In the 1950s, the hormonal contraceptive pill was introduced to American women, initially as a form of “cycle control”, as the idea of preventing pregnancy was still considered taboo at the time. This pill, called Enovid, was only prescribed to married women up until 1972 when unmarried women were given the option to obtain contraceptives. Enovid contained hormone levels that were 10 times too high, and produced side effects like nausea and vomiting (severe enough to cause 25% of women to discontinue the pill), weight gain, thyroid and adrenal alterations, hair loss, jaundice, blood clots, and even death. The number of women maimed or killed by this drug is unclear, but scientific links between this pill and catastrophic health effects is well documented, and Enovid was ultimately discontinued in 1988. In 1968, the first IUD was introduced to American women. The Dalkon Shield, created by Hugh Davis, was prescribed to over half-a-million women before, two years after its release, women began reporting severe pelvic infections and perforations. Over 200,000 lawsuits were filed and a 1989 legal settlement created a $2.5 billion trust fund for those damaged or killed by the device.
Since that time, countless hormonal and non-hormonal versions of contraceptives have been released to women. And, since that time, countless more women have been damaged, often irreversibly, or even killed by these drugs. It’s a very curious thing that these medications are still marketed to the general public, considering the American Cancer Society recognizes them as known human carcinogens. And, if they’re knowingly causing cancer (one of the biggest killers in this country), what other issues are they causing?
How to Recover from Contraceptive Use
While conventional birth control has been associated with a wide range of issues including liver and gallbladder disease, pregnancy loss, bone loss, and even psychological changes, many of these can be categorized into three main disruptions caused by these medications: nutritional and hormonal imbalances, and gut damage.
Balancing Nutrition after Birth Control
While most practitioners don’t properly inform women of these effects, the interference on nutrition by these contraceptives has been widely documented. The World Health Organization has described this impact as a “topic of high clinical relevance” that “should receive great attention.” This is because there are quite a large number of essential vitamins that are impacted when a woman begins taking hormonal contraceptives. Conventional birth control options have been known to cause deficiencies in several B vitamins, including B6, B12, B9, and B2, zinc, magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin E[5,6,7,8]. Close monitoring of nutrition levels and precautionary supplementation have repeatedly been recommended and encouraged for patients taking contraception, those this is often ignored by most physicians. At a minimum, women who are or who have taken birth control should focus on five main areas of nutrition.
B Vitamins: B-complex group vitamins are some of the hardest hit by hormonal contraceptive use.
B-6 (Pyridoxine): Deficiency often causes symptoms like decreased skin health, sore tongue, mood changes, lowered immune system, fatigue, and tingling in the hands and feet.
Foods highest in Vitamin B-6 are poultry, fish, eggs, spinach, and milk.
B-12 (Cobalamin): Deficiency often causes symptoms like pale or yellowed skin, weakness, sensations of pins and needles, dizziness, disturbed vision, and high body temperature.
Foods highest in Vitamin B-12 are organ meats, clams, beef, tuna, salmon, and eggs.
B-9 (Folate): Deficiency often causes symptoms like anemia, fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, and shortness of breath.
Foods highest in Vitamin B-9 are soybeans, lentils, asparagus, beans, spinach, and avocado.
B-2 (Riboflavin): Deficiency often causes symptoms like dry, cracked skin, eye irritation, sore throat, and mood changes.
Foods highest in Vitamin B-2 are beef, milk, mushrooms, salmon, almonds, cheese, and spinach.
These key B-Vitamins are involved in keeping the skin and nervous system healthy, forming blood components, and creating energy from food. They are necessary for survival, and depletion of their stores can absolutely cause havoc in a woman’s life. One slice of the pie in healing from conventional birth control is to replenish these stores. Any woman who has taken conventional birth control should be mindful of getting these high B-Vitamin foods into her diet and also consider supplementation.
A quality B-Complex supplement can be found here.
Zinc: In women taking hormonal birth control, within three days of beginning, their levels of zinc are “significantly decreased”, and this has been demonstrated time and time again[10,11]. Common symptoms of zinc deficiency include unexplained weight loss, slow wound healing, lowered skin health, diarrhea, and lowered immune function.
Foods highest in zinc are red meat, shellfish, cashews, hemp seeds, yogurt, shiitake mushrooms, and legumes.
