If you’re considering quitting the pill, congrats! You’re taking a huge step toward reclaiming your health, happiness, and hormones. And you’re not alone. Surveys suggest that 70 percent of millennials have ditched (or are thinking about ditching) hormonal birth control.
Many doctors recommend the pill to “solve” period problems and other hormone symptoms, but the pill doesn’t solve anything. Symptoms disappear because the pill covers them up. Meanwhile, the root causes of your symptoms continue to simmer beneath the surface—and the longer they go unaddressed, the harder they are to treat.
So yes—quitting the pill is one of the most significant things you can do in the process of hormonal healing. But saying goodbye to the pill without knowing how to protect yourself from rebound symptoms can cause them to return with a vengeance—especially if you give up the drugs cold turkey. That’s because your body suddenly has to manage and balance its own hormones for the first time in months or years and it goes through a re-education process as your natural hormone cycle comes back online.
Luckily, there are smart strategies for coming off the pill. Over the years, I’ve developed a foolproof plan for quitting synthetic hormones once and for all and sidestepping the unpleasant symptoms that can come with it.
9 Side Effects of Taking Hormonal Birth Control
Seriously—the list of birth control’s harmful effects never ceases to amaze me, and yet it’s the most common Band-Aid solution doctors rely on to spot-treat deep-seated endocrine issues. Here are just some of the side effects people experience when taking the pill:
- Damaged microbiome – hormonal birth control acts just like an antibiotic in your gut, destroying the essential microbiome balance. If your doctor prescribes the pill for PCOS specifically, you will find it will only worsen the problems of weight gain and insulin sensitivity, because of the impact on gut flora. Just recently research revealed the pill can trigger Crohn’s, a symptomatic disease of imbalance in the microbiome. The microbiome is a new frontier for medicine, and more and more research is getting published that shows a healthy microbiome is necessary for good physical and psychological health. Repairing a damaged microbiome, while not impossible, takes time. The impact of the pill on the microbiome will last long after you stop taking it without concentrated, focused actions to replenish good gut bacteria.
- Increased inflammation – if you are prescribed the pill for cramps, PMS, or other common period problems (as many women are), you should know that those issues result from hormonal imbalance and inflammation in the body. The pill does not treat these root causes, but can mask the symptoms you experience. This puts you at higher risk of the big diseases of inflammation – heart disease, cancer and dementia – later in life. You need to tackle cramps and PMS as soon as possible, from a functional medicine standpoint, with the right food and supplements.
- Micronutrient deficiency – hormonal birth control prevents the absorption of micronutrients, vitamins and minerals. It robs your body of B vitamins, magnesium, and vitamin C in particular, which has short and long term impacts on your health. These are essential for hormonal health and can lead to infertility issues post-pill. Once you’re micronutrient deficient, and prevented from absorbing what you need even from additional supplementation, you are set up for poor physical and mental health. It takes a nutrient dense, targeted diet after stopping using hormonal birth control to replenish your body’s reserves and repair the avenues of absorption.
- Suppressed ovulation – research has shown that consistent ovulation protects women’s long term health, especially when it comes to avoiding issues like osteoporosis, heart disease, heart attacks, and breast cancer (all top killers of women). Hormonal birth control (except, sometimes, the hormonal IUD) suppresses ovulation. Suppressing ovulation for years, decades even, has long term consequences, even if ovulation returns shortly after you come off the medication. Exposure to synthetic hormones plus a lack of exposure to the body’s own hormone cycles is the root cause. Ovulation is important, not just for when you want to conceive.
- Hidden reproductive health issues – the pill is not a real treatment for reproductive health issues – from PMS to PCOS. Hormonal birth control can help manage symptoms for some women, but it is only a band-aid solution. This can be dangerous, because it can mask issues long term, if women are not diagnosed prior to being prescribed hormonal birth control. Once you come off the method, the problems will return and potentially have worse symptoms than before, as well as becoming harder to treat and resolve. It’s better to tackle these problems head-on and not wait until you’d like to conceive or suffer the long-term health consequences.
- Undermining your fitness goals — A study found that women on the pill gain 60% less muscle mass than women who are not taking oral contraceptives. In a 10-week weight training program, half the participants were on the pill and half were not. By the end of the program, women who were not on the pill had gained significantly more muscle mass, had higher levels of muscle-building hormones, and lower levels of muscle-breaking hormones like cortisol.
- Attracting the Wrong Mate — Guess what? The pill may also be wreaking havoc on your relationships. In an experiment conducted at the University of Bern in Switzerland, women were asked to smell t-shirts worn by anonymous men and then pick the one that appealed to them most. The results showed that they chose the ones with a certain gene set that were very different from their own, making them genetically compatible. When this set of genes is too similar, the risk of miscarriage increases. Women who were on the pill in this study chose the t-shirts with genes that were very similar to their own, suggesting that the pill interferes with a woman’s ability to choose her most compatible mate. As one woman from the study pointed out, “A colleague of mine wonders if the Pill may contribute to divorce. Women pick a husband when they’re on birth control, then quit to have a baby and realize they’ve made a mistake.”
