The pill ( aka oral contraceptive) is the 3rd most common method of contraception in the world, having more than 100 million users worldwide. Oh and just in case you're wondering, female sterilization is the top method worldwide and is followed closely by Intrauterine Devices ( IUD’s). Despite the pill’s worldwide popularity, it comes with a hefty host of side effects experienced while on it and even after you stop using it, so much so that there is an official syndrome called post birth control syndrome or post pill dysfunction.
To understand this syndrome, we need to first better understand how the pill works. Essentially, the pill has several functions;
To stop the process of ovulation - To do this the oestrogen and progesterone in the pill, suppress the release of pituitary hormones (FSH & LH) which are critical to the stimulation of follicles as well as to ovulation.
To make the endometrium wall/uterine lining unfriendly to a fertilised embryo. It does this by thinning the uterine lining.
To thicken the cervical mucus that blocks the entrance of the cervix so as not to allow sperm to pass through.
So the pill basically shuts down the communication between the brain and ovaries for the period of time you are on it. Remember nature designed this communication to happen consistently as you move through different phases of your menstrual cycle. So when it is stopped, the body naturally goes into a state of confusion. When this ‘confusion’ goes on for several years, it is no wonder the body has a hard time restoring what it previously did naturally.
So what is post birth control syndrome?
It is aptly defined as a set of symptoms that arise 4-6 months following the discontinuation of oral contraceptives/ hormonal birth control. It could be as drastic as becoming amenorrheic ( no menses) or as benign as acne and hair loss.
The underlying causes of post - birth control syndrome involves a vast number of factors like:
The HPA axis dysregulation ( simply put : hormonal disorientation)
Impaired liver function - the liver can get severely burnt out from having to always detox the extra synthetic hormones from the pill.
Nutritional deficiencies - Research has proved that long term birth control use has also been clinically shown to deplete the body of vital nutrients including B Vitamins like B12, B2, B6, Selenium, Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Nutritional deficiencies and their role in general health is underrated: nutritional deficiency puts your body under chronic stress and inflammation.
Impaired gut health - The pill disrupts the gut microbiome and can negatively impact gut health. Chinese Medicine believes that healthy digestion is critical for the production of blood and therefore, for menstruation. A healthy digestive system with regular bowel movements is also very important because it also allows for the removal of excess estrogen which can contribute to hormonal imbalances.
What are the symptoms of post birth control syndrome?
Post- pill Amenorrhea - loss of menstruation often in the first 3-6 months. If this happens for more than 6 months, you will need to visit your health practitioner.
Heavy periods, painful periods or irregular periods.
Hormonal changes like hypothyroidism, hair loss, breast tenderness, acne, low libido and adrenal dysfunction.
Depression, Anxiety, brain fog and other mood related symptoms
Headaches & migraines
Digestive discomfort - Gas, bloating & bowel changes
Gut dysbiosis & Leaky gut
Changes in body composition like breast size, weight gain, or difficulty losing weight.
Blood sugar dysregulation/ metabolic dysfunction
Inflammation and other immune imbalances
It is quite interesting to note that many of the symptoms of post birth control syndrome are the common side effects of the pill, going to show that it takes some time for the body to wean off the effects of the pill even when you stop taking it. Sadly, there are a lot of unnecessary prescriptions of the pill to help ‘solve ‘ problems like acne or PCOS, but remember the pill only treats the symptoms and not the root cause. In TCM, we believe that true healing comes from getting to the root cause of your symptoms and working our way to health inside out.
So what can you do about it?
Dr Jolene Brighten and expert in the post birth control syndrome, shares some simple steps to heal:
Replenish nutrient stores - remember the nutritional deficiencies we spoke about earlier, this is when you fix them by eating a nutrient dense, plant rich diet as well as including some good supplements like; magnesium, zinc and probiotics
Identify Your Hormone Imbalance - In TCM,we treat hormonal imbalance with an effective mix of chinese herbs and acupuncture
Heal Your Gut - Reducing inflammation in the gut by eliminating sugar, processed foods, wheat and dairy. Addition of a healthy probiotic is also very good for the gut.
Support Natural Hormone Detox - simply put, show your liver some love as it's your most powerful tool of detoxification. We can love our livers by including the following foods into our daily diets :Beets, carrots, dandelion root, burdock root, broccoli, cauliflower, broccoli sprouts, and kale. Drinking plenty of safe, filtered water is also a simple way to boost detox. Consuming high fiber foods also allows you to have regular bowel movements and remember excess hormones are passed in the bowels.
Metabolic Repair - It's no surprise that the pill causes an increase in inflammation, triglycerides and insulin resistance. The pill can lead to a metabolic pandemonium: insulin resistance, blood sugar dysregulation progressing to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of cardiovascular events. To induce repair of your bodies metabolism you can do the following ;
Banish sugar and refined carbs - these are super inflammatory foods
Eat real, whole foods with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables - these foods are rich in antioxidants which reduce inflammation while whole foods allow for a more balanced application of insulin.
Move your body -Exercise improves insulin sensitivity and reduces inflammation. Run, go to the gym, dance, do yoga - whatever works for you and gets you moving. Just make sure you are having a good time so that you can keep it up!
Eat at set times of the day, by timing your meals, you are better able to manage our blood sugar & insulin
Relax More ( this is our own meraki holistic health step) - take the edge off by working on how you manage stress. Chronic stress directly affects your body’s ability to make sex hormones, amplifys symptoms like headaches, and depletes nutrients like vitamin B6. Ladies we’ve gotta love ourselves and give to ourselves more, make time to do that one thing that makes you feel good and while at it don't allow yourself to feel guilty.