Many women, including myself years ago, choose to take their doctor's advice and start using hormonal contraception to 'regulate' their heavy, painful or irregular periods.
But the truth is, hormonal contraception DOES NOT regulate periods, but shuts down the
hormonal pathways all together.
In this episode, I aim to give you more information on the potential risks of various forms of hormonal birth control and provide you with alternatives of how you can heal your underlying hormonal imbalance in a natural, healthy and sustainable way.
If you would like to find out what your period type is and what it says about your hormones,
find the Free Period Type Quiz here
Well hello again.
And welcome to this episode, that was born as a result of so many questions about this topic.
More often than not, women who join my programs are on some form of birth control, and by the end of the 9 week program, they usually would have removed their IUD or stopped using their hormonal contraception.
And this is not because I advocate for this per se, but because I make it my mission to make sure women make informed decisions about their body.
Doctors prescribing any form of contraception without explaining in full all of the side effects of the medication, is one of my soap box topics and I actually can’t believe that I haven’t done a podcast episode on this before.
So my goal today is to give you enough information about your contraception, so that you can make an informed decision or at least start paying attention to it at a deeper level.
I hope you’ll finish this episode and then dive deeper into the form of contraception that you or your daughter is using and make sure that you know all of the facts, and make a decision based on that!
More often than not, contraception is prescribed for reasons other than actual family planning. Doctors love prescribing these medications for symptoms of hormonal imbalance, such as heavy and painful periods, irregular periods, acne, PCOS and other symptoms.
And I agree that sometimes, contraception can be a good short term plan to help manage pain and heavy bleeding, but it is definitely not necessarily the right long term plan.
In fact, it will hide the symptoms and the underlying root cause will not be addressed, leading to a possible compounding effect and worse symptoms and conditions a few years down the line.
At the end of this episode, I would love to make some recommendations for you to address those symptoms that you initially started the meds for, but first of all I wanna talk about the most common forms of hormonal contraceptives, how they work and what their recorded side effects are.
Because you better believe, once you start messing with hormones, you’ll be experiencing some nasty side effects. Not necessarily straight away, it might be a few years down the line.
Like I said, I believe that informed consent is really important and it makes us feel empowered about our bodies if we know what we are saying yes or no to, and also, when we know what options are available to us.
And please also know, that this episode is not about shaming you or making you feel guilty for decisions you’ve made in the past or currently.
You know your body and you make decisions based on information available to you. And that’s good enough. I believe we do the best we can, but when we know better, we can do better. And that’s what this episode is about!
Ok, so let’s get into it.
The very first option I wanna talk about, which is probably the most well-known, is the pill, also known as the combination pill.
It’s probably the most commonly used form of hormonal contraception, unfortunately especially amongst teenagers.
It contains synthetic estrogen and progesterone, called progestin and leads you having the same amount of hormones in your blood all throughout the month. So no natural cycles, which is what we as women were created to have.
Now what I want you to understand about any synthetic hormones, is that it completely shuts down the communication between the brain and the ovaries.
So your ovaries stop producing your natural hormones.
And if you’re still a teenager, these pathways between the brain and ovaries can take up to 5 years to develop. And when they are shut down during this time, they don’t develop, which is very likely to lead to fertility problems down the line.
Also to consider, is that because the pill shuts down these hormonal pathways, including hormones such as FSH and LH that are produced by the brain, you will completely stop ovulating. Now if you wanna understand why ovulation is really important, make sure to listen to episode 6 where I talk all about ovulation and progesterone.
But ovulation is really important for healthy hormonal levels.
Now because you don’t ovulate and there are no hormonal fluctuations, you will also have no egg, no pregnancy and also no periods.
The bleeding that you’ll experience on the pill is actually called withdrawal bleeds. It’s not bleeding due to the thickening of the endometrial lining.
The pill further causes cervical mucus to thicken so sperm can’t get through the mucus to to egg and it also thins the lining of the endometrium so that implantation can’t occur.
As you would know, the pill is really effective. 99% effective if used correctly, but only 91% with typical use.
The side effects and risks associated with the pill, includes migraines, blood clots, heart attacks, stroke, liver conditions, depression and suicide, weight gain, low libido, brain fog, mood swings, vaginal dryness and nutrient deficiencies.
And I think it’s really important to take note of these side effects and risks and consider them in terms of your own medical history. For me, these can be quite concerning.
Personally, as I studied my degree at uni, I vowed that I would never ever use this form of contraception, purely because all of the diseases we covered and studied, had oral contraception as a risk factor. So I realised very early on that this was not something that I wanted to play around with for sure.
