In the world today, it is very rare to know anyone that isn’t currently on birth control or has been on it in the past. In fact, 1 in 5 TEENAGE girls are now going on birth control, but yet 33% of them are on it for reasons not related to actually controlling birth. And the worst part is that use before 19 has been linked to an increase in lifetime risk of developing depression.
I work with a lot of women who are either on it or have been on it in the past but rarely know the possible risks of long-term use. I would like to shed light for you on the different types of birth control and a healthier, more biologically-friendly option you have.
Our Cycle is So Much More than Just For Pregnancy
Obviously most of us were taught early on that our periods/menstrual cycle are simply about getting pregnant and when you have a period, it means you aren’t pregnant. But the menstrual cycle is about SO much more than just conception and truly ties in to how we as women need to be living our lives from a cyclical perspective.
I have linked more resources + books below for you to look into, but our bodies do not operate on a 24-hour rhythm like men’s do and instead we operate on a monthly cycle, with our different cycle phases corresponding to different levels of hormones and energy within our bodies.
Ovulation is a crucial part of this cycle, but yet most forms of birth control shut down ovulation causing a massive dent in this normal bodily process we should have each month. Studies show that women need a good 35-40 years of ovulating cycles in order to prevent disorders like low bone mass, heart issues, memory loss (dementia) and breast cancer.
Thus, getting in tune with this cycle can open up your eyes to so much more than just “can I get pregnant or not right now” but rather a whole host of ways your cycle impacts the way you live your life.
Have “X” Symptoms? Birth Control Isn’t the Answer.
I, like so many women, was put on birth control in their teens and 20s for painful periods, acne, weight control and other symptoms that are not “normal.” Instead of getting to the root cause of the issue, we are told that birth control will “normalize” our bodies, despite the fact that most forms tell the body to stop functioning normally and suppresses our own hormone production.
Instead of finding solutions for the symptoms we face (PMS, acne, mood swings, etc.) birth control is a way that providers can IGNORE the root cause and simply mute the symptoms for you so that you can go on living your life.
PMS symptoms or other female problems are NOT a birth-control deficiency and are instead usually linked to things like:
- Toxins + endocrine-disrupting chemicals
- Too many xenoestrogens (like plastics) causing estrogen dominance
- Liver congestion
- Processed foods + standard American diet
- Magnesium + other nutrient deficiencies
- Gut issues + pathogens like parasites, bacteria + fungus
- Increased risk for infertility coming off the pill
Suppressing Your Cycle Isn’t the Best Choice
Let’s be real- having a monthly period isn’t fun, especially if you have a lot of symptoms. However, as mentioned above, we need a full cycle with ovulation to truly be healthy. Plus, our cycle is a form of detox for the body- each month we shed the old and rebuild anew, in the process shedding excess iron and producing (hopefully) healthy levels of progesterone to balance out the estrogen.
By using methods to ignore or essentially “mute” your body’s natural cycling capabilities, you are missing out on important indicators + clues on the state of your health. Symptoms aren’t fun, but if you can figure out WHY you are having symptoms, likely many other health concerns/issues you’re having will clear up in the process.
The Missing Link of Informed Consent
Some of us voluntarily choose birth control because we aren’t ready for the risk of pregnancy that can come with not being “on” it. However, most of us are just given a pill or an IUD without any explanation of what it will do to and in our bodies long-term.
I don’t know about you, but I was NEVER informed of these issues when given several different pills and IUDs over the years. It was never communicated that this pill/IUD could do more than just prevent birth and when I brought up that I was having symptoms while using them, I was told I just needed a lower dose, different form or that “it was all in my head.”
The last straw for me was when I tried an IUD (I was told it was the “lowest hormone dose”) and after a few months my husband asked me to get off of it because I was a different person- which I was feeling, too.
When I went in to have it removed, the doctor told me that he “couldn’t believe” I was having symptoms on such a low dose and tried to convince me to STICK WITH IT. That was the final straw and I began cycle tracking/natural family planning to allow my body to be free of the impacts of birth control and get more in-tune with my body.
The Many Issues that Come with Birth Control Use
Studies are now finding that long-term use of birth control products are linked to breast cancers and infertility, but also other symptoms/conditions like:
- Hormone Disruption: irregular or short cycles, heavy periods, low progesterone + excess estrogen
- Low Thyroid Function: cold hands/feet, low body temp, hair thinning, weight gain
- Liver Congestion: slows the body’s ability to detox
- Gut Symptoms: abdominal pain, cramps, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting
- Gut Disorders: Leaky gut, overgrowth of bad bacteria, IBS, IBD, + Crohn’s Disease
- Cancers like Breast + Colon
- Bacterial + Fungal Overgrowth
- Vitamin + Mineral Deficiencies
- Skin issues like acne
- Mood Swings, Anxiety + Depression
- Vaginal Dryness + Loss of Sex Drive
I see these issues in many of my clients that are either currently on or have been on birth control- I hate to say it, but it is not just making your PMS symptoms better or “fixing” your periods or preventing pregnancy…it’s having a much bigger impact than you could likely ever believe!
