Most women are currently taking or have taken hormonal birth control in their life.
This is kind of a given, right? For many of us, taking hormonal birth control (the pill, an IUD, shot, ring...) has been a very convenient way not to have children until we wanted to have the children. For others of us, hormonal birth control (likely the birth control pill) gets prescribed for a different reason: heavy/missed periods, weight gain, fatigue, raging PMS, cramping, acne, mood swings, etc.
Which is SO MESSED UP, my friends!
There is no guarantee that our bodies will know how to make the correct ratios of our reproductive hormones after they have been supplemented with hormonal birth control. Furthermore, the effects of hormonal imbalances caused by taking hormonal birth control can last for years (if not forever) in our bodies.
That is some scary stuff, but it doesn't have to be this way! Let's support our bodies in recovering from hormonal birth control and try really REALLY hard not to pass these same philosophies onto the next generation.
I am practicing what I preach (18 years later...better late than never)
When I was in high school I tried a version of the pill that made me gain 15 pounds in a month. Ummm….obviously my body wasn’t happy with that, but did I listen to it? Of course not! I just tried about 4 more variations until I found one that didn’t make me AS FAT, and went with it. As I recall, my doctor wasn't at all concerned about me having negative reactions to anything I was taking, and I thought this stuff was as harmless as a baby aspirin for as much direction I got.
Over the following 5 years I changed my game to a copper IUD that wasn’t hormonal (but did make my periods so heavy and painful that I had to have it removed within a few months), and then replaced it with a Mirena (hormonal) IUD which I have had on and off for the last 10 years or so.
That’s right, folks: I just FINALLY cut the cord to hormonal birth control about 2 months ago, because I had been experiencing some really shitty symptoms of hormone dysfunction like unexplained weight gain, and I knew it was time to let my body get back to normal and 100% practice what I preach. As I am typing this now, I realize that my poor body is probably having a hell of a time figuring out how to balance all my hormones since it has been either pregnant or on birth control for close to 20 years! That is just cruel. Sorry, self.
So, what are the physical effects of taking birth control?
Hormonal birth control really does a number on our gut function and nutrient absorption, which is the root cause of food sensitivities, allergies, seasonal allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, skin issues and mood disorders like anxiety and depression. If you suffer from any of the symptoms listed above, gut function and digestion is absolutely the first place to start after stopping birth control use. The use of hormonal birth control impedes some critical nutrients from being absorbed as well, so in addition to fixing digestion (which we teach all about in the Adrenal Fatigue Detox Course) anyone who has ever used the birth control pill should be particularly mindful about getting enough of the following:
These nutrients are water soluble and what you need to know about them is that they are NOT stored well in the body. Therefore, they need to be taken in daily through our diet. Interestingly, the bacteria in our intestines, which we commonly refer to as gut flora, produce a large amount of B vitamins for use in our bodies (as long as we have a good crop of gut flora)!
Taking antibiotics, for example, not only kills the germs making you sick, but also kills the good guys that are living in your intestines and should be doing big jobs like producing B vitamins. So, in addition to eating lots of B-Vitamin rich foods daily, we need to take care of our gut flora, which for most people means supplementing with a good probiotic and eating some fermented foods daily.
Find B Vitamins in colorful vegetables + leafy greens, liver, red meat and fish
(Which is also a B vitamin) is especially important to consider as it is robbed from our bodies by birth control usage. The same sources as the rest of the B vitamins we already listed will apply to folate as well, but it’s worth noting that folate and folic acid aren’t only important for pregnant women, when you hear about it the most. In fact, after coming off of birth control use and having already depleted amounts of folate and folic acid, it will be especially important to restore this nutrient before conception.
Find Folate in colorful vegetables + leafy greens, lentils, brewer's yeast (nutritional yeast)
Iron is a tricky mineral because although it is found in every cell of the body, it is difficult to absorb and if your digestion isn’t working optimally, you may be missing out on the iron you’re getting from your food or supplements.
For example: using antacids is pretty much a guarantee that you won’t absorb the iron you take in, which is we talk a lot about digestion and how to make sure you're not missing the nutrients in your food in the Adrenal Fatigue Detox course.
Taking the birth control pill increases the level of copper in our bodies, which naturally drives down the level of zinc….and that, it turns out, is a really bad thing.
Zinc is found in highest quantities in lamb, beef, chickpeas, cashews, pumpkin seeds, chicken, turkey, eggs, mushrooms and salmon.
Just like iron, zinc is hard to absorb if digestion is compromised at all, which is what happens when we take the birth control pill. Add that absorbtion issue to the fact that our levels of zinc in our food is already lower in the present day because of depletion of our mineral levels in the soil, and you can understand why zinc deficiency is pretty common. Zinc found in animal sources is actually absorbed better than the zinc found in animal sources, so a vegetarian may have a particularly hard time getting enough from food alone.
Zinc is crucial for the digestive process and metabolism, as well as helping the liver in detoxifying alcohol *cough cough* which I would know nothing about *cough cough* and it also helps the oil glands of our skin and can help with acne treatment….as if all that wasn’t enough, zinc helps significantly enhance wound healing and overcoming colds and infection. Zinc is a superhero.
