There’s no doubt that hormonal birth control has been a game-changer.
Ever since the first oral contraceptive pill was developed in the 1950s, women have experienced a remarkable shift in their ability to make reproductive choices. “The Pill” became a household name in the 1960s, transforming female sexual health, fertility, and even societal norms. It gave women the power to seize their full potential and take charge of their reproductive destinies, ushering in an era of empowerment.
But here's the thing: every woman is beautifully unique, and our bodies each have their own story to tell. While hormonal birth control has brought incredible benefits to countless individuals, it's essential to recognize that it's not a one-size-fits-all solution to every health issue.
Here, we dive into the complexities of the way hormonal birth control is used today and explore essential tips for supporting your body and your hormones.
Untangling the Complexities of Hormonal Birth Control
Hormonal birth control has been a women’s health staple since 1960, when the first oral contraceptive received FDA approval. Yet, scientists have only recently started to unravel the intricacies of female hormones, their interplay with contraceptives, and the long-term health consequences of using these medications.
Hormones are messengers, ensuring critical processes like menstruation and pregnancy occur harmoniously. This delicate balance keeps everything functioning precisely as it should. But taking birth control pills exposes your body to high doses of artificial estrogen and progesterone. These synthetic hormones interfere with your natural hormone production, prevent ovulation, and thin the womb's lining.
While these mechanisms are effective for contraception, they can also cause a plethora of side effects. Your mood could fluctuate, leaving you prone to depression and anxiety, and you could lose your libido or find sex less satisfying, among other things. There is also a risk of more serious though much less common side effects, including an increased risk of blood clots and breast cancer as well as changes in bone density.
Birth control holds an important place in the wellness arsenal for many women, especially when it comes to the freedom to protect their reproductive options. But, today, it can also seem like doctors dole out the pill like candy, especially when it comes to conditions that don’t have an easy and immediate solution.
Rethinking Hormonal Birth Control as a Quick Fix Solution
While hormonal birth control plays a crucial role in managing fertility, it’s increasingly become a default prescription in medical practice. Whether for hormonal acne, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or irregular periods, doctors may recommend birth control without considering or offering their patients alternative options.
For some patients and some conditions, it truly is a lifesaver. Not all women with PCOS find that lifestyle interventions are possible in their busy lives or that they even work to manage their symptoms. The problem comes when birth control is offered as the solution, without any effort made to address the root cause of the issue. When used as a quick-fix strategy, it may inadvertently mask underlying issues and disrupt natural hormonal balance over the long term. It’s like putting an itchy band-aid over the symptoms rather than treating the cause of the problem.
So, what would it look like to address a health issue from a whole-body approach that focuses on what’s causing the problem and not just the symptoms that have developed?
For hormonal acne, treatment could center around a gentle skincare routine of non-comedogenic products with targeted ingredients like sulfur, which naturally helps exfoliate skin, reduce bacteria, and balance oil production, all of which cause acne. Blemish Calming Cleanser harnesses the power of sulfur to effectively clear and prevent breakouts without stripping the skin barrier. Regular exercise, foods like salmon that are rich in B6, and reducing sugar and dairy can also help balance your progesterone, which controls oil production and can lead to hormonal acne.
With PCOS, you might try several lifestyle changes that promote hormonal balance. This could include swapping out cardio sessions for regular weight training. (Cardio can further imbalance hormones for those with PCOS, while resistance training helps support those hormones.) A diet high in fiber and protein can help, as well stress reduction techniques. Natural supplements such as Veracity's Skin Clarity + Hair Health, with ingredients such as Saw Palmetto and Stinging Nettle Extract which help to balance high levels of androgen hormones can also help.
Likewise, irregular periods are complex and can have multiple contributing factors. By focusing solely on birth control, potential imbalances or conditions that affect menstrual regularity may go undetected. However, by exploring lifestyle factors — sleep, stress, nutrition, hormones — and seeking appropriate healthcare guidance, you can work towards establishing a more regular menstrual cycle.
