Perhaps you are here to learn about hormonal birth control and its pro’s and con’s – and what to do to optimize your health while on them. Or perhaps you’re here to learn how to get off, and switch to a healthier route, without the high risk of getting pregnant. We’ll cover both! Either way, you’re either trying to improve or reduce some symptoms (ie. moodiness, gut issues, headaches, lack of energy or libido), or trying to improve overall health and longevity.
First, what kinds of hormonal birth controls are there?
- Vaginal Rings / diaphragm / cervical cap
- Skin Patches
These all work to increase specific hormones (by addition of outside synthetic hormones) to prevent ovulation, thicken cervical fluid, and thin the uterus lining. These will all prevent a pregnancy from occuring.
A copper IUD is a form of non-hormonal birth control. It works by releasing copper where it makes it toxic for sperm and eggs so they don’t survive. This can be a “better” option for some women, yet can be a worse one as well if your copper levels are already high, have liver stress, or any other stressors that build up the inflammation in your body. It’s not a “harmless” tool by any means.
The Pro’s of hormonal birth control?
- You avoid pregnancy at up to a 91%-99% rate if taken as directed (the pill and IUD’s within this range, patches, rings and others are lower than this number).
- Some hormonal symptoms may subside (band-aid approach, not root-cause approach)
What is the downside to hormonal birth control?
- Brain fog
- Low thyroid hormone: Dry skin, hair loss cognitive issues, constipation, can’t lose weight
- Increased risk of cancer – skin and breast
- Estrogen dominance
- Increases oxidative stress
- Depression or moodiness
- Pain with sex
- Low lobido
- Autoimmune diseases
- Gut issues: causes toxicity to our gut microbiome (good gut bugs)
- Depletes you of:
- VItamins A, C, E, COQ10, zinc, alterations in Vitamin D, B12, folate, selenium, and magnesium.
So if you’re experiencing anything listed above, or symptoms that you just can’t explain – and your sleep is on point, hydration is there, you’re getting daily movement, and so on – then your birth control may be causing some of your issues!
So what do we recommend you do if you don’t want to get pregnant, yet want to get off hormonal birth control? A few things!
The basic method of birth control we recommend is called the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). This method, if done appropriately, has a 98% effectiveness rate. In order to know when we are ovulating (when we can get pregnant), we need to start becoming more in tune with our body. The main things you track here each day throughout the month are:
- Cervical mucous/fluids (how much, consistency, color, etc.)
- Morning Temperature (Basal Body Temperature)
Those are the 2 main items to track in order to do FAM. With these alone, and when doing consistently, you can predict or know when you’re ovulating, and when it’s safe to have sex without getting pregnant. There will be more “red days” (aka “use protection”) in the beginning of tracking and getting your period regular. Yet the more you track and take notice of your symptoms, the more in sync you’ll be with your monthly cycle, and the more “green days” (aka “not fertile”) you’ll have each month. There are some additional things to help improve the accuracy of this method, and those include;
- Testing your LH levels with strips to see when you ovulate
- Using additional methods such as “pulling out”, a condom, or abstinance (or other non-vaginal sexual activities )
So we answer 2 questions now. The first being – How do I set myself up for success if I plan to continue on HBC?
If you decide that for the time being you are more comfortable on HBC, then at a minimum, get some blood work done, and ensure your nutrient levels are where they should be. Take a multivitamin that covers the vitamins and minerals listed above (I like Seeking Health Prenatal in addition to taking a C0Q10 and an omega-3 supplement if you don’t eat fish weekly).
In addition to ensuring your blood work looks good, let’s look at other stressors that can deplete us of nutrients and make sure our body can stay healthy. Those habits to help keep your body’s “stress cup” from overflowing are:
- Quality sleep – enough deep sleep and REM sleep
- Eating enough food
- Gut health – minimize refined foods, not overeating or constantly snacking
- Minimal alcohol and sugar consumption
- Daily exercise or movement, yet not overdoing it (aka 2+ hours of HIIT daily)
- Having meaningful relationships or sense of community
- Keeping promises to yourself to maintain confidence and lower stress levels
Now, if you are thinking about getting off birth control, here is what I recommend doing.
- Still do what we mentioned above – get your lab work done, take appropriate supplements (via your coach, functional med doc, etc).
- Tune in to your body more, and educate yourself on how your body works. Books I recommend are:
- Have a plan for YOU in what makes sense to track your symptoms – many of which are discussed in these books. I prefer the Oura Ring alongside the Natural Cycles app to help track everything and make it easy.
- Have the conversation with your doctor and/or partner. Have a plan of what timing is good for you (explained in these books).
- Expect things to change and feel different, it’s part of the process. Have patience. Set yourself up for success in all other areas.