- Relationship dissatisfaction — The pill can also be an underlying root cause of relationship dissatisfaction, problems with libido, and low mood or depression.
- Bad breakouts. This side effect of quitting the pill is known as the androgen effect. There are 2 types of synthetic birth control — ones that have androgenic effects, which can trigger skin issues, and ones that suppress them. If you’re on the type that suppresses symptoms, your skin might improve while you take the pill, but your acne can come roaring back when you quit the pill. (If you take the type with androgenic effects, you may experience skin issues while on the pill.) Androgens have an effect on the sebaceous glands.
Study Links Birth Control to Breast Cancer: What You Need to Know
If you’ve been following FLO Living for a while, then you already know my feelings on synthetic hormones. Far too often, the pill and all other forms of hormonal birth control (patches, implants, IUDs, etc.) are marketed as the only way to treat period problems along with being fearfully positioned as the only reliable form of pregnancy prevention available to women. Not only is that information untrue; it perpetuates a culture that doesn’t take our unique health needs as women seriously.
It’s starting to feel like a bad case of deja vu: yet another study has emerged calling the safety of hormonal birth control into question. Each time this happens, it’s a strong reinforcement of the work we do here at FLO Living to help women become their own best healers of hormonal dysfunction. But this new research is so major and the results are so glaringly clear, perhaps it will be the scientific impetus for women on synthetic forms of birth control to rethink their choices.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine this month, followed 1.8 million Danish women for over a decade. During that time, 11,517 cases of breast cancer were identified, leading researchers to the conclusion that hormone users overall experienced a 20% increase in their relative risk of breast cancer compared to nonusers.
If those numbers seem hard to wrap your brain around, think of it this way: each year, hormonal birth control causes an additional 13 cases of breast cancer in a group made up of 100,000 women. So for every 100,000 women on the pill, there will be 68 annual breast cancer diagnoses compared to 55 for non-birth-control users.
If you find this revelation alarming — and I certainly do — then you’ll want to know the details and understand your options so you can make the most informed choice around your fertility, your health, and your life. This issue is far too important to ignore.
The Problem With Conventional Wisdom on Birth Control
This is what’s so frustrating about conventional women’s health. As Dr. Marisa Weiss, an oncologist who founded the website breastcancer.org told the New York Times, “Gynecologists just assumed that a lower dose of hormone meant a lower risk of cancer.” This of course is referring to the first wave of the pill that had a higher dose of hormones that at first was deemed safe for women, and then shown to cause cancer risk. So the doses were lowered, but as the new study shows, the risk is still there. Remember also that HRT (synthetic hormone replacement) was the gold standard treatment for menopausal women 20 years ago, until the cancer risk there was surfaced as well.
I’m frustrated by the culture of prescribing “treatments” to women based on assumptions where there isn’t enough research being done to support them. And when groundbreaking research like this is done, study findings will often be dismissed in some way because it doesn’t align with the status quo. It’s just become a cultural norm to feed women information that isn’t rooted in fact and as a consequence, women all over the world are making major decisions about their health care without adequate information. In this glorious age of information, this should not be.
The good news is that the current generation of women is questioning the status quo of their menstrual health care. Health and wellness has become a trendy lifestyle choice for these young women, and many are now starting to realize that the concept of medicating their cycles (even when that’s the prescription their doctor ordered) feels out of alignment with their values.
And if you’re one of these women starting to have doubts about the widely-accepted medical protocols around the female cycle, that’s great. You should follow that intuition and know that beyond this study, there is a long list of mounting evidence that should call your trust in hormonal birth control as a method for “dealing with period problems” into question.
The Rise in Synthetic Birth Control Syndrome
Over the past 16 years of treating tens of thousands of women around the world, most of whom have been on some form of birth control to address their period problems, I’ve seen first hand what researchers have been uncovering for many years – a phenomenon referred to as ‘synthetic birth control syndrome’. You may recall trying one form of birth control, and feeling not yourself or worse in the first few days. You are then advised to hop from one form to another until you can find one your body can tolerate. Regardless of how you feel you’re tolerating the synthetic hormones, they will absolutely do the following 3 things – stop you from ovulating and having an actual period, flush micronutrients from your system, and compromise your immune function by disturbing your microbiome. Oh, and there’s the potential to permanently lowering your sex drive. Those initial feelings of discomfort you may have had and were told to tolerate, were too much for men in a trial to test a form of male hormonal birth control and the men would not complete the trial!
Here are just a few of the detrimental things we already know birth control can do that we’ve shared about with you in other articles:
- Increase the risk for depression
- Promote inflammation
- Rob your body of important micronutrients
- Damage your microbiome
- Suppress ovulation
- Disrupt your pheromones and mess with your romantic relationships.