The key to a holistic approach to hormonal health is patience. It goes beyond quick fixes to get to the bottom of what’s really going on and then to work to support the harmony between various aspects of your life and wellness. Sometimes a medication like birth control will play into the solutions you find work for you, but that shouldn’t be the only solution you are offered.
Protecting Your Hormones While on Birth Control
Despite some drawbacks, the pill is the solution for many contraceptive or health concerns. If that’s you, the main thing to remember is to also nurture your natural hormonal balance. Here are some tips for supporting your hormones while using hormonal birth control:
Think Food First
First and foremost, focus on a healthy, balanced diet. “The birth control pill and hormonal IUD deplete the body of B6, B12, folic acid, and magnesium,” says naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist Dr. Gabrielle Francis. So, opt for nutrient-dense foods that provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
“Eat cruciferous veggies, such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. They are high in a nutrient called DIM which helps detox hormones from the system.” They also help protect against breast cancer. Veracity's DIM Detox is an excellent source of DIM.
Also, minimize processed foods, sugary snacks, and excessive caffeine, as they can potentially disrupt hormone balance.
“A good probiotic can also help detox synthetic hormones and protect from vaginal infections,” says Dr. Francis. Hormonal contraceptives can disrupt the natural gut microbiome, and probiotics may help restore the beneficial bacteria, supporting digestion and overall well-being.
She also recommends adding a high-quality vitamin to your self-care regime to fill any nutrient gaps. BioEvolve Multivitamin provides 30+ essential vitamins and minerals which can offset depletion.
Herbs may also help. “If your symptoms are related to low estrogen and progesterone, you can support your body with herbs that have hormonal actions.” For estrogen, these include black cohosh, licorice, red clover, cimicifuga, flax, hemp, lavender, geranium, and organic soy. You can try Mexican wild yam, vitex, thyme, and blue cohosh for progesterone.
Estrogen Revive contains black cohosh and licorice as well as dong quai, which helps to support hormones and boost collagen.
Move Your Body
Regular exercise is another core component of keeping hormones in check. But it’s not just about breaking a sweat — it's about finding a blend of activities that get your heart pumping, build strength, and help you unwind. Think aerobics, strength training, and activities like yoga or pilates that boost flexibility and melt away stress.
The secret sauce is finding exercises that light you up and fit seamlessly into your daily life, making it a breeze to stick with a consistent routine.
Keep Stress at Bay
Stress management is vital when it comes to hormonal balance. When stress levels go through the roof, it throws your hormones off balance and creates quite a commotion. That's why it's crucial to weave stress reduction techniques into your daily routines.
Whether it's embracing the calmness of mindfulness meditation, taking deep breaths to find inner peace, or indulging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, finding ways to de-stress is vital.
Remember, self-care should take precedence, setting boundaries is crucial, and discovering healthy outlets for stress can work wonders in supporting hormonal harmony.
It's also essential to maintain regular sleep patterns. Making sleep a prime concern is crucial as it helps regulate your hormones and contributes to overall wellness.
Establish a consistent sleep schedule that aligns with your body's natural rhythms to get the most out of your sleep. Creating a peaceful sleep environment with cozy blankets and a serene atmosphere can work wonders. And don't forget about practicing good sleep hygiene habits, like avoiding screens before bed and winding down with a relaxing bedtime routine.
See Your Doctor
And lastly, don’t forget to update your doctor. Regular check-ups are like pit stops on the road to hormonal balance, allowing you to discuss any concerns or side effects you’re experiencing while using hormonal birth control.
Your healthcare provider is there to provide personalized guidance, monitor your hormonal health, and make sure you're getting the support you need. By maintaining this open and honest dialogue, you can work together as a team to ensure that your hormonal journey is smooth and that any adjustments or additional care can be considered.
Most Importantly: Listen to Your Body
Your hormones are as unique as you are, and your body knows best. So, tune into its signals, pay attention to changes, and take a proactive approach to your hormone health. By doing so, you’ll unlock your full potential, whether hormonal birth control is playing a role in your wellness routine or not.
Dr. Gabrielle Francis
NMD, Functional Medicine + Veracity Medical Advisor