Hormonal Birth Control, a confusing situation
I have a lot of women come into my office asking advice about treating hormonal related symptoms while they are on hormonal birth control. There are a lot of factors to take into account and it is a heavy subject. This blog post will discuss hormonal contraceptives as a general group. In future articles, I will discuss individual contraceptive devices and alternative options.
What are hormonal contraceptives?
Hormonal Contraceptives, such as birth control, are medications so commonly used that they could probably be put in one of those candy machines at the mall. When I was in high school, it seemed like all of my friends were on BC. Some of them were on it for acne, others were sexually active and wanted to prevent pregnancies. Then there was me, I saw cool people doing it and I really wanted to, just like I wanted to break my arm in elementary school so I could wear a cast and have people sign it. But, I didn’t break my arm in elementary school, and luckily I didn’t have a reason to take hormonal contraceptives in high school.
Why do we have periods? (This is a great YouTube that shows some basic biology)
Women’s menstrual cycles are a natural biological process, that interestingly only a few species on the planet actually have. Several hormones including estrogen, progesterone, follicular stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone, all play a role in regulating this monthly cycle. Certain hormonal spikes and dips are required in order for our body to grow and mature an egg. The release of an egg (ovulation) occurs, and then either the egg meets a sperm to implant, otherwise the lining of the uterus is shed and the cycle is repeated.
Benefits of a regular period?
Here are some benefits of having a regular cycle, but there are many more:
- Periods can show us early warning signs in health problems. The length of the period, the color of the blood, odor and the regularity of a woman’s cycle are important. Women all have different cycles, but to each individual female, your cycle should remain consistent and if not, then further questioning is needed.
- Monthly bleeding helps remove excess toxins. And according to a longevity expert, Dr. Thomas Perls, our menstruation removes excess iron. Iron is needed for transportation of oxygen in our cells, but in excess it can actually cause free-radical damage. So by removing iron every month, cardiovascular risks decrease and overall health and longevity increases.
- Monthly cycles can also improve mood, release frustration and anger and heighten appearance. This is done by the balancing and release of natural hormones in the body.
What do hormonal contraceptives do?
Hormonal contraceptives basically release a steady flow of hormones so that there’s no true rhyme or rhythm to the monthly cycle. Without the natural hormones increasing and decreasing at appropriate intervals, the egg cannot be adequately released and the lining of the uterus does not get to an appropriate thickness for fertilization. Without a uterine lining to shed, there is no real menstruation. Women can have a few days of bleeding, but that happens as a result of the hormone withdrawal, without the benefits of a real period.
Drawbacks of hormonal contraceptives?
- Depletion of essential B Vitamins. B Vitamins are essential in detoxification, methylation and cellular processes along with hormonal regulation
- Depression. A study published by JAMA Psychiatry in 2016 strongly suggesting that there is an increased risk of depression associated with all types of hormonal contraception
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Anxiety, mood swings and lack of motivation
- Irregular bleeding
- Low sex drive
- Fluctuations in weight
- Increased risk for blood clots with estrogen dominant environment
We are on hormonal contraceptives, now what?
Getting off contraceptives can lead to heightened side effects (see above). When we think about hormones regulating our daily functions, it makes sense that when we go off hormonal contraceptives, there will be a time where our body has to learn how to re-regulate hormones. This can last weeks to months (to years) depending on each woman.
What we do know is that making sure your body is saturated with B vitamins is important. You can get some B vitamins from foods like spinach, broccoli, avocados, asparagus, pumpkin seeds, grass-fed red meat (organic), liver, fish, chicken, eggs and more. Most all individuals need a deeper repletion (during and after using hormonal contraceptives) and need to take a good B-Complex multivitamin or prenatal to help nourish the cells.
In a future post we will discuss alternative types of birth control. Hopefully this gives some hope and guidance to help women navigate hormonal contraception. Our bodies are amazing and listening to its subtle signs can be a powerful way to help keep us on the road to health.
Stephanie Grutz, ARNP, FNP-C