This brings me to the next option, which is the mini pill.
And often women would say to me ‘I’m only on the mini pill’.
This option sounds less harmful, because it does not contain the synthetic estrogen, but only progestin and the dosage is lower than that of the pill.
Unfortunately, a very large number of teenagers are also on this drug to try help with heavy, painful periods and acne.
It works by thickening the cervical mucus, thins the endometrium to prevent implantation and inconsistently suppresses ovulation, which means it’s not a very reliable way of contraception. Research actually shows that an estimated 30-50% of women on this medication fall pregnant within the first year of use.
The side effects of this option includes: irregular periods, decreased libido, migraines, depression, breast tenderness, nausea, ovarian cysts, and headaches
Although this is recommended as the lesser of 2 evils and hormonal issues, it still shuts down the hormonal pathways between the brain and ovaries. And this is still a cause for concern.
Ok, moving on to the Intra Uterine Devices. These are small t-shaped devices, placed into the uterus via the cervix and are a long activating type of contraception. This makes it a very convenient form of contraception for most women, as you sort of don’t have to ever think about it again, until the expiry comes up.
There are 2 different kinds of IUDs. Non-hormonal, which is better known as the copper IUD or para-guard, and then there is the hormonal IUD.
The copper IUD is non-hormonal. Basically the copper that it slowly releases is toxic to sperm and prevents it from reaching the egg. It also works by creating inflammation in the uterus which prevents implantation.
Now I don’t know about you, but I certainly do not want anything in my body that is chronically going to cause inflammation, which as we know, is the leading cause of chronic disease.
Some women actually tolerate the copper IUD without any issues, but others may have severe side effects which does not justify the use of this option.
The copper IUD is known to cause very heavy and painful periods and other side effects include mood swings, breast tenderness, low energy, decreased libido, depression, headaches, migraines, adrenal dysfunction, brain fog and also copper toxicity.
Then we get to the hormonal IUD, which is a very popular option for a lot of women because of 2 reasons.
Firstly, it’s very convenient and secondly, it basically stops all menstrual bleeding.
I used to have the mirena for more than 10 years and it worked really well for me. But to be honest, I wasn’t very in tune with my body back then, so thinking back, there were probably a truckload of symptoms and side-effects that I experienced but I just wasn’t aware that it was linked to the mirena.
There are also other brands of the hormonal iud, including the Kyleena, Liletta and Skyla.
This divide is also placed into the uterus and releases low doses of progestin every single day until it’s expiry date, which can be anything from 3-7 years.
Many women and doctors argue that it’s a better hormonal option, as the hormones are not released systemically, but only into the uterus. Which is true. But even with synthetic hormones being released into the uterus, it still interacts with the progesterone receptors on your cells, letting your brain know that there is enough progesterone. Although it is not progesterone, the cells will register it as progesterone, and it’ll shut the brain off and stop creating progesterone. So it still affects your hormonal pathways.
It’s uncertain if the Mirena will stop ovulation for you, as it only does for some women, but I would say in most cases they do stop ovulation. Although the primary action is not to stop ovulation, in many cases it does.
When I had the mirena, it completely stopped my periods all together and of course I embraced that. But now that I know better, I would not have done it the same. I would have embraced my periods a lot more for sure, which is what I’m teaching my daughter!
It also thins the endometrial lining to prevent implantation and thickens cervical mucus so sperm can not get to the egg.
And as I said, the reason why this form of contraception is so popular is because it leads to very light or no periods at all.
Now if I HAD to choose a chemical form of birth control, this would probably be it. It’s definitely the lesser of all evils.
And also, the hormonal IUD can really help women with extremely painful periods due to endometriosis, fibroids or estrogen dominance. But here’s the big BUT…
It is so important that you will find the underlying cause while using something like the mirena as temporary relief from all the symptoms. So the mirena should not be a long term solution in my opinion, it should be a temporary support as you try to identify and heal the root cause of all your symptoms, which in many cases, is estrogen dominance.
Now what you need to understand too, is that when you remove or stop any form of chemical contraception, it may take several months for your cycles and periods to return. So you need a lot of patience and grace with yourself. Because the communication between your brain and ovaries will take a good amount of time to re-establish. And during this time, you may experience some side effects too.
Let’s have a quick look at the side effects related to the hormonal IUD. They can include, Irregular periods or no bleeding at all, breast tenderness, low libido, depression, anxiety, headaches, nausea, weight gain, mood swings
So those are probably the most popular options for birth control.