Zinc is involved with helping the body generate new cells, processing carbs into energy, and healing wounds. Zinc is found throughout cells in the body, and is necessary daily for everyday living. Deficiency of this element can cause a wide range of life-impacting side effects, and women who have taken hormonal birth control should be consuming these high-zinc foods and also consider supplementation.
A quality Zinc supplement can be found here.
Magnesium: Magnesium deficiency is especially concerning because of the fact that nearly 70% of Americans are already classified as deficient in this essential mineral. Within 6 months, hormonal birth control has shown the ability to decrease magnesium levels by up to 25%. Deficiency of magnesium often causes symptoms like twitching and muscle cramps, depression, muscle weakness, high blood pressure, insomnia, and migraines.
Foods highest in magnesium are dark chocolate, bananas, almonds, spinach, pumpkins, and avocados.
Magnesium is involved in healthy brain and heart function, and over 600 body functions[15,16,17]. Deficiency can affect the smallest, most basic, to the largest, more complicated, aspects of life. Women who have taken hormonal birth control should be knowledgeable about magnesium-rich foods, and also consider supplementation.
A quality Magnesium supplement can be found here.
Vitamin C: Contraceptive use has shown to greatly diminish levels of Vitamin C present in the body. Common symptoms of Vitamin C deficiency are repeated skin problems, easy bruising, swollen joints, bleeding gums, lowered immune system, frequent nosebleeds and dry, damaged hair.
Foods highest in Vitamin C are rose hips, guava, kale, bell peppers, kiwis, and oranges.
Vitamin C is necessary to help the body heal wounds, boost immune function, prevent and treat chronic diseases, and to even help prevent other nutritional deficiencies – like anemia[19,20,21]. Deficiency can cause numerous unwanted, uncomfortable side effects, and women who’ve taken conventional contraceptives should be educated on foods high in Vitamin C, while also considering supplementation.
A quality Vitamin C supplement can be found here.
Vitamin E: Women using hormonal contraceptives have consistently presented with “significantly lower” levels of Vitamin E than did women who were not using it. Deficiency of Vitamin E often causes symptoms like muscle weakness, lowered immune function, chronic diarrhea, and visual disturbances.
Foods highest in Vitamin E are sunflower seeds, almonds, pine nuts, avocados, spinach, and fatty fish.
Vitamin E is so important for the body. It is involved in immune function, helps keep the blood from clotting inside the vessels, is critical in immune function, and may even prevent diabetes[23,24]. Deficiency can make body functions difficult, and can cause a whole lot of unnecessary pain. Women who’ve taken birth control should consume lots of foods rich in Vitamin E and also consider adding a supplement to their daily routine.
A quality Vitamin E supplement can be found here.
Balancing Hormones after Birth Control
While we’ve just established that hormonal birth control can be extremely toxic and damaging to the body, for many women it’s not as simple as just stopping. While we don’t even fully understand the effects of stopping years of synthetic hormone use, many women are living them – and these symptoms have been categorized into a little-known condition: Post-Pill Amenorrhea. This condition is the consequence of unbalanced hormones, while the body begins trying to make its own, and is typically classified as the lack of menstrual return after stopping birth control. But, because unbalanced hormones can cause a wide range of effects, outside of simply stopping your period, many people have adapted to the newer term: Post Birth Control Syndrome (PBCS).
What are the Symptoms of PBCS?
The onset of PBCS typically begins in the first six months of stopping the pill, and the symptoms are very indicative of a hormonal disruption. They can include:
- Lack of menstruation (called amenorrhea) – up to 6% of women may never see their period again.
- Migraines and headaches
- Digestive disruption
- Thyroid issues (most commonly hypothyroidism)
- Hair loss
Treating PBCS can be complicated, as each person is unique, and each treatment will be as well. Depending on the precise hormonal imbalance your body is facing, balance may require persistence and patience, and should not be expected overnight. So, what are some steps you can take to help your body find its perfect hormonal balance?
Pamper Your Liver: Your liver is so important. Not only is it responsible for detoxing your body, but it is extremely taxing for the organ to process the synthetic hormones present in conventional contraceptive options. The use of hormonal birth control is positively associated with liver damage, liver tumors, and liver cancer, and not only is that bad news for your liver, but it absolutely affects your body’s hormonal balance[26,27]. A very close relationship exists between the liver and the endocrine system. Each one depends on the other – with hormones controlling the liver, and the liver managing hormone metabolism, so keeping each healthy and balanced is absolutely vital.
