You’re on the Oral Contraceptive Pill. You’re meant to be symptom free and have an easier menstruation - but you’re actually feeling tired, nauseous, anxious and have put on weight. Not only that, but this small little pill that was initially prescribed to promote sexual freedom, is actually lowering your libido. This is unfortunately a very common picture for women taking the oral contraceptive pill.
I am not writing this article with the intention of dissing pharmaceutical medicine, or telling you you’re doing it all wrong. This is merely a little reminder that our period is a monthly signal of whether we are in a healthy state or not and as women, we are SO lucky that we are given these signals. Periods are an expression of our health. If we are experiencing severe bloating, cramping, back pain, sore and stiff nipples, headaches, migraines, anxiety or low mood/libido related to our period then we are not in an ideal state of health. When there is something wrong and you are unhealthy in some kind of way, it is your period that brings this to attention. For example, did you know that gluten intolerance can cause irregular periods? The inflammation from gluten interferes with many organs, including the ovaries. This is just a small part of the picture - but when you assess the full picture, you can attempt to treat the symptoms.
The decision here is yours. You can treat the underlying problem, which is likely nutrient deficiencies, systemic inflammation, stress, hormonal imbalance or poor diet/lifestyle factors, or you can take the oral contraceptive pill. The little pill of love that promised pimple free skin, rubber free sex and a symptom free period. But what REALLY is the pill doing? Well, the combined oral contraceptive pill is a tablet that contains ethinyl-estradiol and progesterone. They are strong synthetic pseudo-hormones that suppress ovarian function, which makes it an ‘interesting’ choice when used to ‘fix’ ovarian function. Somehow, we have all been lead to believe that the pill’s active constituents are more powerful than our own innate bodily functions and hormones. But synthetic hormones have not shown that they are more effective at healing our natural body systems, they are not even hormones. In fact, their functions are quite different.
Lara Briden, a biologist and naturopath who has dedicated a lot of time and research into women's health and the oral contraceptive pill wrote a book about (not exclusively) the ingredients and health impacts of the oral contraceptive pill. I've used her book as a resource to summarise the following paragraph on some of the ingredients and their actions.
Let’s look at progesterone. Synthetic progestins (levonorgestrel and drospirenone) abort pregnancies, whereas natural progesterone promotes embryo implantation and pregnancy. Synthetic progestins increase the risk of fatal blood clots, whereas natural progesterone decreases the risk of blood clots. Synthetic progestins cause hair loss, whilst natural progesterone promotes hair growth. Synthetic progestins cause depression (this is the most recently clinically trialled research about the Oral Contraceptive Pill. It’s sad, but true), however natural progesterone improves brain health and cognition. It has been found time and time again that the pill does not regulate your hormones, it switches them off. If this is not the most alarming element of the Oral Contraceptive Pill, then I don’t know what is. Just to recap, your hormones are required for every single properly functioning system in your body.
The World Health Organisation issued a statement raising concern that the pill causes depletion of nutrients and said it needed to be prioritised with clinical importance, however i’m not sure that was the result. The pill has been found to affect the absorption of folic acid, vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, vitamin C and E and the minerals magnesium, selenium and zinc.
A deficiency in B Vitamins can cause birth defects, poor energy production, anemia, cardiovascular disease, reduced red blood cell formation, fatigue, muscle weakness, anxiety, skin rashes, dementia, dermatitis, memory loss, depression, hallucinations and hair loss.
A deficiency in magnesium can cause muscle spasms and cramps, heart palpitations, anxiety, irregular heart rhythms, fatigue, hypertension (high blood pressure), asthma and osteoporosis.
A deficiency in zinc can cause growth and development problems, hair loss, diarrhea, impotence, eye and skin conditions, loss of appetite, delayed wound healing and mental slowness.
So you're on the pill and you're experiencing these symptoms. What do you do? Firstly, assess whether the benefit of being on the pill for you outweighs the negatives, and then go and see a practitioner that understands the link between symptoms, medications and nutrients. There are specific doses of micronutrients that I use to treat heavy periods, menstrual migraines, breast tenderness, bloating, anxiety, PMS, cramping and/or back pain. There are also specific nutrients for both nutrient deficiencies caused by the Oral Contraceptive Pill, and hormone dysfunction. We tend to think that period pain is just part and parcel of menstruation - but this is so very untrue.
Like most things, we can always counteract or at the very least support what we are doing to our body with nutrients. This is not about coming off the pill. Every woman who is on the pill has a valid reason for why they believe they should be on it and that is absolutely ok. I also do not deny the pill's need in some particular medical conditions, however I feel even this is a poorly understood topic that needs revision.
What is not ok, is blindly being prescribed the pill with no knowledge on what it is doing to your body, what the ingredients are, and what they are doing to your natural hormones. Once we know, we can choose whether it is still worth it for us and if it is, that’s absolutely fine. Know what you’re putting inside your body. I end almost all my articles with this comment but it’s because it runs true against everything that I write. No-one should judge you for your choices, not your nutritionist, not your doctor, not your friends. Once you know what you are putting inside your body, you are within your right to do whatever it is you please. Only you know best about what is worth it or not. But make all your choices informed choices. It’s the most intelligent thing you can ever do.