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.
Episode 6: The (Almost) Magical Hormone You Need More Of Every Day
Episode 37: How To Build Hormone Healing Meals For Your Entire Family
Episode 39: 5 Hacks To Improve Your Sleep
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.