I just wanna take a few seconds to talk about options that I’m hoping are not being prescribed anymore, although I’m guessing that they are.
These options are not safe and I highly recommend that you investigate some other options if you are currently using any of these:
First, is the Depoprovera shot, which you’ll get every 3 months and contains progestin, which is synthetic progesterone.
It also works by suppressing ovulation, which you know by now is not a good thing and also thickens cervical mucus.
This option has huge risks such as losing stored calcium from your bones and developing osteoporosis, especially as you get closer to menopause. Unfortunately, this loss of bone is not reversible and leads to permanent damage. This was found to be the case especially where the depo shot was used continuously for more than 2 years.
Side effects also include reduced libido, depression, abdominal pain, dizziness, irregular periods, nervousness, anxiety, headaches and migraines, weakness and fatigue, weight gain, and like i mentioned, osteoporosis, and loss of calcium.
And once you decide to come off the shot, it may take 10 months or longer before you’ll start to ovulate again. So you can see that this medication is extremely disruptive to your hormones and body.
And then the second option that carries major risks and I recommend you find another option if you are on this one, is the Nuvaring, has shown to cause severe side effects and even death in some women.
The Nuvaring contains 2 kinds of hormones. Synthetic estrogen and progestin, which is a similar kind of combination of synthetic hormones found in the combination pill
The ring is placed inside of the vagina and continues to release low dose hormones every day. You’ll wear it for 21 days, remove for week and replace with new one
And just like the pill, this option also turns off the communication between the brain and ovaries, you’ll stop ovulating, you’ll cease to have a cycle and hormone fluctuations which may sound amazing, but trust me it’s the last thing that you want.
So the side effects for this option include blood clots, toxic shock syndrome which can lead to death, allergic reactions, liver problems, high blood pressure, gallbladder problems and accidental insertion into bladder and uterus.
It also includes mood changes, depression, nausea, vomiting, migraines, headaches, weight gain, breast pain, painful periods, abdominal pain, acne, low libido, vaginal discharge and discomfort, and the list goes on
So now you have some information on these different forms of hormonal birth control and I really wanna encourage you to dive deeper and find out everything you can about the birth control option that you are using. This way, you’ll be able to advocate for yourself and feel confident about your decisions.
I don’t want you to feel that these are the only options available to us.
Because these were traditionally the only options offered to us, we feel anxious about trying any natural options, but my friend, it does not mean that they are less effective.
These options include condoms, the fertility awareness method, which is what I would have used if I still have my fallopian tubes in tact, you can use one of the many apps that are now available that tracks ovulation, and you can even consider vasectomy for your husband if you are sure that you won’t be having any more babies.
The thing is, you have options available to you, it’s just about educating yourself on what those options are and what are the best ones for you and then getting confident with those forms of birth control.
And what I love about the Fertility Awareness Method, is that it will help you to learn more about your body and your cycles and teach you to embrace your cycles as your superpower.
Now you’ll remember, earlier in this episode, I mentioned that many women are on some form of hormonal birth control for reasons other than birth control, which very often include hormonal imbalance issues.
And I really want you to know that there are other options available to you in terms of natural remedies that will address the root cause of those symptoms. And I’ve helped many women do just that and I know you can do the same! Which is what this podcast and all my coaching programmes are all about!
You need to know one thing though, fixing our menstrual and hormonal symptoms take time. And we need to consistently be deliberate about healing our symptoms. I would say you should start seeing some shifts after 1 cycle, but you should really give yourself 6-9 cycles. So be kind to yourself. And remember, have grace with yourself if you temporarily have to use something like the hormonal IUD to ease the symptoms, while you work on the underlying cause. And the underlying cause will not go away if you use some form of medication to relieve the symptoms. In fact it is likely due to inflammation, which if ignored, will lead to a compounding effect over time.
So you deserve to know the underlying cause and heal that!
So I wanna share a few things with you to start healing those symptoms that may have lead you to start using a form of hormonal contraception. Which is why I had the mirena. It was to ease my heavy, painful periods.
First of all, you need to have extra grace with yourself like I said.
I know how intimidating it is to be in your doctors rooms and they recommend something that you know in your gut is not the right thing. I’ve been there for many years. It was extremely frustrating as I had no idea what the alternative was.
But know this friend, fixing your periods and hormonal symptoms does not have to be hard or complicated. It can be easier than you think and lifestyle change is key! And this is why I teach women to listen to the symptoms and messages of their body, so you can start responding appropriately and give your body what it needs. If you do this, honestly, time and time again, I see healing that really leaves me in awe. And this is available for you too!
