Welcome to Part 2 of 3 Pharmaceutical Drugs That Ruined My Health.
Do you take birth control pills? Do you experience side effects? Do you know the consequences of long-term use? This post is for you!
Birth Control Pills
In my early 20’s, I began experiencing irregular menstrual cycles and heavy hair growth on my face. No one knew about my strange periods but the excess facial hair was too difficult to keep hidden. In fact, it was quite embarrassing. I felt like “old aunt Edith” that everyone in the family talks about because she has a beard, except I wasn’t old and I wasn’t an aunt. My emotional distress led me to seek out an OB/GYN that specialized in female hormones. After a complete exam and normal pap smear results, he told me I had indicators of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) without any cysts. He believed the only way to decrease my facial hair growth, normalize my periods, and lessen my PMS symptoms was to take birth control pills. I wasn’t sexually active and didn’t plan on having sex until marriage, so why did I need birth control pills? He explained that the extra estrogen in The Pill would override my body’s irregular rhythms and establish normal hormonal function.
What do you say, when you’re a 21-year old college music major?
“OK, doc, whatever you think will help me.”
Unfortunately, I was not comfortable with my body or interested in getting to know the intricate details of my delicate hormones. I agreed to the doctor’s orders because I believed he knew what he was doing. The Pill produced spectacular results. I experienced regular, pain-free cycles and a resolution to my excess hair growth (along with several months of regular electrolysis treatments).
I took birth control pills for over a decade and not for the typical reason, the prevention of pregnancy. They offered me symptomatic relief, but did not solve my underlying hormonal problem. In fact, I believed they caused far more health problems, partly because I took them for so long! It was until my health crisis in 2008 that I began to study the long-term effects of synthetic hormone therapy.
In my case, I believe the excess synthetic estrogen in birth control pills:
- Caused further deregulation of my hormones, especially worsening my auto-immune thyroid condition
- Fueled the growth of my fibroid tumors, which caused heaving bleeding, anemia, and eventually surgery
- Led to gut dysbiosis or imbalance of pathogenic bacteria in my small intestine
Of these health problems, the most painful, was dealing with my uterine fibroids. They not only caused very long periods with uncomfortable heavy bleeding, but also infertility. Thankfully, I had successful myomectomy surgery one year ago this week. You can read Part 1 and 2 of my fibroid story in the following links. There is no guarantee that I will be able to bear children now that my fibroids are gone, but my chances have increased substantially. My husband and I are still praying for a “baby” blessing.
I don’t think that The Pill directly caused my fibroids. My original hormonal imbalance (including hypothyroidism), stress, gluten sensitivity, toxins, and other factors could have originated the growth of fibroid tissue. However, I do believe that birth control pills contributed to my estrogen dominance and rapidly increased the growth rate of my fibroids.
Since I didn’t experience any overt side effects from The Pill, I ignored my body for years. I just kept taking it as if there were no consequences. After all, I was just one of 150 million women in the world on The Pill. I wasn’t unique. I was quite “normal.” But what if what we accept as “normal” is actually inappropriate or a sign of misplaced priorities? Now, I wonder why I permitted a synthetic hormone to subvert my body’s own ability to regulate itself for so many years.
For some women, the side effects of birth control pills can include increase or loss of appetite, weight gain, constipation, bloating, decrease libido, headaches, fatigue, high blood pressure, acne, and mood swings. Plus, long-term use increases the risk of blood clots, heart attack, stroke, and breast and liver tumors. Wow! Some of my peers have also had a difficult time getting pregnant after ending The Pill. So, infertility can be an additional outcome, even if only in the short term.
I understand why women take birth control pills. I get it. They offer symptomatic relief and are very effective at preventing pregnancy. They are a simple solution. But what is “easy” and “effective” may not be the right choice, especially in the long-term, especially considering the above side effects.
Think about these questions in regards to birth control pills.
Why do we impose high doses of synthetic estrogen on our sexual organs?
Why do we want trick our bodies into thinking we are always pregnant?
I now believe that what we are doing to our female bodies is not normal.
A Better Way
There are better ways to regulate hormones. Since stopping the Pill several years ago, the best solution for me has been taking a natural progesterone cream the second half of my cycle every month. It not only normalized my cycles quickly and naturally, but it also offered a nice side benefit of deeper sleep. And natural progesterone has no negative side effects! In fact, not only are many women deficient in this essential hormone, but more progesterone is necessary to sustain a healthy pregnancy, especially in the first trimester.
There are also better ways to plan for pregnancy. Natural Family Planning takes effort and the willing cooperation of your spouse, but it has many benefits. You learn about your cycle and the regular rhythms that can help you plan for a successful pregnancy. It’s a beautiful thing to know your own remarkable body! I highly recommend the book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. You will appreciate the fascinating look into the inner workings of the female form. You will also discover why it is so significant and helpful for women to learn about their own bodies. Do you understand your body? If you still prefer to use some method of birth control, condoms or diaphragms are better choices, without the side effects.
Of course, no discussion about female hormones is complete without a review of other lifestyle indicators. If your hormones are “out of whack” and you know it, I encourage you to examine the following:
- thyroid and adrenal function
- vitamin D levels
- emotional stressors
- exercise (too much or too little)
- toxic chemicals in make-up and skin products
- genetically modified foods
- possible food sensitivities (particularly gluten, dairy, and soy)
All of these factors have affected my overall health, as well as the expression of my hormones. If you don’t know where to start, begin with your digestion. I believe that optimal gut function is the foundation to good health. After all, you can’t nourish your sensitive sex hormones when your digestive system is under attack.
What’s your story?
Do you believe birth control pills are the right option for you?
I know this topic is quite personal for each woman and couple. If you decide that The Pill should be part of your life, consider taking it only for the short term. I encourage you to learn about your own body and make decisions that will give you a lifetime of good health.
In Part 3, we’ll look at the most over-prescribed drug in the last century. The average child has received 17 courses by the age of 20!
Can you guess what it is? Stay tuned and learn more.