Oral Contraceptives: What You Need to Know

Oral Contraceptives AKA birth control.  As the name suggests, this a prescription that alters a women’s hormones in efforts to prevent pregnancy.  And let’s be real here, IT DOES A REALLY GOOD JOB!  I have no issues with anyone’s decisions about what is right for them or their young girls; however, I think knowledge is power and ignorance isn’t an excuse.  So, read forth and consider all the information before deciding what is right for you.

Why is birth control such a hot topic?  

Most people have 1 of 2 reasons why they are using birth control:

  • to prevent pregnancy
  • to balance hormones, which means they usually have a symptom of disruption such as, PCOS, heavy periods, irregular cycles, PMS, acne, mood disturbance, cramps, ovarian cysts

The reason this may be such a hot topic is because many moms don’t want to give their teen daughters birth control to control symptoms of hormonal imbalance.  OR, they feel as though preventing pregnancy through birth control is an invitation that it’s ok to have sexual intercourse.  The debate of abstinence is not what I care about, but the early use of hormones to regulate such important chemicals in a young female’s body, is.

The common story: “the pill” for period problems

Personally, this was my story, and the story of many of my friends in high school.  Heavy periods, painful periods, or irregular periods lead you to your first OB/GYN appointment, and you leave with a prescription to clear things right up.  You begin taking them, things are great, and you continue to take your magic pills for the next several years, maybe even a decade or more!  Most women don’t get off of them until they wish to start a family.  Let’s think about this, you go on them around the age of 16, and you may not go off of hormones until 10 years later!  What a crucial time in your natural hormone development.  Some women have real issues transitioning off with all the symptoms flooding back with a vengeance, and some women don’t notice a thing.

What’s the big deal with taking birth control?

Taking birth control to artificially “fix” hormone symptoms is like taking pain meds to forget something hurts.  It doesn’t address the source of the issue and it can have huge impacts on the endocrine system long term.  Synthetic hormones are the not the same as your own hormones being made inside your body, and they can have serious health repercussions such as stroke, pulmonary embolism, hormone cancers or infertility.  A side note to that is the new versions of the pill that are low dose like Yasmin, Alesse, etc, have huge increases in the risk of cardiovascular complications!  They know this, and  the FDA updated the risk level for any pills containing drospirenone. You can read more here.

The artificial supplementation of hormones doesn’t address the reason hormones were off in the first place.  Can you imagine the amount of dysfunction that could build up over the course of 10 years if left unaddressed?!  What if you had a thyroid condition that was throwing off your hormones and you were prescribed birth control without ever realizing your thyroid was in crisis?  I would call that an epic fail.  What if you were developing PCOS and had no idea that your blood sugar was such an issue?  Another birth control fail.

What do we do instead?

Regulating hormones comes down to foundations.  Stress, diet, and exercise are all part of the picture. Conventional  animal products contain unhealthy hormones and hormone disruptors.  Certain plants act like estrogens.  Dairy is a huge driver of androgens.  Stress requires cortisol production, which is a hormone.  Too much cortisol can cause someone to have major shifts in their sex hormones.  Lack of fiber means free hormones are not bound and eliminated.  Excessive exercise is notorious for altering body fat percentages that don’t support normal menstruation.  We have all heard of young gymnasts who don’t get a period until they quit training.  On the flip side, lack of movement can predispose young people to store more fat.  Fat produces estrogen!  You can see how lifestyle is so huge.

There are also options in the herbal department, too.

  • Chasteberry is an herb that has been used for many years to regulate hormones by acting on the hypothalamus and the pituitary glands.  It ends up naturally raising progesterone levels without acting as a hormone.  Low progesterone give women the blues, heavy periods, or bad PMS.
  • Maca is a root vegetable that has been used for fertility in certain cultures because it balances hormones.  It aids in estrogen balance, and supports adrenal and thyroid function.
  • Saw palmetto is an herb that balances testosterone that can cause acne.
  • Black cohosh is an herb that can naturally boost estrogen levels.

Depending on someone’s imbalance, a combination of these ingredients can be a lifesaver in the symptom department!  Hormones can really dictate how stable a young person’s emotions are, how confident they are in their body, and how healthfully they develop a fertile environment for child-bearing years.

Are there things I should do if I decide to take oral contraceptives?

Oral contraceptives deplete certain nutrients like B-vitamins, vitamin D, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, and Folic Acid.  Yup, folic acid, that B-vitamin necessary to keep a child from having a cleft palate. They can also alter balance in the bacteria living in the gut called the microbiome.  So, if you decide to take an oral contraceptive, I would NOT take one like Yaz or Alesse because of the increased risk in clotting.  I would also supplement with the following:

  • B-complex
  • Reacted mineral
  • Vitamin D
  • Probiotics

This is just scraping the surface, but I hope it helps you make a decision that is right for you!


