The contraceptive pill is used by tens of millions of women around the world. It is usually prescribed by physicians without any thought to educate women on the risks associated with its use.
Is it safe? Are you sure you know the risks, if any?
Many authorities in functional and integrative medicine believe the risks associated chemical contraceptive use – should be better communicated by doctors before they’re prescribed.
Many years ago, Dr. Ellen Grant wrote a book called The Bitter Pill. It’s out of print at the moment, but we’re working to have it re-published.
Why is The Bitter Pill Important?
Well, Dr. Grant was actually involved in the development of the contraceptive pill and knows first hand of its benefits and drawbacks.
The book explains in detail some of the problems associated with the pill that still exist today, despite attempts to alter its dosage and composition.
I can’t possibly do the book justice in this short article, but I’d like to raise your attention to some of the problems in the literature, and that I’ve witnessed in my own experience.
Before I list these concerns, I’d like to point out that I’m not entering into social debate on the merits of preventing unwanted pregnancies.
This is an article discussing health implications of the pill only.
How the pill works
It doesn’t matter which pill we consider – the dosing and composition may differ from product to product, but they all work in pretty much the same way.
They override your own hormone production and prevent ovulation; if you don’t ovulate there’s no chance for Mr. Spermy to join up with Ms. Egg and create a baby!
This is fab if you want some spontaneity in your sex life, and also pretty good – though not perfect – in preventing pregnancy.
But what else can happen as a consequence of blocking ovulation?
When you ovulate, an egg bursts free from a mature follicle in your ovary.
The ruptured follicle then becomes something called the corpus luteum, and it’s the corpus luteum’s job to manufacture and secrete progesterone (the pro-gestational or pro-pregnancy hormone, hence its name).
Even if you don’t fall pregnant, progesterone keeps your hormone levels balanced from days 15-28 of your menstrual cycle by opposing oestrogen.
If you don’t have enough progesterone, you can’t keep oestrogen in check and you typically the develop symptoms of PMS – bloating, mood swings, period pains, headaches, fatigue, painful breasts, acne and oily skin, shorter or longer periods, and so forth.
Now is not the time to go into massive detail about this, but its important for you to know that your NATURAL hormones are there for a reason, which we’ll look at shortly.
Obscure and unnecessary contraceptive pill use
Many women are prescribed the pill not because they’re trying to avoid pregnancy, but because they have other symptoms related to the menstrual cycle (as mentioned just now).
These symptoms are not caused by a contraceptive pill deficiency; they’re caused by hormone imbalances in the second half of the cycle related to oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone imbalances.
These imbalances are, in turn, caused by thyroid imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, toxins, digestive imbalances, poor diet, alcohol consumption, lack of sleep and stress.
The reason I know this is that menstrual symptoms clear up when lifestyle is optimised and digestion/detoxification and nutrient levels are re-balanced.
So the first real problem I have with the pill is that it’s prescribed to women who have non-pregnancy related concerns, when simple changes to lifestyle, digestion and detoxification would resolve symptoms just as effectively.
Not just sex hormones
Oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone are known by most people – including medical professionals – as sex hormones.
Unknown to many is the fact that these hormones play multiple roles in the body – it’s not just about sex and reproduction.
For example, progesterone supports thyroid function and thus, energy levels, skin health and digestion.
Progesterone is also needed for optimal detoxification; it is an anti-inflammatory and anti-aging hormone.
It’s important for cardiovascular and bone health and has anti-cancer properties, not least by opposing oestrogen, which in excess contributes to cancer development.
You can find an expanded list of sex hormone functions here.
Back to ovulation
If you block ovlation via the use of the contraceptive pill, you decimate progesterone natural production.
Therefore, any or all of progesterone’s functions in your body may be compromised.
Sure, the pill offers synthetic progesterone (called progestin), but the molecule is not the same as the one made by your body and doesn’t function in exactly the same way.
As an extreme example, progesterone supports pregnancy but synthetic progesterone / progestin is used in the morning after pill to kill the embryo.
So an obvious problem with the pill is that you’re blocking your body’s own progesterone production.
This may not show up as a problem for many years because the pill artificially regulates your menstrual cycle through its careful dosing of oestrogens and progestins.
Individual responses to the pill
As you may well know, the pill, like any nutrient, drug, toxin or food, doesn’t affect every woman in the same way.
Some women feel benefit when they take it because it regulates their cycles and overrides hormone imbalances that were present before taking it.
Others simply don’t get on with it: they go from pill to pill overcoming some symptoms but developing new ones.
No two women are the same!
As human beings we are all completely unique, with different genes and different environmental influences.
That’s why the pill can exert so many drastically differing responses from woman to woman.
Nutritional deficiencies caused by the contraceptive pill
Going back to Dr. Ellen Grant’s book, it was known in the 1970s that the pill contributes to nutrient depletion.
Several studies from the mid 70s showed how the pill can deplete these nutrients:
- Vitamin B2
- Vitamin B6
- Folate (B9)
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
Depletion in just one of these nutrients can have profound implications for health.
MOST of my clients are depleted in the above nutrients (not only women, but men as well).
Indeed, I was subtly deficient in B6, folate and B12 and very deficient in zinc… and I work hard to maintain an optimal level of vitality.
As a woman, even a small drop in B6, B12 and folate levels can affect your ability to have kids. This is especially the case if you have mutations in the MTHFR, MTR, MTRR and CBS genes.
To understand how this all works, you have to study the folate, methylation and cystathionine cycles, which is beyond the scope of this post.
But when you combine gene and enzyme mutations with deficiencies in the nutrients needed to run those pathways, it’s very easy to see how and why nutrients like B12, folate, B6 and zinc are so important.
Fertility and pregnancy issues aside, here are some of the symptoms associated with B12, folate and B6 depletion:
Fatigue, headaches, depression, anxiety, confusion, poor memory, susceptibility to infections, digestive problems, dizziness, loss of coordination, insomnia, cracks in the corners of the mouth, mouth ulcers, sore tongue, muscle weakness, and so on…
What pisses me off about all this…
I’m not against you or anyone else using the pill or other chemical contraceptives, even if they’re being used to control symptoms and not prevent pregnancy.
But I AM against you being uninformed or misinformed about the possible consequences of using these chemical contraceptives on a long term basis.
In my opinion it’s unethical to prescribe a drug for every day use without explaining potential future problems associated with its use.
Fortunately, if you are having trouble with the pill, there are loads of things you can do about it.
Can we help?
If you’re having difficulty with your menstrual cycle, the pill, or any issue relating to sexual and reproductive health, please give us a call or drop an email across.
I’m particularly interested in assisting people in this area and I’d be glad to run a case review or 15-2omin getting acquainted call via phone or Skype.
Of course, you may NOT have any trouble at all with the pill, but it’s still wise to get your nutrient levels tested to make sure everything is in order.
A full blood chemistry and blood count can provide lots of useful information as long as you have the results assessed functionally rather than patholically (please see this video series for an explanation of what I mean).
I look forward to hearing from you.