Do you feel like you have been scammed by the birth control pill? I sure do. Thinking back to my teens, I can’t really remember going to the doctor and not hearing that the birth control pill was the answer to my problems. It was so routine: make an appointment, tell the doctor “symptoms” of hormonal imbalance and then get handed a birth control Rx, some free samples, along with a $200 office visit and $15 co-pay.
According to a lot of doctors:
Got acne? Take the pill.
Got PMS? Take the pill.
Got irregular cycles? Take the pill.
Don’t want to get pregnant? Take the pill.
But wait a second—something is NOT right.
Why not instead:
Address the gut for inflammation, digestive weakness, and food allergies for acne?
Address nutrient deficiencies to up regulate progesterone production NATURALLY to address PMS?
Address malnutrition, a calorie deficit, hormone synthesis for irregular or non-existent cycles?
Address relationship status and have a real talk about how to responsibly prevent pregnancy without taking synthetic hormones than can be harmful?
What is the pill?
Birth control pills are made up of synthetic hormones estrogen (estradiol) and progestogen (progestin). And what are hormones exactly? In short, hormones are messengers, "a chemical messenger that transports a signal from one cell to another”(source).
If hormones are messengers, then taking oral contraception is essentially a message to override your body's natural hormonal rhythm. Do you really want something made in a lab sending messages in your body telling it what to do, instead of relying on your body's own innate intelligence? I sure don't, not to mention the nasty birth control side effects...
The downsides of birth control
1) Drug induced liver injury
Most drugs are linked to some form of liver injury, and birth control pills are no exception. According to the LiverTox database, birth control pills are well linked to liver injury with a likelihood score of A (well known cause of various forms of clinically apparent liver injury).
Birth control pills are closely correlated with the biliary condition called cholestasis, which is essentially when your bile (think river of fluid helping toxins and waste leave the body through your stool) thickens up and starts stalling in your biliary track. This is awful for your health and directly linked to chronic fatigue, constipation, SIBO and other gut issues, estrogen dominance and poor detoxification. Cholestasis is essentially the drain on your detoxification system slowing down and getting backed up.
2) Doesn't address ROOT cause of symptoms
The pill makes you ignore what your body is ACTUALLY trying to tell you by suppressing your symptoms. I see this as one of the biggest dangers, since PMS, infertility, and irregular cycles are a HUGE indicator of your health and your ability to reproduce! If you are not having a regular cycle, it’s a key indicator that your health and nutrition are seriously suffering. Your body naturally lowers progesterone at times of malnutrition, starvation and stress as a protective mechanism to keep you alive (if you don’t have nutrient stores for yourself, supplying them for a baby is pretty unreasonable).
3) 10-30% increase in the risk of breast cancer (!)
According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation "A pooled analysis of data from more than 50 studies found that while women were taking birth control pills (and shortly thereafter), they had a 10 to 30 percent higher risk of breast cancer than women who had never used the pill. Once women stopped taking the pill, their risk began to decrease and after about 10 years, returned to that of women who have never taken the pill."
4) Pill-induced nutrient deficiencies
According to the Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook, oral contraceptives can result in the following nutritional deficiencies: zinc, magnesium, selenium, vitamin C, vitamins B2, B3, B6, and B12, along with folate. These deficiencies can occur because the liver uses more of these nutrients to metabolize estrogen and detoxify it out of the body.
Here's some probable nutrient depletion data from MyTavin on some popular birth control pills:
- Mircette: B12, B6, magnesium, folate, roboflavin (B2), zinc, tyrosine, vitamin C (source)
- Natazia: B6, magnesium, C0Q10, vitamin C, folate (source)
- Nordette: B12, B6, magnesium, folate, B2, zinc, tyrosine, vitamin C (source)
- Lo Ovral: B12, B6, magnesium, folate, B2, zinc, tyrosine, vitamin C (source)
- Ortho-Novum: B12, B6, magnesium, folate, B2, zinc, tyrosine, vitamin C (source)
- Ortho Tri-Cyclen: B12, B6, magnesium, folate, B2, zinc, tyrosine, vitamin C (source)
According to Dr. Ray Peat, PhD, "Infant brain damage can be caused by a deficiency of the B vitamin, folic acid. Taking estrogen, as in birth control pills, tends to deplete the body's supply of folic acid, so that if pregnancy occurs right after stopping the pills it is more likely to lead to miscarriage or deformity from folic acid deficiency." The pill confirms this by addressing it on their warning label “Serum folate levels may be depressed by oral contraceptive therapy. This may be of clinical significance if a woman becomes pregnant shortly after discontinuing oral contraceptives.” (source)
5) Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
Synthetic estrogen's cardiovascular risks have been known since 1940 including its ability to cause blood clots, varicose veins, miscarriage and PMS. "It is the estrogen in oral contraceptives which correlates with their effects on the clotting system. In the last 20 years there has been a general agreement that increased risk of cardiovascular disease, rather than cancer or immunodeficiency or depression, is the most important concern about the effects of oral contraceptives" Ray Peat, PhD.
