So many people I know, including myself, were given the hormonal contraception pill at a young age as a “catch all” remedy for problematic menstrual cycles.
It must be very frustrating as a G.P to know that possibly something deeper is going on with the hormones of the young girls sitting in front of them, but being unable to contravene the regulations they are given.
Unfortunately, all over the world, the simple solution is to put the patient on the pill and hope that masking the symptoms will be enough.
This is so true for so many conditions… got reflux? Here – have a proton pump inhibitor pill to lower your stomach acid. Got high blood pressure? – Here – take this to keep it down.
Don`t you think that this is a bit like having an engine warning light flash up on the dashboard of your car and instead of getting the problem fixed, you put a bit of masking tape over the light so you can`t see it!
As a 16 year old, this felt perfectly fine back then. After all, we have been conditioned in so many ways not to question authority and certainly not a G.P. My menstrual discomfort eased and my flow was so much lighter… life was peachy once again!
What I didn`t know and what young women and their mothers don`t realise is the darker side of being on the pill and hormonal contraception.
What I mean by hormonal contraception is anything that you take that contains synthetic (chemical) hormones to stop pregnancy occurring. This isn`t just about the pill, but the now hugely-popular hormonal coil, contraceptive injection, implants, vaginal ring and hormone patch.
I was told and was lead to believe for many years that taking a hormone contraceptive tricked your body into thinking that it was pregnant. This didn`t feel too bad to me at the time although as time went on over the next ten years of taking it, I did wonder if a ten –year pregnancy seemed ok!
It turns out that this information was completely wrong.
When you`re pregnant, your body continues to make its own beautiful hormones, just in a different way to when you`re not.
When you take hormonal contraception, your reproductive hormones are in a word – shut down.
Your ovaries are closed for business.
Forced to go to sleep…
Usually, for a Very.Long.Time.
In fact, your own hormone levels that you produce are more closely akin to the way they would be in menopause. The difference here would be that in Menopause, the hormones you produce are more beneficial to the rest of your body.
So what`s the big deal? Why does it matter so much that your ovaries are sleeping? Surely it`ll be ok if they just rest for a little bit?
Mmm… Here is where the problem lies.
The Oestrogen and progesterone that you produce naturally are not only vital for your reproductive health but for the health of your organs, your mood, metabolism and your bones. The chemical hormones that you are taking don`t have the same beneficial effect. In fact, they have the opposite effect.
Your metabolism is slowed down and they actually deplete your body of essential nutrients and vitamins. The worsened metabolic issues effect insulin resistance and before you know it, the vital communication system between the pituitary and the ovaries gets ‘stuck`. Insulin resistance is something that a woman with PCOS really needs to avoid, so if you are on the pill because of PCOS, be extra careful with your diet.
Many women suffer with depression and anxiety on hormonal contraception, due to not having their own oestrogen and progesterone which is so important for our mood. It`s also so very common to suffer a loss of libido which kind of defeats the benefits of the contraceptive part of the prescription!
Over time, this communication system between the ovaries and pituitary really suffers and when you choose to come off of the pill, you are left to sort out the whole backlog of problems that have built up over time.
Think of it this way, if you left your car on your drive without starting it up or moving it in any way for over ten years, it`d have a few functioning problems when you finally put your key in the ignition and want to go somewhere!
After coming off of the pill, some women barely notice the shift and go on to regulate their menstrual cycle pretty quickly and successfully become pregnant. Others (myself included in all of this) are not so lucky.
It can take a long time for those sleepy little ovaries to get going again. The pituitary – ovary communication needs to get up and running. The Ovaries need to start producing their own hormones once again and their function is a little rusty! The body is depleted of certain B vitamins and nutrients and often there is a mineral imbalance that needs help, along with an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut.
It can be really difficult getting your cycle regular again when you come off of the pill. It can take around a year to get things normalising once again, and longer if you`ve had the contraception injection or implant.
One hormone may come back quicker than the other and an oestrogen dominant situation can arise. Progesterone is vital for trying to conceive and maintain a pregnancy but is often not in balance with its co-partner - oestrogen.
It is vital to build up your body again after coming off of hormonal contraception, whether your cycles return regularly or not. You might not realise it but your vital nutrients are probably depleted and need to be regained to grow that little human inside of you into a healthy person themselves.
We strongly advise planning ahead and coming off of the pill a year in advance (at least) and thoroughly nourish yourself in that year before even trying to conceive. Think of the car on the drive again… it`s probably going to need new brake pads and discs, a fresh batch of oil and goodness knows what else (mechanical knowledge ends here!)
Your body is the same. A nutrient rich diet, low in sugar and stimulants, with plenty of saturated fats, minerals and vitamins. Yes … I did say saturated fats! That`s a whole different blog post though…
If you keep turning the key on that car that won`t start, you`re going to cause more problems…
Trying to conceive when your body is nutritionally and hormonally weakened will feel very disappointing if you get negative test results month after month. All that stress of going through that disappointment will cause further havoc on your adrenal glands and stress hormones will just complicate the whole tangle further, not to mention the stress that this can put on your relationship.
Wouldn`t it be better to get that car in good working order before you try to drive it? Take the pressure off of yourself and don`t even bother trying to conceive until you are in a better place physically.
So to wrap this up, what is my main message in this blog post?…
It`s a difficult decision to make and a journey that can be very bumpy. I know… I`ve been there.
If you need any help navigating all of this then please reach out…I can help you.
Here`s a little corner of the world where I discuss life, our bodies, natural remedies and nature.
Clinical Nutrition and Naturopathic Health
Eve Morley N.T
Society of Naturopaths
AMNNA FNTP NFPTA
M-F: 9am - 5pm