Some of the best foods that your liver will just absolutely love are garlic, coffee, green tea, grapes, and beets[29,30,31,32,33]. There are also a number of herbs, including milk thistle, burdock and licorice roots, that help support healthy liver function. A wonderful tea that combines these herbs with the liver in mind can be found here.
Stop Stressing: So many people look at stress as a part of everyday life, but the overabundance of it can most definitely cause issues in your health and hormones. The feeling of stress itself causes a huge shift in hormones, with the release of cortisol (commonly referred to as “the stress hormone”), and the subsequent change in all other hormones. When stressed, thyroid function is decreased, and chronic exposure can lead to a thyroid crisis or various other endocrine disorders[34,35].
Sometimes though, the idea to stop stressing is much easier said than done, and this is an area where herbs can come in extremely handy. Adaptogens, or substances that help protect our bodies from the negative effects of stress, are incredibly beneficial for those dealing with chronic stress. Some of the most well-known herbal adaptogens, which are considered powerful and potent in scientific literature, are ashwagandha, tulsi, and panax ginseng[36,37,38].
Get Herbal: As pointed out above, there are several herbal options when re-balancing your hormones after birth control. Maca root, for example, has been praised as a non-hormonal option for balancing hormones. Catuaba bark can ease painful menstruation. Muira Puama can be used against depression, and also protects the body against stress. It’s impossible to go through all the natural aids that can be used to balance a woman’s hormones. It is something I, personally, have researched in depth, as recovering from birth control was necessary for me, too. One of the biggest factors to help with my healing was a five-herb supplement that I added to my coffee every single day. To learn more about this supplement, visit here.
Healing the Gut after Birth Control
In 2010, over 10 million women were using some type of oral contraceptive as their choice for birth control. And, because these medications pass through the digestive system, they unavoidably also alter the microbiome in said system. While not much research has been done into it, studies have revealed that oral contraceptives have the ability to impact gut flora, cause digestive inflammation, and long-term use could lead to Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and other inflammatory bowel diseases.
Imbalanced gut flora, often referred to as a “leaky gut” can cause many different symptoms like nutritional deficiencies, mood disorders, and hormonal imbalance. As with other areas of health, the gut is imperative when it comes to true healing. If you’re supplementing with all the nutrition you need, but it isn’t being absorbed by the gut, it’s money spent down the drain. If you focus on herbal remedies to balancing your hormones but your gut, a hub for producing and regulating hormones, is out of whack – it’s useless.
Cut the Sugar: This is a tough one, especially for those of us living in developed countries, because sugar is literally everywhere. But, unfortunately as sweet as it may be, added sugars are poison when it comes to gut healing. High consumption of sugars, typically known as the “Western diet”, noticeably alters the gut microbiome within 24 hours, and this imbalance could lead to symptoms like sleep disruptions, mood disorders, skin diseases like psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema, and hormonal disorders, like PCOS[45,46,47,48]. Not to mention the fact that sugar itself disrupts the endocrine system.
Eat Your Bacteria: Probiotics have actually gained quite a lot of popularity lately – and for good reason! Probiotics, or good bacteria, are insanely beneficial when it comes to your gut and, well, the rest of your entire body. Probiotics are actually living bacteria that grow and thrive in your digestive tract when consumed. Probiotics help fortify the intestinal barrier, “closing” the leaky gut, while also regulating hormone release. Probiotics, found in packaged supplements or fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut, and kefir, offer protective and therapeutic benefit over disorders like Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and PCOS[51,52].
A quality probiotic supplement can be found here.
Keep Your Gut Healthy: So, I told you what not to eat, but what are some foods your gut will love?
Fiber is one you can’t be skimping when trying to heal your gut. Fiber helps keep things moving while also feeding intestinal cells that maintain gut health and balance. The best food-sources of fiber are artichoke, lentils, split peas, black beans, and lima beans. As mentioned above, fermented foods which are full of healthy bacteria, are always bound to keep your gut feeling happy.
Hormonal contraceptives, while convenient, can come with a range of side effects – some of which can last for unknown periods of time. Healing from these effects can seem difficult and complicated, but once you understand the problems you’re facing, you’re more than halfway there. For persistent issues, it’s always best to look into personalized, individualized care based on your unique hormone levels and needs. Despite most popular belief though, your body can heal.
Until next time,