Types of Birth Control
This is an incredibly dense topic that could take pages and pages to write about. There are many types of birth control available, but the ones we will cover today that impact the women I see more are:
- Birth Control Pills (oral contraceptives)
- Hormonal IUDs
- Non-Hormonal IUDs
For more birth control types including the risks/benefits, check out Dr. Brighten’s Contraceptive Guide.
Oral Contraceptives (“The Pill”)
There are a lot of options for the pill on the market, but in general combined oral contraceptives have been identified as a Group 1 Carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Despite this, we still are popping them like candy, again with little that is known on how they impact our bodies.
How Do BC Pills Work?
In very simplistic terms, the pill shuts down your body’s reproductive system. Most contain a combination of synthetic estrogen and progestin (which is NOT the same as progesterone). Most give you a “period bleed” but it is NOT an actual period and is simply a withdrawal from the medication when you are taking the sugar/placebo pills that week.
There are also progestin-only pills (called the “mini pill”) which work to thicken your cervical mucus and stop sperm from reaching your eggs.
Common Symptoms of BC Pill Use:
- Breast tenderness + enlargement
- Spotting between periods
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- Lower sex drive
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Blood clots
- High blood pressure
- Liver tumors
Informed Consent (what you should have been told about BC Pills):
Here are some bullet points of concerns I have with what is in the pill and what it can do to your body:
- Nutrient Depletions: BC pills deplete many nutrients:
- B Vitamins: these are crucial for detoxification + liver health, which is an issue that BC pills can also impact
- Vitamins A, C, + E (all helpful antioxidants)
- Selenium: crucial for hormone health
- Magnesium: heart issues, muscle issues, PMS, low bone calcium
- Zinc: lowers immunity; causes copper buildup in liver/body
- Progesterone levels: progesterone is our “feel good” hormone that ensures proper cycling and gives us energy and a healthy libido.
- Lowers Libido: Pills can cause you to have estrogen dominance in the body, which decreases your progesterone + testosterone levels, impacting your sex drive.
- Estrogen Dominance + Liver Congestion: This estrogen dominance also impacts your liver and bile flow, which is imperative for your body to move out excess toxins + estrogen out of your body and stop it from re-circulating.
- Increases Mood Disorders: You re 23% more likely to be prescribed an antidepressant when taking the pill
- Increased Gut Disorders: Risk of developing gut conditions like Chron’s increases by 300%
- Increased Risk of Cancers: specifically breast and cervical cancers
- Additional Ingredients: the issue with the pill isn’t just the added hormones- it’s everything ELSE that is in the pill along with it. Titanium dioxide (linked to gut issues + colon cancers), magnesium stearate, talc (linked to cancer), even YELLOW artificial coloring/dye…why the hell does your birth control need artificial dyes/colors?
- Additionally, there is added iron to BC pills which can contribute to iron overload (aka massive inflammation in the body) and gut issues.
- Additionally, there is added iron to BC pills which can contribute to iron overload (aka massive inflammation in the body) and gut issues.
Hormonal IUDs (Mirena, Kyleena, Skyla)
How Do Hormonal IUDs Work?
Hormonal IUDs release a small amount of progestins (or levonorgestrel) into the uterus. And because it is released directly into the uterus compared to swallowing pills, there is less of this hormone available in the bloodstream, BUT studies show that there are still hormonal changes/effects happening beyond just the uterus, including in breast tissue.
This progestin may suppress your body’s ovulation and works to thicken your cervical mucus to prevent sperm from getting in.
Common Symptoms of Hormonal IUD Use:
- Heavy or painful periods
- Spotting between cycles
- Yeast or bacterial infections
- Weight gain
- Hair Loss
- Acne + skin issues
- Ovarian cysts
- Irregular Bleeding
- Decreased sex drive
- After removal there is a “crash” often related to progesterone imbalances
Informed Consent (what you should have been told about Hormonal IUDs):
Though there are claims that IUDs only have a local effect on the uterus, there is now evidence suggesting that women who use hormonal IUDs have an increased risk of breast cancer. Additionally, some risks include:
- Ectopic pregnancies or pregnancy loss
- Loss of fertility: it suppresses ovulation in about 50% of women who use it and should rebound after 6 months but in many women it doesn’t.
- Device breakage inside of you or be embedded in your tissues
- Decreased milk production if breastfeeding
Non-Hormonal IUDs (Copper/Paragard)
Advertised as a “non-hormonal” option (even though it has a massive impact on your body’s hormones) typically this is known as the Copper IUD or Paragard.
How Does it Work?
- It creates inflammation in the uterus to prevent sperm from ever reaching fertilizing or attaching to the egg.
