A number of decades ago, the introduction of the oral contraceptive pill was welcomed and celebrated as it allowed women to feel liberated from the worries of pregnancy, and therefore more able to explore their sexuality and better-manage their career prospects.
Nowadays over 100 million females are using the oral contraceptive pill worldwide, yet many are largely unaware of the potentially serious health implications of these drugs and that there are numerous negative consequences that come with popping synthetic hormones on a regular basis.
Whilst for some of us the benefits of the pill may indeed outweigh the risks, it is always of high importance to be aware of both the positives and the negatives that come with suppressing our natural hormonal rhythms via a daily medication.
The good news is that there are a number of options now available to us for both avoiding pregnancy and for achieving hormonal balance, and that we each have the ability (and every right) to weigh up the risks and benefits for ourselves when it comes to making such life-altering choices. And although it may sound dramatic, such a choice is not one to be made lightly — because as you’ll soon discover, it truly may even be a matter of life or death.
The most obvious reason for taking the pill is to prevent the occurrence of pregnancy, but many females (particularly teens) are now being prescribed the pill for a number of other reasons including PMS, acne, irregular or heavy cycles, endometriosis, and PCOS.
The unfortunate problem with this common practice is that the pill merely masks and suppresses the symptoms of such conditions, rather than actually finding and addressing the underlying cause. This is why many women find that their symptoms return with a vengeance, and often more aggressively than ever before, once they cease taking the pill.
Whilst it may be nice to be relieved of symptoms for a short time, taking the pill does not improve your health at all in the long run, and in some cases, can leave you much worse-off.
The risks you are taking
Put simply, most hormonal contraceptives promote continuously high levels of oestrogen to circulate throughout the body. Unfortunately, research shows this to be quite dangerous in the long-term. Oestrogen dominance increases the risk of cystic fibroids, breast cancer, cervical cancer, liver cancer, benign liver tumours, blood clotting, heart attack, migraines, gallbladder disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, and mood changes. Research has shown a 2.5 fold increase in the risk of ischemic stroke from the pill, which can result in severe functional impairment and even death. There have also been reports of serious adverse health effects, including death, from specific brands of the pill, including Yasmin and Yaz.
Studies have shown that depression may be a significant side effect of the pill, potentially only aggravating low mood and PMS symptoms in some women. Studies have also found that oral contraceptives can increase sex hormone binding globulin, which usually results in a dramatically decreased libido and can even lead to hypothyroidism. This increase in SHBG has even been shown to persist long after discontinuing the pill. A reduction in libido certainly isn’t what most women want, particularly those who chose to go on the pill specifically to allow them to have safer sex!
Although it is commonly believed that hormonal contraceptive use doesn’t affect future fertility, research by Dr Kathrine Birch Petersen from the Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark indicates that the pill may actually be a major culprit in draining a woman’s ovarian reserves. The ovaries of pill users have also been shown to be between 29 and 52 per cent smaller than the ovaries of non-pill users, particularly in younger females. The degree of permanency of such effects is yet to be studied.
A naturopath's perspective
As a qualified naturopath and nutritionist, clients often come to me with a range of hormonal issues, digestive complaints, skin problems, and mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. After some pathology testing is done, the results often indicate that these clients have deficiencies or sub-clinical deficiencies in one or more important nutrients.
One of the very first things that I always want to know is if the client is on the pill (or any other form of hormonal contraception) because oftentimes, simply finding an alternative option that doesn’t involve synthetic hormones will aid drastically in reducing the client’s symptoms - even if they were put on the pill to mask these symptoms in the first place. This is because, unbeknownst to many doctors who are all-too-quick to prescribe the pill as a quick-fix, research shows that the pill actually depletes the body of many nutrients that, ironically, are of high importance in optimising and maintaining hormonal health, skin health, and mental wellbeing. These nutrients include zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, selenium, and vitamin C. In short;
Just like antibiotics and numerous other pharmaceuticals, the pill also damages the beneficial bacterial flora in the gut, leaving it susceptible to colonisation and dominance from pathogenic strains such as Candida Albicans (commonly known as thrush or candida), Streptococci, and Staphylococci, which then results in what is referred to as gut dysbiosis. Such drug-induced dysbiosis can be particularly resistant to probiotic and/or dietary treatment, and dysbiosis in itself can allow the development of intestinal permeability.
Also known as “leaky gut”, intestinal permeability is now thought to be a predisposing factor towards the development of many health conditions including IBS, weight problems and obesity, autoimmune disease, allergies, and other immune- related conditions, as well as playing a significant role in psychological conditions.
Having a poor balance of gut flora negatively impacts the body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients, and it can even have a huge impact on the health of your future children because they inherit their mother’s gut flora during birth ( — perhaps contributing towards the ever-increasing rates of autoimmunity, allergies, and psychological conditions such as autism in each new generation). This damage to the beneficial gut flora is also apparent in many of my clients that come to me with digestive complaints such as bloating, cramping, gas, and indigestion, as well as in those with more serious chronic conditions.