Secondly, food is the absolute foundation of healing.
And there are 2 things that you need to remember in terms of food. 2 things that are the culprits when it comes to hormonal imbalances. They are blood sugar regulation and inflammation.
Too much sugar, processed foods, alcohol, nasty fats, caffeine.
Food is key. Not just for hormonal health, but also for gut health, mental health, cardiovascular health, energy, all of it.\
Trust me my friend, you may think you need something stronger or more profound than food to fix your hormonal struggles, but take my word for it. This is where you wanna be fixing all of your attention. If you would like to know how to do this, I did an episode quite recently on how to build meals that will heal your hormones. You can find the link to episode 37 in the show notes.
Number 3 - Learn to master your stress
Something that I've been working on for myself for the last few years, is body awareness. Noticing when my body responds to triggers and how my body responds. Often we don’t even realise when our stress response is triggered, and therefore we can’t do anything about it.
What are the things that make you feel frustrated, anxious, angry? If we don’t learn to regulate this response, it creases an inflammatory cascade in your body, that will disrupt your sex hormones. So the things that I lately love to do for stress management, is first of all focusing on keeping my breathing deep and when I feel really stressed, I’ll do 2 minutes of deep belly breathing to activate the vagus nerve. Self care is really important as well, as it will help you to increase your window of tolerance in terms of stress.
I also write down my gratitudes every single day.
And then one of my favourites is walking outside in nature, which has played a major role in my healing a few years ago. And I still love doing this and it still creates deep feelings of gratitude within me when I go for my walks. I also love singing and dancing in the kitchen, and of course, using my essential oils regularly to help down-regulate my stress response. Another thing that I’ve found really helps me, is to just get outside and get the sun on my skin. Stress regulation is all about intentionally creating pockets of white space in your day, to let your body know that you are safe. Intentional moments to just reset your nervous system.
Ok, moving to number 4 - Do not mess with that solid sleep routine!
Once you start messing with your sleep routine and sleep quality, your body is bound to feel it. If you don’t sleep enough, you can’t restore and heal. Refer to episode 39 where I did an entire episode on sleep and how you can improve your sleep, so refer to the link in the show notes to find that episode. But right now, I’m sure you can think of the things that are not serving you right at this moment. Maybe it’s watching tv until 11pm. Maybe you’re not delegating the chores after dinner, which means you end up dragging out your evening for way too long. What are the things that you can delegate to your family to make sure that you start winding down long before it’s time to go to bed?
Moving on to number 5 - Move your body every single day
It is so important to do a variety of movements, depending on where you are in your cycle.
Walking is so important to start healing your hormones. It’s amazing for helping you control your blood glucose, especially when you go for a walk after meals. It’s good for so many things. But it’s also really important to build muscle to make sure your bones stay healthy and strong as you move towards menopause, even if it’s 10-20 years away! So lifting weights and bodyweight exercises are also important. I like to do a variety of things every week, as I tend to get bored with doing the same thing over and over again.
Number 6 - Address nutritional deficiencies.
We know that hormonal contraception typically leads to nutritional deficiencies, so a good place to start would be a good quality multivit, especially one that has all of the B vitamins. Also make sure as always that you use your probiotic daily.
And then lastly, my favourite one as it has made a massive impact on my own health, is supporting low progesterone levels. Heavy and painful periods are often a sign of estrogen dominance, so supporting your progesterone will likely make a massive difference for you. Now remember, I’m not talking about synthetic progesterone here. I’ll never recommend you use synthetic hormones. I’m talking about natural, bio-identical progesterone and the one that I love using, is a serum from Young Living called Progessence Phyto plus. You will typically use 3-6 drops on your inner thigh or inner arms, rubbing it onto the skin. It also contains a few essential oils that will support cellular uptake and this product has literally transformed the lives of many women that have gone through my programs.
The great thing with a serum like this, is that it is easily and quickly absorbed into the skin and you’ll start to see improvement real soon. But it IS important to do it in combination with the proper lifestyle adjustments.
So with all of that friend, I wanna encourage you to tune in to your body and listen to it. You deserve to trust your intuition and look into your symptoms to figure out what is the missing link for you. You can figure this out, especially if you have access to information like what you’ll find in my podcast and somebody with the right experience and knowledge to help you get there.
If you would like to receive my weekly emails and be the first to know when my next program becomes available, you can head to my website, which is vandghie.com, and submit an enquiry or even download the free quiz to find out what your period is actually saying about your hormones.
And if you’ve found today’s episode helpful, please share it with a friend.
Until next time, bye for now