The Dark Side of the Birth Control Pill

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For many women, the use of hormonal birth control (the pill) has been a very convenient and effective method of preventing pregnancy. For others, it’s been prescribed as a possible fix for everything from heavy or missed periods, fatigue, and PMS to cramping, acne, and mood swings. Some women adjust well to the medication, but others suffer from a range of side effects that include nausea, gastrointestinal distress, tender breasts, anxiety, depression, and migraine headaches which all tend to get worse instead of better.   

Doctors rarely discuss these side effects when prescribing contraceptive pills. So most women assume that their use is completely safe. The pill does pose health risks, however, because it upsets the body’s intrinsic, hormone balance. During a natural menstrual cycle, a woman’s estrogen levels rise during the first half of the month and fall during the second. The pill disrupts this cycle, keeping estrogen levels consistently high which contributes to estrogen dominance. A number of other hormonal imbalances can also be created.

By utilizing synthetic hormones that change a woman’s levels of estrogen and progesterone, the pill can have a negative impact on thyroid hormones. Women taking birth control pills release more thyroid hormone binding globulin (THBG), which essentially holds the freely circulating or bioavailable thyroid hormones hostage. They also make more sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which captures testosterone; when SHBG levels go up, testosterone levels go down. Although testosterone is widely recognized as a male hormone, women still require an adequate amount of this key, strength and recovery hormone for optimal health, performance, and recovery.

Because the body strives to maintain homeostasis, it has a variety of feedback systems to prevent chemical imbalances. When the body receives daily doses of strong, synthetic hormones, the brain perceives just that—a chemical imbalance that it attempts to correct by shutting down the body’s natural production of estrogen and progesterone. Research indicates that the pill also interferes with the body’s methylation process, leaving women deficient in hormones like serotonin (which can improve mood) and melatonin (for better sleep).

Since the introduction of the pill five decades ago, the effects of synthetic hormones on a woman’s emotions, cognition, and memory have remained largely unexplored. But it’s becoming infinitely clear that women who use birth control pills are more likely to suffer from severe anxiety and clinical depression.

If that weren’t enough, it appears that birth control pills can interfere with digestion and impede nutrient absorption. If you are using (or have used) birth control pills, be particularly mindful about getting enough B-vitamins, iron, and zinc.