how hormonal birth control impacts the body

How Hormonal Birth Control Impacts The Body

Hormonal birth control (HBC) has been a big part of my health journey and is something that has impacted many of my clients’ lives as well. This isn’t surprising since 80% of women will take the pill at some point in their lifetime (1).

I don’t want any woman to EVER feel bad about taking hormonal birth control. I took it for 7 years and then had a copper IUD and I don’t regret it. This allowed me to avoid pregnancy while finishing college and starting my career. I have since adopted and successfully use the Fertility Awareness Method, but that’s a whole other post. My goal with this post is to teach you how HBC actually impacts the body since I definitely was not told this by my doctor so that you can be informed.

To be honest, the pill really was revolutionary for women, but at this point in 2019, I think we deserve a better option. Something that won’t shut off our hormones and cause problems in the future.

Dr. Jolene Brighten puts it best in her new book, Beyond The Pill, when she states:

“The truth is, the pill hasn’t kept up with the times, and there’s been a bit of an ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ attitude about it. Pharmaceutical companies have very little incentive to improve upon the pill because they know the burden of pregnancy falls on us.”

If the pill came out today… society would most likely be appalled due to shutting down fertility and the long list of side effects (often long term) that come with HBC. 50 years of this and we haven’t come up with anything better? It’s pretty hard to believe. Please share this article and help raise awareness.

How Hormonal Birth Control Works

HBC works by putting synthetic hormones into the body, which are very different from our natural hormones. This shuts down your natural hormone production and stops ovulation. Ovulation is when one of our ovaries releases an egg and is the only time we can get pregnant during our cycle (plus the 5 days leading up to this because that’s how long sperm survive).

Yes, you read that correctly. HBC works “by shutting down your ovaries and switching off your hormones. Yes. On the pill, you have no sex hormones of your own. Instead, you have steroid drugs given to you as a kind of ‘hormone replacement’–not unlike the hormone replacement that is given to women in menopause (2)”.

Certain types of hormonal birth control don’t directly suppress ovulation, but they do tend to indirectly suppress it, which is the main issue with HBC.

Why does it matter if we suppress ovulation? Ovulation is what is the true all-star of the menstrual cycle. You don’t technically need to bleed every month, but you do need to cycle. Otherwise, you won’t have the shifts in hormones that keep us healthy, thriving, and young.

HBC is often the first line of defense again any female health issue.

Period pain? Here’s the pill.

Heavy periods? Here’s the pill.

PCOS? Oh, you definitely need the pill.

Acne? Easy, take the pill.

Don’t get a period? Great, we will give you a pill that will also make it so you don’t really get a period, but it looks like you do.

The issue with this is that HBC doesn’t fix any of these issues. It is a bandaid and when it is removed all of your symptoms come back, plus MORE unwanted symptoms.

You have to get to the ROOT of what is causing these symptoms. Learn more about hormonal imbalances here and here.

What Is Hormonal Birth Control (HBC)?

Hormonal birth control or HBC is any form of birth control that uses synthetic hormones to prevent pregnancy. This is typically referring to tablets, patches and injections.null

Different Types of Hormonal Birth Control

  • The Pill (all types) work by suppressing ovulation.
  • Nuvaring is estrogen plus progestin- similar to pill, but has higher blood clot risk.
  • The contraceptive Patch has synthetic forms of estrogen and progesterone and also has a higher blood clot risk.
  • The mini pill or progestin only pill does not directly try to suppress ovulation. It works by thinning the uterine lining and impairing cervical fluid to prevent pregnancy, but also indirectly suppresses ovulation in most women. It also has the most side effects.
  • Arm implants are also progestin only and prevent pregnancy by thinning the uterus and impairing cervical fluid, but also indirectly suppress ovulation. They can also cause weight gain and excessive bleeding, which is why most women get them removed (3).
  • The injection commonly known as Depo-Provera is a high dose of progestin. This high dose suppresses our natural hormone production completely. I have seen the worst side effects from clients that have used this form of birth control–quick and unstoppable weight gain, awful migraines, nausea, and complete loss of their cycle. It also has an increased breast cancer risk.
  • Mirena or Skyla IUD are devices inserted into the uterus that give off a small amount of progestin into the uterus. They work similarly to other progestin-only methods mentioned above. This means they primarily prevent pregnancy by thinning the uterine lining and impairing cervical fluid. They do still indirectly suppress ovulation, but not as often as the other methods. “The hormonal IUD suppresses ovulation in 85 percent of cycles in the first year, but then only 15 percent of cycles after that (4).”

Since the Mirena IUD doesn’t completely suppress ovulation, it’s the best hormonal birth control option. However, it has been linked to depression (3) and may reduce your ability to handle stress (5). One thing that concerns many with this IUD is that they no longer get a period, but remember the period you get on the pill is what is known as a “pill bleed” and is not a true period. You may not get a period with the Mirena or Skyla IUD, but most of the time you are still ovulating and moving through your female cycle, which is the important part.

Pros & Cons of Hormonal Birth Control

Now that you know more about HBC and how it impacts the body, let’s go through some pros and cons and when you should take it.

  • Pros
    • Gives women the right to legal birth control and to prevent pregnancy
    • Suppresses often stressful symptoms of conditions like endometriosis, adenomyosis, etc.
    • Reduces risk of colorectal, ovarian, and uterine cancers
  • Cons
    • It stops ovulation and prevents your body from cycling–this is essential for keeping us young, vibrant, and healthy overall.
    • You don’t make any hormones of your own. Our hormones are protective for our health. For example, estrogen is a happiness hormone, stimulates our mood and libido, and is important for pleasure as well as bone, muscle, brain, heart, and skin health. Progesterone is a calming hormone. Missing out on this means possible interruptions in sleep, muslce building, and an increase in inflammation.
    • Pill hormones are synthetic and not the hormones your body makes naturally. This means they can have a negative impact on our long term health such as increased breast cancer risk.

Conclusion

Ultimately, HBC covers up your monthly report card and way of being in tune with your body and your needs. It doesn’t actually solve any problems, it just covers them up. And honestly, it is only effective for as long as you take it–as soon as you get off symptoms will return and often with a vengeance.

This makes you wonder:

How much control does hormonal birth control REALLY give us over our periods, hormones, and bodies?

Coming Up Next!

I’ll be diving into the side effects of hormonal birth control and the risks associated with it in my next post so keep your eyes peeled and get on my email list.

Resources for Learning

Period Repair Manual by Lara Briden, ND

Sweetening The Pill by Holly Grigg-Spall

Beyond the Pill by Dr. Jolene Brighten

References:

(1) Holly Grigg-Spall, Sweetening The Pill, p. 25

(2) Lara Briden, ND, Period Repair Manual, p. 7

(3) http://www.medicalobserver.com.au/news/early-implanon-removal-often-due-to-bleeding-and-weight-gain-study

(4) Skovlund CW, Morch LS, Kessling LV, Ligegaard O. Association of Hormonal Contraception With Depression. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016 Nov 1;73(11):1154-1162. PubMed PMID: 27680324

(5) Aleknaviciute J, Tulen JHM, De Rijke YB, Bouwkamp CG, van der Kroeg M, Timmermans M, et al. The levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine device potentiates stress reactivity. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2017 June;80:39-45. PubMed PMID: 28315609

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