So, the bottom line with zinc, as with all the nutrients I have talked about today, is that having the birth control pill rob them from our body’s processes affects so many different systems that we don’t even realize, and over time our bodies simply can’t continue to function without the nutrients that they need. For many of us, the slow depletion of nutrients and hormone balance easily turns into full blown Adrenal Fatigue.
OUR HORMONE PRODUCTION IS LIKE A THERMOSTAT + A FURNACE.
Hormonal birth control tells our bodies that they don't need to make certain hormones anymore so it "gets lazy" (for lack of a better description) and it might not be able to resume normal hormone production when the birth control is removed.
Let's get into a little bit of the science behind WHY hormonal troubles are such a common occurance for those of us who have gone on and off of birth control:
When you’re taking hormonal birth control, the process works by introducing a higher amount of progesterone, and sometimes estrogen, than you would normally have all throughout your cycle. Over time, your body may become dependant and stops making its own hormones.
This happens because hormones run off of negative feedback loops. (Kind of like a thermostat and a furnace.) Certain levels of hormones in the blood signal to various endorcrine glands that they don’t need to produce any more of that hormone, so they don’t; just like your furnace won't kick on if the thermostat says it’s already at the desired temperature.
So, if you have a synthetic pill or device producing hormones for you, your body thinks - cool, I don’t have to make these anymore (which is basically faux menopause).
This scenario is dangerous for women in their reproductive years because the body can stop producing its necessary hormones, and once you decide to go off of the pill, your body doesn’t make them anymore, or the ratios of each hormone aren’t right. (Obviously, this doesn’t happen to everyone, but many people experience issues which is why you're still reading this post. So, for the sake of this discussion, we’ll assume that to some extent your body has probably suffered a hormone setback from your birth control usage.)
WHY DO I FEEL AWFUL WHEN I STOP TAKING BIRTH CONTROL?
If you experience worse symptoms after going off of the pill or other hormonal birth control, that is your body literally screaming at you that it is unable to make the proper hormones correctly and you need to really support its recovery instead of putting a bandaid over the issue and continuing to take hormonal birth control. Any number of symptoms can result at this point, but popping another pill is not the answer!
- Hair loss
- Missing periods
- Decreased libido
- Weight gain
A lot of these symptoms are the reason you might have started taking the pill in the first place, so when they come back worse than ever, it's tempting to just go back on....but that's not addressing the real issue. Healing digestion, regulating blood sugar, restoring nutrients in the body and addressing adrenal function and hormone levels are the way to get back on track.
does birth control cause adrenal fatigue or is it the other way around?
Do you need a refresher on what I mean by "adrenal fatigue"? No worries - check out this post which lays it all out and then come back. I'll wait for you. :)
Ultimately, adrenal fatigue has a lot to do with why our bodies struggle to produce the appropriate ratios of hormones once we stop taking hormonal birth control. With that being said, adrenal fatigue is also the root cause of many of the symptoms that the birth control pill gets prescribed to treat in the first place. #doublewhammy
- Hormonal acne caused by adrenal fatigue is often "treated" by taking the pill
- PMS / severe menstrual cramps caused by adrenal fatigue are often "treated" by taking the pill
- Irregular cycle or lack of menstruation caused by adrenal fatigue and insufficient carbs or calories is often "treated" by taking the pill
- Weight gain caused by hormonal imbalances brought on by adrenal fatigue is often "regulated" by taking the pill (although some of us instantly gain 15 pounds at the mere thought of taking the pill...because life is unfair.)
- Mood swings and anxiety that result from digestive disfunction and hormone imbalances brought on by adrenal fatigue are often "treated" with the birth control pill
See what I mean? This is craziness. Popping a hormone replacement pill (which is what the BCP is) as a band-aid to mask symptoms is not the same as addressing the root cause of what is wrong in the body.
So if you took birth control long ago and never felt “right” ever since, or you’re currently taking it and think it’s time to stop for good, like I did, you have to heal your adrenals at the same time.
Want a great resource to start with? In this free webinar my friend and fellow holistic nutritionist, Ashley, and I go through our BEST tried-and-true tools for hormone and adrenal support. Join us...you can register right now!
Diet, lifestyle, overexercise, not enough carbs, sleep hygeine, managing blood sugar levels, job stress, etc all contribute to hormonal challenges in our bodies, which is why I talk about it all. the. time. + created an entire online course about it, which you can find here:
Logical next question: How are we covering the bases, so to speak, on the baby making if we aren’t taking birth control?
(Because I’m pretty sure an unplanned pregnancy is also a #contributingfactor to adrenal fatigue...at least in my life it would be!)
Good point. Let’s be real, though: No birth control is 100% effective, so there are no guarantees your birth control pill or IUD is going to do the job anyway, right? I do have some good non-hormonal options that I detailed in the “Birth Control Cheatsheet” below for for all of us that didn’t just become a nun while reading this blog post but still want to give our bodies a fighting chance of aging gracefully.