The Truth About Birth Control Pills and Hormones
Millions of women all over the world use oral contraceptive pills, also known as birth control pills (BCPs).
In this article, we will refer to them as BCPs for short. BCPs are most often used to prevent pregnancy or to reduce symptoms that may occur with menstruation, such as irregular periods, PMS, cramping, pain, heavy flow, and more.
Many people have misconceptions about how BCPs affect the body and brain and how they influence overall health. It’s time to clear up the confusion.
HOW BIRTH CONTROL PILLS WORK INSIDE THE BODY
Most are made with synthetic progesterone and estrogen.
2. The synthetic hormones enter the brain.
3. They shut down hormones called gonadotropins, which are responsible for your menstrual cycle.
4. By interfering with these gonadotropins, ovulation is prevented, and some menstrual irregularities can improve.
In order to feel happy and healthy, you need to have balanced hormones. Here is some important information to note about the type of hormones:
bind to specific receptors and keep your body in balance:
• Progesterone binds to the progesterone receptor, and testosterone binds to the testosterone receptor (yes, women produce testosterone, just not as much as men).
• There is no cross-reactivity.
(progestins) act differently on the body:
• Progestins do not limit binding with just the progesterone receptor, but many other receptors as well.
• When a synthetic hormone binds to the wrong receptor, that receptor may convey inaccurate signals, which throws the body off balance.
• This is why BCPs cause so many hormone imbalances and side effects.
Note: Not all women will have these problems, but for those that do side effects can be quite miserable.
THE HEAVY TOLL OF ORAL CONTRACEPTIVES ON THE BRAIN
You may already know that BCPs have been shown to cause problems with blood pressure, and they increase the risk of blood clots and strokes, especially if you smoke or have a history of migraine headaches. But did you know that BCPs also affect your brain and psychological well-being?
Research shows that taking the pill causes structural changes in the brain, alters neurotransmitter function, and messes with mood regulation. Scientists from Denmark found that women ages 15-34 taking BCPs were 23% more likely to start taking antidepressants for the first time than non-BCP users. In fact, bouts of depression have been reported by 16-56% of women on BCPs, which deplete the neurotransmitter serotonin.
BCPs also elevate cortisol levels (hello, stress!) and lower testosterone levels (goodbye, sex drive!). And low-testosterone problems can remain even after stopping OCPs, putting you at increased risk for long-term sexual and brain health/mental health problems.
Synthetic birth control can also disrupt the gut microbiome and interfere with the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals, which can lead to deficiencies. If you’re taking BCPs, supplement your diet with B vitamins (folate, B6, and B12), vitamin E, and magnesium.
SYMPTOMS OF HORMONAL IMBALANCE
HOW TO FIND OUT IF ORAL CONTRACEPTIVES ARE CAUSING YOU PROBLEMS
Simple standard blood tests will rarely detect this problem. A better option is a 24-hour urine hormone collection, which is the gold standard for looking at all the hormones and their metabolic byproducts.
ARE YOU READY TO STOP TAKING BIRTH CONTROL PILLS?
Stopping BCPs isn’t necessarily a quick-fix solution. Some women experience a rash of symptoms—including mood swings, anxiety, and depression—in the months following cessation of hormonal birth control. Some hormonal experts have started calling this effect “post-birth control syndrome.”
In addition, it’s important to remember that if you started taking BCPs because you were experiencing irregular periods, bad cramping, or other symptoms, the pill doesn’t actually address those issues. BCPs only mask the problem. When you stop taking BCPs, that original issue may return with a vengeance.
If you were experiencing menstrual Irregularities, take note that taking natural progesterone can be quite effective – without any of the side effects of synthetic progestin in BCPs.
If you’re concerned about pregnancy, there are other non-synthetic, non-hormonal birth control options available that you can discuss with your gynecologist.
HOW TO GET BACK INTO HORMONAL BALANCE
If you have been taking BCPs for many years, it can take several months for your natural hormone levels to balance. This is due to the chronic suppression of your own hormone production. It is often helpful to supplement hormones during this recovery period.
If you must stay on the pill for any particular reason, consider asking your personal care physician about using natural progesterone and testosterone to improve quality of life issues (while taking BCPs).
At Amen Clinics, we can help you regain the balance of your hormones and feel like yourself again. We offer hormone replacement therapy as part of our Integrative Medicine program that combines conventional medicine with complementary and alternative therapies. If you suffer from hormone imbalance due to BCPs, connect with us online or call 888-288-9834 today.