Not to mention, all forms of hormonal birth control used to “treat” problematic issues like PCOS and PMS are simply masking the root cause of those issues. Birth control is simply a Band-Aid, which can be a dangerous non-solution; once you come off the method, the problems will return and potentially have worse symptoms than before, as well as becoming harder to treat and resolve. By continuing to take the pill or use other forms of hormonal birth control, you’re compromising your future fertility and long-term health. It’s important that you know there are side effects as you weigh your options.
Debunking The Pregnancy Fear
So many of my clients tell me that they simply can’t quit the pill because they’re so scared to become pregnant. This fear is understandable considering how sex, fertility, and reproduction are taught to us in schools. Girls are basically told in grade school that once they get their periods, they’ll always be in danger of getting pregnant.
This fear-mongering goes hand-in-hand with the vilification of menstruation that makes it a natural step for women to choose to medicate their cycles; first girls are told that their periods are gross and taboo, and then they’re taught to live with constant anxiety over possible pregnancy. And of course, all of this is done in the absence of proper education around the super specific conditions that have to be in place for conception to occur — like the fact that fertilization is really only possible during a 3-5 day window each month. This perfect storm sets women up to feel that their periods are a mysterious problem best left to medication to try to handle.
I recommend natural alternatives to hormonal contraceptives.
The Surefire Plan to Transitioning Off the Pill Without Symptoms
Before you take the plunge, let your doctor know that you’ll be coming off the pill. A good doctor will help you find alternative natural methods of contraception and support you through the change.
Once you’ve consulted a doctor, take these steps to transition off birth control without side effects:
- Start the FLO protocol ASAP. A lot of women don’t realize that they need to lay the groundwork for hormonal health before they quit synthetic hormones. Cycle-syncing your diet and exercise while you’re still taking the pill can make this transition much gentler on your endocrine system and ease post-pill side effects like acne, insomnia, mood swings and irregular cycles. Moving into a FLO lifestyle will enable your body to begin the process of detoxification and recalibration, readying it for a pill-free lifestyle.
- Identify and address nutrient deficiencies. Synthetic hormones deplete your body of vitamins and minerals, especially B vitamins, vitamins C and E, and the minerals magnesium, selenium, and zinc. If you’re considering coming off the pill, consider taking high-quality supplements now to make the transition easier. The FLO Living Balance Supplement Kit contains all of these key nutrients.
- Start tracking your period. If your periods return quickly and they become regular, great! If not, then it’s likely that there is an underlying health problem that I recommend you address naturally with food changes. Many women do find it takes months for their period to show up and even then it is sporadic. Tracking your cycle before you stop the pill, and using my eating plan during the transition, will help you avoid this. If your period still isn’t back in six months, investigate potential underlying causes with your doctor. You’ll want to rule out insulin resistance, PCOS, thyroid troubles, vitamin D deficiency (as well as the deficiencies I mentioned above), and severe food sensitivities like celiac disease (though on my food plan, I recommend avoiding gluten no matter what). You can track your period with the MyFlo app.
- Re-establish a healthy gut. The pill ravages your internal microbial ecosystem. The longer you’ve been taking it, the worse the impact on your body. When you’re on the pill, eating good, clean, healthy foods is the best way to start the healing process, but in order to fast track your healing, you’ll need a powerful probiotic to replenish the balance of good gut bacteria. The probiotic in the FLO Living Balance Supplement Kit is is a highly-concentrated dose that helps balance flora, support mood, improve digestive function and nutrient absorption, and reduce the chances of getting yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.
- Make more of your own hormones. Vitamin B6 is essential for making progesterone. Include whole foods that are rich in B6 in your diet, like bananas, spinach, sweet potato, garlic, chicken, grass-fed beef, and salmon. Supplements are also key here. The Energize formula in my Balance Supplements Kit is a powerful B vitamin combination that supplies most of the B vitamins in their coenzymated forms. Incorporating lots of good quality fats and amino acids in your diet is essential, too — they’re what hormones are made from and what your body needs to start making more of its own and fast. If you can and do eat animal protein, have fish and organic poultry as well as pasture-fed eggs (including their yolks), olive oil, and avocados. It’s particularly important to get enough high-quality omega-3 fats. Omega-3s are less abundant than other types of fats in our modern food supply, so supplementing is often necessary. The Harmonize formulation in my Balance Supplement Kit contains fish oil that’s ultra potent and delivered in the form found in nature to support hormone production and healthy ovulation.
- Do an estrogen detox. A lot of women are hit with a condition called estrogen dominance after quitting the pill, which is the most common cause of all hormonal dysfunction. Leafy greens are a great way to combat this problem. Eat kale, chard, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and more (try to get some dark green and/or cruciferous vegetables at every meal if you can!). To speed up estrogen detox, supplement with the Detox formula in the Balance Supplement Kit. It offers liver support for overall detox function and supports healthy detox of excess estrogen, which is essential to regaining your hormonal health.
Monthly FLO: The Cycle Syncing System™
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