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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

1. 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:

Natural 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.

Synthetic progesterone (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

Many women have no idea that their BCPs may be causing the following issues:
• Fatigue
Depression
• Low libido
Insomnia
Anxiety
Weight gain

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.

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COMMENTS

  1. Spot on with this write-up, I absolutely feel this site needs far more attention. I’ll probably be returning to read through
    more, thanks for the information!

    • As a Nutrition and Wellness Coach, I find this to be the most confusing topic for my clients. Foods are also related. Hormonal imbalances are related to many issues with mood and fatigue. How can someone get these hormone tests?
      I would love to learn more from Dr. Amen as he is my trusted “go-to” doctor! Kim Porcelli

    • So says:

      My transgender teen son takes depoprovera to halt menses. He has gained a huge amount of weight and is now sluggish and depressed. Can natural progesterone work for this purpose?? Are there any suppliments or any other way to combat the unwanted side effects?

      • Hugh says:

        Bioidentical progesterone would certainly be better than provera, but I’d have thought the best hormone replacement for a trans man would be testosterone. Depo Provera is nasty stuff, ignorant doctors sometimes give it to trans women, where it has a reputation for causing severe depression and suicides. In our HRT group, some of us have developed a theory that provera (and other progestins) cause depression and other adverse psychological effects by depleting neurosteroids (neurosteroids are steroid hormones produced in the brain, that have anti-anxiolytic, anti-seizure and antidepressant effects, stimulate neurogenesis, and just generally do stuff that keeps your brain and nervous system in good shape). Progestins are known to interfere with some of the key enzymes involved in neurosteroid synthesis (for instance 5 alpha reductase). Also, progesterone itself acts as a raw material from which one of the most important neurosteroids, allopregnanolone, is made. By mimicking the action of progesterone, progestins might be deceiving the body into thinking there’s more progesterone present than their actually is, causing it to downregulate progesterone production and leading to further depletion of allopregnanolone.

        Another effect of progestins is that they block the release of gonadotropins (LH and FSH), which has the effect of shutting down your sex hormone production (this is why progestins are often used as chemical castration agents for sex offenders). Some of the effects of sex hormone deficiency include weight gain, depression, and lack of energy.

  2. pcombs says:

    Glad to see Amen Clinics addresses the role hormones play in mood, memory, anxiety etc. Menopausal women are said to have ADHD symptoms. Is more than just a coincidence? I hope you are looking into this.

    • Alana says:

      Absolutely I feel that I have developed ADHD and many other mood and memory issues as I go through menopause. Would love to get more solid reliable information on how best to deal with this situation for the long term.

      • KJ says:

        So frustrating that docs will not Rx even 0.01mg of estrogen even if you have ALL the symptoms unless they get a level on you first. But they will gladly almost force SSRIs on a menopausal woman, any woman w/o getting anything checked first.

  3. Rhea says:

    Is it expensive? Will my insurance cover any of the hormone replacement?

    • Melanie Mitchell says:

      I am unaware of any insurance that covers bio identical hormones. Hopefully, this will change in the near future, because there are many benefits of using Bio Identical hormones.

  4. Robbie says:

    Thank you for covering this topic, as hormone imbalances are the origin of many neurochemical imbalances, especially in women. It would be very helpful if you further explored (in detail)this topic to include the major hormones that affect cognitive and emotional wellbeing. For example, Estrogen gets a bad rap from so many health publications yet it influences many biological processes that are essential to cognitive, emotional,& personality stability. (and the liver’s ability to process it) It is the Xenoestrogens in our environment that are wreaking havoc. Much of the research out there does not differentiate natural vs. bioidentical as you did in your article. It is also interesting that the depression rate is statistically higher for women than men… looking forward to further articles!

  5. Susan Davila says:

    What do you recommend for my daughter (19 years old) who suffers from moderate to severe cramps each month, PMS symptoms like irritability, mild depression/sadness, and just feeling miserable for about a week or more….?

  6. Teresa says:

    Most Synthetic BCP’s are also classified as Class 1 carcinogens by FDA … wish that was a required disclosure before I polluted my body for 20 years …

  7. Ellen says:

    Great article. Women need to know that birth control pills do not “regulate” anything- they essentially turn off a cycle when actually what a woman needs is smart medical care to help figure out the underlying reasons her hormones are imbalanced to begin with.

      • kj says:

        So sad to see a woman get in a relationship she thinks will be long term so starts ‘the pill’. Next thing you know, she is acting all wacky and they split up. She goes off the pill and is ‘normal’ again. Then they think, mistakenly, its being in a relationship that makes them unstable.

  8. Miae lee says:

    Is hrt that you are using same as other clinics that are using as bcp?

  9. Miae lee says:

    I mean bio identical hormon. Not bcp

  10. margaret Lehnert says:

    What about post menopause women ? How to balance hormones after 50 and increase libido ?

  11. cheryl ku says:

    Please help with more of woman’s hormonal balancing issues if possible in the future, I do not think that people are aware that your clinic even offers this as an option.
    It is especially important for woman with PMS.induced mood & depression issues. as well as pre and Menopausal issues….Even after a woman gives birth too.

    I feel that after having a Thyroid Crisis-Hashymotos Thyroidosis, at age 41, I could have benefited from this sort of complementary Interventional Medicine…I had night sweats so bad, insomnia/Low Cortisol in AM/Afternoon hrs, and now I have at 57 going on my second hip replacement soon….My mother also has had the same progression too. I have had adrenal fatigue for years as well, and supplement it with a brand of herbs…Your formulas have helped a great deal with stress, anxiety, and insomnia for me. I only wish I could have had the Natro-pathic advice from your clinic at the time I was perimenopausal. Thanks Cheryl

  12. blend says:

    Ꮶeeр this going please, great job!

  13. Emma says:

    Hi.I just wanna know if what contraceptive pill is the very best and effective one? Then after a month of taking it i will get pregnant easily?
    Thanks

  14. Fatima says:

    Great information

  15. Blue says:

    I’ve been taking Levora for years for testosterone-related cystic acne and since it helped only marginally, I went on Norgestimate, and it worked! It dried out my skin, a lot, but I also experienced weight gain and water retention. These side effects only got worse over time so I went off of it after 5 months and back on Levora. It’s been 9 months and these side effects still haven’t gone away. When I wake up in the morning, my stomach is smaller but right after drinking some room temp water, it gets bigger and stays bloated throughout the day no matter what I eat or drink. I tried dandelion pills but they gave me hives, as did hibiscus. I don’t know what else to do at this point. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  16. Airon says:

    Hi. I have my irregular mens for almost 8 mos. now. i am 43. It started when i was 41. My dr. Prescribe me Marvelon just today. For hw many months will i take this meds? I am just confuse. Thank u very much.

  17. Kaylyn says:

    My 18 yr old daughters have PMDD. They were both put on YAZ after diagnosis for many years. A recent dr switched my daughter to Nuvaring as it is “safer”. After a few weeks she went into deep treatment resistant depression that has lasted a year. She returned to YAZ immediately after the depression started but hasnt been able to get her pmdd or depression under control. No SSRI has helped- only makes it worse. At a loss and tired of switching providers & out of money….. help!

  18. kj says:

    May I suggest Chinese herbs and/or acupuncture as well as evening primrose oil or fish oil, B6 and SAM-e. Sorry if that was unsolicited but I didn’t see a reply.

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