Medications and Autoimmune Healing (Part VI)

Before we get started, let me say that I am not rendering advice on what to do with your medications in this article!  I am simply going to explore how some common medications may be obstacles in your healing process.  If you have followed this journey, we started with how an autoimmune disease happens, touched on the involvement of heartburn, gluten, nutrient deficiency, and discussed how leaky gut is involved.  Most of the medications I talk about, I will place in the category of things you can control.   That means I will not be talking about immunosuppressants or other common autoimmune meds; I will be talking about drugs like: antacids, antibiotics, birth control, steroids, and pain relievers. Let’s get started with heartburn meds because we talking about heartburn and stomach acid one of the first articles.

PPIs (aka Nexium or Prevacid) and H2 blockers (aka Pepcid and Zantac):

If you would like a reminder of how important stomach acid production is, feel free to re-read the heartburn article.  If we consider that any disease healing process requires adequate nutrients, we also must consider if we are able to get those nutrients based on the health and performance of our digestive system.  Stomach acid is a major component for the beginning of our digestion and without adequate amounts, we develop issues such as GERD, heartburn, H. pylori, and intestinal dysbiosis.  If you are taking a stomach acid reducer, you are hindering the first step in food breakdown.  This sets you up for impaired digestion, decreased nutrient absorption, possible infection, and leaky gut.  That’s a very basic understanding.  If we get more technical, PPIs have been shown to interfere with antigen presentation mechanisms by affecting lysosomes.  They also obstruct the work of cytotoxic C cells. These are IMPORTANT for immune function, so you can imagine if you have created the perfect environment for leaky gut, which can trigger an autoimmune disease, then impaired digestion setting you up for infection which can trigger an autoimmune disease, then took a medication for the heartburn that interferes with appropriate immune system functions…insert cry emoji here.

Birth Control Pills

I have spoken before in brief posts about hormone health and how taking the pill to correct hormone imbalance may be doing more harm than good.  I have also been vocal about the pill and it’s ability to significantly increase clotting risks in women that can result in strokes or pulmonary embolisms!  This is not a medication to be taken lightly, and from first-hand experience, I know these risks are not brought up.  I was speaking to a nurse the other day about how interesting pregnancy can be in autoimmune conditions and how that speaks to hormone involvement.  I have had autoimmune patients tell me their autoimmune condition completely goes into remission while they are pregnant, and they wish they could trick their body into believing it’s pregnant all the time!  Sex hormones play a role in immune system function, so the decision to artificially alter them, may be causing an immune system issue.  In addition to directly changing hormones, they cause disturbance in the gut flora resulting in dysbiosis and many times leaky gut.  Remember leaky gut being how autoimmune issues start?!


Antibiotics save lives.  Period.  However, they are way over-prescribed and many people take them multiple times a year.  If you are doing everything right, it can still takes months for the assault of antibiotics on your gut flora to fulling repair.  If we KNOW that the bacteria in your gut account for the majority of your immune system, then how could you not be worried to take a medication that would wipe them all out?!  Antibiotics are often broad spectrum and will have no issues wiping things clean, good and bad.  Imagine having to rebuild your house every time it got messy.  That is the task you ask of your body when you take antibiotics for every sniffle, sneeze and infection.  It is often common for antibiotics to be prescribed without a culture which means your infection could be viral.  Viral infections are not killed by antibiotics.  Antibiotics kill bacteria.  Oops.  In a nutshell, antibiotic need may be more scarce than you think, it has a dramatic effect on the bacteria balance in your intestines, and they should be avoided if possible.

NSAIDS (aspirin, advil, aleve)

These anti-inflammatory drugs are non-steroidal but they are used widely to control pain and inflammation.  So widely, that you probably have bottles in your purse, your bathroom, your desk drawer, etc.  I can say that I don’t even have a single bottle of these around and if I needed one on some off chance, I would have to go purchase them.  Most people know the dangers of taking too much because your doctor will warn you about how bad it damages your gut, which can result in ulcers.  I hope this connection is screaming at you before I tell you….wait for it….if they damage the gut, and your gut houses your immune system, then it can’t be good for conditions concerning the immune system! A SINGLE DOSE OF NSAIDs damages the intestine of even a healthy person.  It does this by inhibiting an enzyme called cyclooxygenase which is essential for maintaining the gut mucosal barrier. They also inhibit the formation of the proteins that keep tight junctions together (remember that cell lining gate being damaged).  These drugs are popped like candy because most people see them as harmless when you can buy them in the store.

Well, those are the major ones I wanted to hit because so many people are unaware of the negative side effects.  If these are part of your “health” routine, you may be causing more damage than good.  If you have an autoimmune disease, these may be a part of your routine that you can control.  There are tons of natural compounds that fight infection and decrease inflammation.  These can be found widely in foods and many supplements now exist.  Try cooking with turmeric, adding garlic to everything, using onions abundantly, and fresh herbs are crazy good in the medicinal department.  Funny how all this complex material always lands us back at basic lifestyle changes.  Nature is so smart.