How many of you got on brith control when you were younger being told only about what it was going to help, and nothing about the side effects of hormonal birth control? We were told it can help acne, painful periods, irregular periods, PCOS, hormonal imbalances, protect against pregnancy etc. But few doctors actually tell us the serious side effects, especially with long term use.
I started to educate myself about HBC (hormonal birth control) 2 years ago. I listened to a few podcasts, and was actually scared into wanting to learn more. They mentioned the possibility of becoming infertile, and I freaked out a little bit. But the more I researched, the more I realized that a lot of my symptoms (last year during my health issues, you can read more about that here) I was having were actually linked to the long term use of HBC.
The purpose of this post is not to scare you into getting of birth control, or to make you panic about what could happen to you. The purpose of this is to help educate you on what hormonal birth control does to your body and the side effects the doctors don’t tell you. If I can help one person not having to go through what I went through, then that is all that I want. So lets chat about the side effects of not just the pill, but also IUD’s, injections etc.
There are several different types of birth control, all of which have different side effects and possible complications. I wanted to first explain the different types of birth control contraceptives that could potentially cause serious side effects.
Birth control pills are a combination of estrogen and progestin and are taken orally and to prevent pregnancy. They work by adding these hormones to your blood stream for 28 days, and then you remove them for 4-7 days which causes a bleed, or “period”. But it isn’t a real period like you would have without birth control, it is a withdrawal bleed from not having the hormones present that causes a bleed.
Progestin intrauterine device (IUD) is a plastic T shaped device that is inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. It works by releasing a hormone that prevents the sperm from fertilizing the egg. It is 99% effective and lasts for 3-6 years. This
The depo shot is a shot given every 3 months to prevent pregnancy. It is a dose of progestin that prevents the female from ovulating. If there is no egg, there can be no fertilization.
The patch is just like the birth control pill, except it is obviously a patch. It is put on the arm and is replaced every week.
Birth control was first created to prevent pregnancy, but is now prescribed for a whole slew of reasons. I don’t know about you but when I got on birth control I was not concerned about any side effects. I just didn’t want to have a baby, and birth control was 99% effective for preventing that. After 10 years of taking Yaz, I started to question things. I started to have health issues, and came across a podcast about birth control. To be honest…it scared the crap out of me. It mentioned infertility and increased risk of cancer, so I stopped. Cold turkey. And, this was a bad idea. I wish I could say I did a bunch of research and came off the pill the correct way, but I didn’t. I stopped in the middle of a pill pack, before even doing more research or making sure I had the support I needed through the process. So, why am I telling you this? Because I want to make sure you know EVERYTHING you need to about birth control, and you can make your own decision about whether or not to stay on it.
Birth control is essentially a device (whether it be any of those listed above) that disrupts signals sent to the brain. The female body is AMAZING in that it has the ability to create a human being. We have specific hormones that cycle every month, naturally, to release an egg. Our body naturally thinks we are pregnant every month until signals are sent to the brain telling it know that there was , in fact, no fertilization and hormones are released to kill the egg. We then shed the lining of our uterus and we go through the cycle again the next month. Well, birth control stops this cycle.
By taking birth control, no matter what form, you are sending a signal to the brain that there are enough hormones. If the brain does not secrete hormones, then the ovaries do not make any more. Without hormones, there is no ovulation. So…no hormones, no ovulation, no baby. But this also means no normal body process. Birth control disrupts the hormone producing process, which is obviously going to cause some issues.
So, is it bad for you?
These days, birth control is given to patients as a bandaid. Very few women get put on the pill for the sake of pregnancy prevention, it is usually to mask a symptom that is occurring like painful periods or acne. Or, maybe you are like me and were put on birth control years ago because you thought that was the right thing to do. When you get to a certain age doctors tend to tell you to get on birth control as a precaution for being sexually active, but they don’t tell you all the baggage that can come with it.
Birth control pills deplete vital nutrients the body needs to create thyroid hormones, like zinc and selenium. The pill also depletes B Vitamins that are necessary for synthesizing these hormones. It also produces too much thyroid-binding globulin which binds to the thyroid hormone and therefore is no longer available for use. These imbalances can lead to either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.
Adrenal fatigue basically means your adrenal glands are producing too many hormones as a result of something in your life, in this case, birth control. You can read more on adrenal fatigue here. When we take birth control, we are introducing estrogen to the body. This is going to create an inflammatory response, and therefore cause the adrenal glands to produce more hormones to suppress it. This would be okay in a one-off instance, but this happens daily when on the pill and it is too much for the bodies brain/adrenal gland (HPA-axis) connection to handle. Birth control also forms what is cortisol-binding globulin, which binds to the cortisol and makes it unable to use. That means we have a whole lot of cortisol floating around that we cannot use to treat inflammation..so it keeps rising…and we know, chronic inflammation = chronic disease.
Birth control, in the recent years, has been proven to cause imbalances in the gut flora. This can mean leaky gut, crohn’s disease, and IBS. These can all trigger autoimmunity.
It wasn’t until I got off the pill that I was able to start making connections. I got on the pill when I was a Freshman in high school, yuck. You know what started sophomore year? Panic? I thought it was because a lot of my friends were going off to college and “leaving me”. But what I realized is that it never went away. I panicked and planned and panicked and planned all the way to senior year when I got on anxiety medication because I panicked about going to college. How anxiety/depression/mood swings are related to birth control is still a little fuzzy, but it mostly comes back to all the things we have talked about. Nutrient depletion, hormone imbalances, inflammation…all can have a negative impact on our mood.
Amenorrhea is an absence of menstruation. This can be because ovulation is not present, or because of a hormone imbalance. During a monthly cycle, there is an increase in estrogen, and then an increase in progesterone. If these are not rising and falling properly, or are not present at all, ovulation and menstruation will not occur. This is especially common when someone (like me) gets on birth control right after getting a period and being on it for a long duration. The body then is not sure HOW to ovulate or release these hormones, and it therefore needs to almost retrain itself. I did not have a period of 9 months after getting off birth control. Although this is a long time, there is a risk of it being years long even.
Research has shown that years of contraceptive use can lead to gallbladder disease, or gall stones. The extra estrogen caused from birth control can increase cholesterol levels in bile and therefore lead to decreased gallbladder contractions.
Yes, scary stuff. Birth control can increase the risk of these life threatening conditions.
Post birth control syndrome is a new discovery that is gaining more and more interest and research. It generally starts 4-6 months after coming off the pill, and can be as severe as losing your period completely or as little as hair loss. Dr. Jolene Brighton has a great website that breaks everything down, and also has a guide you can follow when coming off the pill. She is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the harmful side effects of birth control and how to get off of it! Read all about post birth control syndrome here.
I hope this blog has given you some insight on the harmful side effects of birth control and what it does to your body. I was on it for 10 years, not because I had painful periods or bad acne. But because once I got on it, I kind of just forget about it and took it everyday by habit. Until I started to not feel like myself. So if you are someone who is struggling with the side effects but are unsure about what to do, keep researching. Keep asking questions and do what is right for you.