which are both an antioxidant and responsible for the immune and skin health
- CoQ10 is responsible for our heart health and protects cells from damage
There are, of course, additional side effects with hormonal birth control pills. As a Naturopath, this is a big reason why women should learn how to reset their hormones after stopping the pill.
9 Side Effects Women Can Experience When Coming Off The Pill
Most of the symptoms listed below are due to hormonal fluctuations when coming off the pill, and also due to the depletion of essential nutrients from being on the pill.
- Mood disorders such as anxiety or depression
- Reduced libido
- Digestive issues such as bowel changes, gas or bloating
- Abnormal periods such as heavy periods, painful periods, irregular periods to no periods
- Hair loss
- Immune imbalances
- Changes in body composition such as weight gain or difficulty losing weight and fluctuations of breast size
- Difficulty in getting pregnant
Using naturopathy, it is of course possible to reset your hormones. Below are three ways – through diet, lifestyle and herbal supplementation.
5 Dietary Considerations To Reset Women’s Hormones According To A Naturopath
- Focus on a primarily plant-based diet: plant-based foods are rich in nutrients and minerals. It is important to restore the balance of nutrients that the pill depletes. Plant sources are a good source of vital nutrients & fiber specifically cruciferous vegetables such as dark leafy green vegetables, collards, kale, broccoli, spinach – these will help aid elimination of excess hormones from being on the pill
- Address your bowel function: The pill can disrupt the gut microbiome. Incorporate probiotics & prebiotic rich foods such as sauerkraut, miso, legumes. Including fibre rich foods such as flaxseeds can also help
- Address your liver function: Synthetic hormones burden the liver. Incorporate foods such as beetroot, burdock root, dandelion root tea & cruciferous vegetables mentioned above
- Balance your blood sugar levels: insulin spikes can lead to decrease in Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) which increases estrogen and testosterone levels. Insulin also increases production of testosterone associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and excess abdominal fat. Aim for at least 10 to 15 g of high-quality protein, 2g to 5g of fiber and healthy fat with each meal. Avoid refined carbohydrates and stick with low glycaemic index fruits such as berries and apples
- Foods to support ovulation: pumpkin seeds, broccoli, bell peppers, brown rice, avocado, cold water fish like salmon (make sure it’s wild salmon), nuts & seeds, legumes, egg yolks. These foods are rich in essential nutrients that the pill depletes includes zinc, selenium, magnesium, B6, Vitamin C & E
3 Lifestyle Considerations To Reset Your Hormones According To A Naturopath
- Seek advice from a professional practitioner such as a nutritionist or naturopath to help you with an individualized protocol while weaning off the pill. This is very much advised & necessary to balance your hormones & reduce the side effects associated with coming off the pill. As everybody is different, the symptoms that you have coming off the pill will be different from another person. No one diet or lifestyle is going to fit all
- Manage stress levels through regular exercise for about 30 minutes of daily physical activity to promote sweating and getting good quality sleep. Also consider supplementing with adaptogens to regulate the HPA axis
- Reduce endocrine disruptors from your environment and the food you consume which includes household cleaning detergents, beauty products as well as pesticides in certain foods such as dairy & meat. Choosing organic when possible
4 Herbal Supplemental Considerations To Reset Your Hormones According To A Naturopath
- Increasing herbs and supplements that enhance liver detoxification can thereby promote elimination of excess estrogen hormones includes: curcumin (an active form of turmeric), Schisandra, DIM, I3C, calcium-d-glucarate, green tea extract and NAC
- Consuming bitters to promote elimination through the bowels and enhancing the liver detox through dandelion root and burdock root
- Vitex or chaste berry can help regulate ovulation, increase fertility and improve progesterone levels. Do not use Vitex if you have PCOS
- Peony & licorice as a combination to increase ovulation and fertility, a better herbal combination if you have PCOS
It is important to keep in mind that no one diet, lifestyle or herbal recommendations will be the same for every woman. It is highly recommended to work with a practitioner if you’re considering coming off the birth control pill. A practitioner can suggest your specific testings, dietary and herbal recommendations depending on your individualised needs and symptoms. Overall, women deserve to know what the pill does to their body before getting on it. Just as we have the freedom to choose for ourselves whether to have a child or not, every woman deserves an education on the side effects of the pill. As a Naturopath, I believe this should also include educating women on how to manage symptoms and reset hormones when weaning off the pill.