- It does NOT stop your ovaries from ovulating each month
- It does NOT contain any added hormones
- If you already have estrogen dominance or high estrogen symptoms (ovarian cysts, endometriosis) the copper IUD will only INCREASE your issues with estrogen
Symptoms of Use
- Heavier + longer bleeding
- Copper overload with long-term use
- Severe copper allergy symptoms- inflammation of uterine tissue + fluid buildup in vaginal tissues=
- Painful intercourse
- Menstrual spotting or bleeding between periods
- Pain + lower abdominal cramping
- Vaginitis (inflammation of vagina)
- Double the risk of bacterial vaginosis (bacterial infection) and yeast infections
- Vaginal discharge or irritation
- Muscle spasms
This infographic from Just The Inserts does a much better job than I ever could of summarizing the risks associated with use, but what I commonly see with clients is after a year of use includes:
- Mineral imbalances with copper, iron, and zinc
- Adrenal issues (stress organs)
- Liver issues
- Gut Issues
- Iron Issues
- Copper Toxicity
- Low Red Blood Cell count
- Risk of Ectopic pregnancy
- Increases risk of Postpartum Depression
This is because copper is an inflammatory mineral/heavy metal that when not regulated properly in the body leads to a cascade of events, burning out your adrenals, putting a lot of stress on your liver + GI tract and eventually leading to copper toxicity problems that majorly impact mental health, including anxiety, anger + depression.
Though it is advertised as a “safer, non-hormonal alternative” I personally find that the clients who have used it end up with more issues following use and it does end up having an impact on their body’s own production of hormones.
What Are My Alternatives?
I fully get and respect that this is an incredibly personal choice, but I suggest to anyone I can to ditch the synthetic birth control and begin getting in tune with your body. For most women, there are only 6 days per month that you have the risk or ability to get pregnant and thus being on birth control for the entire month may not be the wisest choice for your health.
In general this is called the Fertility Awareness Method. If you can learn your body and your cycle using tools like cycle tracking, temperature reading or bodily changes in mucus/other symptoms, you can begin to get a better idea of when it would be best to abstain or use other forms of birth control like condoms.
For me, I’ve used a combination of tools over the years– using a period app to track my cycles, the Daysy thermometer tracker + app and now my Oura Ring (they now sync with Natural Cycles app to help you with this even more) but there are many resources online on this method that can give you even more tools on how to incorporate this.
HOWEVER- it is crucial that you support your body from all aspects of health in order to get a “normal” cycle. This isn’t just about accepting the symptoms you may have but learning to cue into your body and what you may need to work on from a root cause perspective to find what normal is.
Supporting Your Body Post-Birth Control
If you are someone that has been on birth control and are deciding to come off, I do have some suggestions for you to make the transition smoother. I am not going to sugar-coat it though; you likely will have some symptoms for about 3-ish months as your body gets back to operating on its own without interference.
This could look like heavier periods, more PMS symptoms, acne, water retention, mood swings, etc. but understanding that this is coming can help you get through the process and NOT jump back to another pill or IUD to “mute” the symptoms again. In truth, this is your body OFF of birth control…and if things aren’t feeling normal, it may be time to investigate further what could be going on.
In general here are some things I recommend to dull the blow of coming off birth control:
- Reduce overall toxic exposures especially phthalates and other endocrine disruptors + xenoestrogens
- B Vitamins through food + supplementation (grass-fed meats, pasture-raised eggs)
- Vitamin A in the retinol form (cod liver oil)
- Vitamin C foods
- Vitamin E foods
- Liver Supportive Foods: arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, kale, rutabaga, turnips, collard greens, broccolini, mustard greens
- Sulfur-rich Foods: Pasture-raised eggs, garlic, onions, broccoli, cabbage, walnuts, flaxseeds, seafood, grass-fed beef, grass-fed butter
- Infrared Sauna use (great at supporting detoxification, especially of excess estrogen)
- Liver Support (dandelion tea, castor oil packs)
- Omega-3 Fatty Acid foods
- Spore-based Probiotics to support the microbiome
- Avoid “bad” oils like sunflower, soybean, canola, and other “vegetable” oils that are highly processed and inflammatory
- Gut-Healing nutrients: L-glutamine, zinc, slippery elm bark, marshmallow, DGL, aloe
Next Steps: Getting in Sync with Your Cycle
Even if you aren’t ready to come off birth control yet, I highly recommend checking out some of the following books/resources to begin understanding just how crucial the female cycle is to your overall health. I’ve tried to break them into categories for you based on topic:
Learning Your Cycle, Natural Birth Control + Fertility
- Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement + Reproductive Health
- The Fifth Vital Sign: Master Your Cycles + Optimize Your Fertility
- Wild Power: Discover the Magic of Your Menstrual Cycle + Awaken the Feminine Path to Power
- Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race
More Resources on Birth Control
Generalized Women’s Health Books
Help With Hormonal Imbalance + Period Problems