Coming off the birth control pill
What you should know
Thinking of ditching the pill? Removing your IUD? Pulling off the patch? Tossing the ring? Here’s what to expect when you discontinue hormonal contraceptives and start ovulating again.
Why did you go on birth control in the first place?
Maybe you started taking birth control for its intended use— to prevent pregnancy. But maybe your doctor told you that your acne would resolve and your periods would be more regular. Or maybe your periods were so heavy and so painful, your doctor felt this was the only choice.
The problem with using birth control at all is that there are a whole host of side effects that no one really talks about. But the big problem with using birth control to treat symptoms is that it is only covering up an underlying issue and potentially allowing the symptoms to get worse or the underlying disease to progress.
The synthetic hormones in birth control take a serious toll on our bodies and any woman who has ever taken the pill needs some level of support from a professional to completely undue the damage that was done.
Clinically, I have seen that women do not recover from hormonal birth control without directly addressing the systems it has affected.
Women who come off birth control frequently suffer hormonal imbalances, menstrual irregularities, and symptoms like acne and mood swings. If their periods return, they often become painful or heavy. In functional medicine, we call this problem post-birth control syndrome (PBCS), and it typically occurs within four to six months after discontinuing the pill.
Common Symptoms of Post-Birth Control Syndrome Include:
- Amenorrhea (loss of menstruation)
- Heavy, painful periods
- Hair loss
- Blood sugar dysregulation
- Gas or bloating
- Changes in bowels
- Leaky gut
- Gut dysbiosis
- Inflammation and other immune imbalances
Almost 40% of women who start the pill for irregular periods will never see their period return when they stop
NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES CAUSED BY BIRTH CONTROL
Depletion of folate (important for the synthesis and replication of DNA for tissue growth and essential BEFORE pregnancy and during the first 12 weeks to prevent neural tube defects. NOTE – give your body a break to replete itself before conceiving to ensure adequate folate levels; folate is also required to lower levels of homocysteine, thereby decreasing your risk of cardiovascular disease)
Depletion of B Vitamins: The exogenous (outside the body) supply of oestrogen increases the production of something called “prostaglandins”, which. Subsequently, B vitamins are depleted in order to put out the fire. Unfortunately, if B vitamins are always being used to calm inflammation, other functions that require B vitamins are going to suffer, such as the ability to absorb nutrients in the digestive tract
Depletion of Vitamin C (acts as a major antioxidant in the body, and is key for the production of collagen fibres and other connective tissue components. It is also required for the production of corticosteroids, such as cortisol, and regulates iron absorption, storage and transport)
Depletion of tryptophan (used to convert to serotonin, our happy hormone, and melatonin, our sleep hormone)
Depletion of tyrosine (essential for the production of thyroid hormone, and therefore regulating metabolism)
Depletion of zinc (important for growth, development, reproduction, immune function, insulin regulation and acts as an antioxidant)
Depletion of magnesium (required for over 300 enzymatic processes in the body)
Alter gut microbiota by Depleting good bacteria in your digestive system, which can cause issues with hormonal imbalance, absorption of nutrients, and digestion in general.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO-These are my best general recommendations (along with acupuncture sessions) for how to restore your period and balance hormones after you stop birth control. I’ve used these strategies successfully with many young female clients. It’s important to address all these factors, as any one of them can be enough to disrupt menstrual function, which is a sign of suboptimal health.
1. Know that your body is going to need to adjust: A lot of factors will influence how your body reacts to coming off the pill. The response to coming off birth control is largely dependent on the individual’s unique body, including genetics, microbiome, metabolism, stress levels, diet, and more. When you go off the pill, it is helpful to think back on what your period was like beforehand. Working with a registered acupuncturist or functional medicine practitioner can assist in getting your hormones back into balance naturally.
2 Be patient: It can take some time for things to get back on track. If you’ve been taking the pill for 10 years. Your body needs to rebuild and relearn.
Know that you might feel, act (and maybe look) a little worse before things get better. And doesn’t happen overnight and often requires addressing multiple factors including gut health, detoxifying, nutrients, and balancing hormones. If you suffer from PBCS, please find a functional practitioner who can address these and other underlying problems
(Cramp bark tincture and chaste tree are two herbs that you can take to regulate the hormones and reduce symptoms associated with cramping and heavy periods).
3. Prepare yourself with alternative contraception (e.g. condoms). Also get in touch with your body’s fertile signs and symptoms, such as cervical mucus and temperature changes. (Fertility Awareness Method)
4 Consider supplementation: This will help to replenish your nutrient stores. Choose a good quality multi-vitamin, magnesium, zinc, B complex, vitamin C (2000mg), cod liver oil and probiotic.
5. Support your liver Synthetic hormones from the pill overburdens the liver. To support the liver foods like beets, burdock root, dandelion root tea, garlic, and cruciferous vegetables, a DIM supplement are effective to assist in liver detoxification.
6. Manage your stress levels. The birth control pill disrupts the pathway between the hypothalamus, the pituitary and the ovaries (known as the HPG axis). Stress also disrupts this pathway. Support the reconnection by incorporating stress management practices into each and every day.
7. Eat really good quality foods plenty of fresh veggies (preferably organic to reduce the burden on your liver), high quality fats and proteins (the building blocks of hormones), adequate carbohydrates, some fruit, nuts and seeds and hydrate with fresh, clean water. Also incorporate some super-foods, such as liver, sauerkraut, kombucha, bone broth and spirulina
8. Eliminate gluten, dairy, soy: These substances are problematic for most people and can disrupt hormone levels.
9. Restore Gut health: Many pill users have an inflamed digestive tract which triggers leaky gut and disrupts the microbiome. Fermented foods like kombucha and sauerkraut plus prebiotic fiber-rich foods are beneficial. Supplements like glutamine can also help reduce inflammation in the gut and heal leaky gut.
10. Get lab work done A functional practitioner can implement tests to restore hormonal balance. Among the tests I use to evaluate hormones include comprehensive thyroid testing (TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, Anti-TPO, and Anti-Thyroglobulin), sex hormones, as well as adrenal testing.
Another thing that can be helpful, if you have access to a functional medicine practitioner, is to have them run an ION (Individual Optimal Nutrition) Profile or a NutrEval, which are kind of comprehensive nutrient status tests that are offered by Genova Diagnostics. This test has a lot of different markers that can indicate nutrient deficiency. So if you’re not able to figure it out on your own, you’re having difficulty, you can try to work with a functional medicine practitioner to get one of those panels, and they can give you some insight into what’s happening.
ACUPUNCTURE FOR BALANCING HORMONE LEVELS
Acupuncture has a regulating effect on the body and can help promote more optimal functioning of many different hormonal imbalances in the body, from sleep, energy, mood and digestion. By looking at the different areas of the body and the symptoms they are presenting with, acupuncture and Chines medicine can come up with the root cause of an imbalance and take natural steps to being to correct them. Over time, with acupuncture, diet, herbs and self-care steps, equilibrium can be restored to the body and symptoms will slowly lessen while vitality and energy improve.
Are you struggling with balancing your hormones and getting of birth control? If you would like to schedule a FREE 15 minute consultation you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you! Please leave them in the comments below!