6) Clitoral shrinkage
According to Dr. Sarah Gottfried synthetic hormones in birth control pills can shrink the clitoris by 20% causing her to refer to the pill as "genital mutilation."
According to a recent study out of JAMA Psychiatry, depression can be a side effect of hormonal birth control, especially with teens, "Use of hormonal contraception, especially among adolescents, was associated with subsequent use of antidepressants and a first diagnosis of depression, suggesting depression as a potential adverse effect of hormonal contraceptive use." (source)
8) Poorer Periodontal Health
If healthy dental health is important to you, you'll want to hear this one loud and clear. According to a 2007 study, "Current users of oral contraceptives had poorer periodontal health." The study's findings are as follows:
"Forty-two percent of subjects were taking the contraceptive pill at the time of periodontal examination. Current pill users had deeper mean probing depths compared to non-users (3.3 mm versus 2.7 mm; P = 0.006) and more severe attachment loss (2.6 mm versus 1.7 mm; P = 0.015). Pill users had more sites with bleeding on probing (44.0% versus 31.1%; P = 0.017)." (source)
9) “Other” birth control side effects from the warning label
Aside from the well know side effects such as weight gain, bloating, breast tenderness, moodiness, and reduced libido, I thought I would share some other side effects that you may not know about. I highly encourage you to read the full list of birth control side effects here.
- Headaches: “The onset or exacerbation of migraine or development of headache with a new pattern which is recurrent, persistent or severe requires discontinuation of oral contraceptives and evaluation of the cause.” (source)
- Fluid Retention: “Oral contraceptives may cause some degree of fluid retention. They should be prescribed with caution, and only with careful monitoring, in patients with conditions which might be aggravated by fluid retention.”(source)
- Emotional Disorders: “Women with a history of depression should be carefully observed and the drug discontinued if depression recurs to a serious degree.” (source)
- Nursing Mothers: “Small amounts of oral contraceptive steroids have been identified in the milk of nursing mothers and a few adverse effects on the child have been reported, including jaundice and breast enlargement. In addition, combination oral contraceptives given in the postpartum period may interfere with lactation by decreasing the quantity and quality of breast milk. If possible, the nursing mother should be advised not to use combination oral contraceptives but to use other forms of contraception until she has completely weaned her child.” (source)
10) Reduced wellbeing and quality of life
A 2017 study found published in Fertility and Sterility "demonstrates a statistically significant reduction in general well-being by a first-choice OC in comparison with placebo in healthy women." The study was based on a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial of three hundred and forty healthy women aged 18–35.(source)
Ready to combat your hormonal issues by understanding your body?
Do you feel like the birth control side effects were made clear to you by your doctor? Please share in the comments!
Birth Control Clipart: used with permission from Microsoft.
Peat, Raymond. From PMS to Menopause: Female Hormones in Context. Eugene, OR, 1997.
Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook, 2nd Edition 2001.
Peat, Ray. Progesterone, not estrogen, is the coronary protection factor of women. Retrieved on September 18, 2013 from http://raypeat.com/articles/aging/coronaryprogesterone.shtml
Peat, Raymond. Nutrition for Women. Eugene, OR, 1993.
Physicians’ Package Insert: Ortho Tri-Cyclen Tablets. Retrieved on September 11, 2013 from http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2005/021690lbl.pdf
Skovlund C, Mørch L, Kessing L, Lidegaard Ø. Association of Hormonal Contraception With Depression. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online September 28, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.2387.
Wikipedia. Hormones. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hormone
LiverTox Database: Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548539/