Here’s something else to consider: researchers have found that our water supply is contaminated with synthetic hormones because of the widespread use of the pill. The high levels of oestrogen in lakes and rivers damage the fish and other wildlife, sometimes causing them to be sterile and severely decreasing their populations. Taking the pill is a choice that affects more than just yourself as an individual — certainly something to keep in mind for anyone who is concerned about the wellbeing of our planet and its inhabitants.
Other options to try out before resorting to the pill
A significant amount of healing and hormone production takes place at night time while we sleep. Research by Dr Michael Smolesky has shown that the more we use bright lights at nighttime, the less regular our menstrual cycles become. Modern life disrupts our natural circadian rhythms due to the use of artificial lights, television screens, computers, tablets, and mobile phones after the sun has set, as well as the fact that most of us stay up way too late for optimal sleep to then occur. To balance out your circadian rhythm and to help regulate your menstrual cycles, it is best to avoid bright lights and screens for at least an hour or two before going to bed - as well as going to bed no later than 10.00pm! It’s also beneficial to go easy on the steady-state cardio, and instead opt for walking, sprinting, weight lifting, pilates, or yoga. Research shows that cardio exercise (such as steady-state running) as well as poor-quality sleep are both detrimental towards thyroid function, metabolism, adrenal health, and hormonal regulation.
Acne, PMS, Heavy Periods, Endometriosis & PCOS
The underlying culprits behind PMS are usually either oestrogen dominance or neurotransmitter imbalances. Acne, heavy periods, endometriosis, and PCOS are commonly a result of oestrogen dominance as well as inflammation. PCOS is also commonly linked with insulin resistance, being overweight or dramatic weight loss, over-exercising, stress and adrenal fatigue, environmental toxins, hypothyroidism, and MTHFR genetic polymorphisms.
Oestrogen dominance is often due to an overburdened liver, as the liver is responsible for clearing the body of old hormones. If the liver becomes burdened by a pro-inflammatory diet that includes high amounts of sugar, alcohol, trans fats, and chemical additives, it becomes sluggish in its capacity to process hormones. Such a diet also results in poor neurotransmitter synthesis and can result in PMS symptoms. Being stressed can also contribute towards oestrogen dominance, as stress decreases progesterone production. When progesterone levels decline in relation to oestrogen levels, symptoms of oestrogen dominance can develop.
Before going on the pill to manage any these conditions, it may be worth seeing a qualified naturopath or integrative medicine doctor for diet and lifestyle guidance as well as functional pathology testing to assess the health of your gut, liver, thyroid, and adrenal glands, all of which can play a role in poor hormonal balance if they aren’t functioning optimally.
Nutrients, diet, and lifestyle play a grossly underestimated role in all of these conditions, and cutting out processed foods alone can often result in dramatic improvements, without any of the side effects that come with pharmaceutical interventions.
Of course there are still circumstances and situations where the benefits of the pill may outweigh the risks for certain individuals, such as for those experiencing debilitating pain from endometriosis. Just always know that, even if the pill may be necessary to manage symptoms and to be able to get on with everyday life initially, there are many other aspects of your health that can be explored thereafter in order to support your body and work towards a time when the pill may no longer be required for you to be symptom-free.
Here are some tips to get you on the right track:
Sure, our hormones have the ability to run wild and affect our lives in somewhat annoying or even unbearable ways, but our hormones are also what allow us to feel excited, driven, and alive — and using the pill to mess with them clearly increases the risk of some not-so-great stuff for both ourselves and the environment.
Considering that there are numerous different options available for both contraception and hormonal regulation that don’t involve the use of synthetic hormones, it’s worth exploring all the options in full and asking yourself if the pill is really the best choice for you. If you’re after further guidance regarding contraception or hormonal health, find a qualified naturopath or integrative medicine doctor to help you out.
As put by Dr Kelly Brogan MD, “If there is a treatment option that presents minimal to no appreciable risks and some degree of evidence-based benefit, this, to me would represent the kinder, gentler road to health.”
Originally published by Ramona Magazine as
Get Informed About the Pill: Part 1 & Get Informed About the Pill: Part 2
This article is intended for educational purposes only. Such content is not intended to, and does not, constitute legal, professional, medical or healthcare advice or diagnosis, and may not be used for such purposes. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or wellness condition. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in this article without seeking the appropriate medical or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a doctor or other trained health care professional licensed in the reader’s state, country or other appropriate
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Formerly known as Paleo Pregnancy & Parenting,
Mikaela's personal blog explores topics relating to ancestral-based nutrition, pregnancy, undisturbed birth, and natural parenting.