Repercussions of Long Term Birth Control Pill Use

oral contraceptive pillWhen I was 15 years old, I had debilitating cramps and heaviness with my period every single month. I remember not being able to do much during my period and having to lay down for a lot of it. I would take some over the counter pain meds like ibuprofen, but that didn’t even touch the pain. It got so bad that at 17, I eventually had to go to the doctor for help. She diagnosed me with Endometriosis and prescribed birth control pills to be taken continuously, with no bleed week (placebo sugar pills that are usually a different color in the pack).

I then went on to take birth control pills for endometriosis for the next 12 years straight until I went off to try and get pregnant at 27 years of age. For the majority of those years, I was not taking the placebo pills, but would still experience break-through bleeding; sometimes for months at a time. At the time I was put on the pill, I was told all the things girls who are put on birth control are often told: “the pill isn’t just used for contraception, it’s also used to treat endometriosis and other things”, “this pain is normal and is what a lot of women have to deal with”, and “it’s totally fine to be on the birth control pill for a decade plus”.

Granted, it was a long time ago but I have a very good memory, and I know for a fact that my doctor at the time did not tell me anything about the possible side effects of mood swings, depression, or dark thoughts (all of which I experienced to some degree). Neither did she mention anything about the fact that while I was on the pill, I would be depleting certain nutrients from my body or that being on the pill long-term can contribute to intestinal permeability (leaky gut).

Knowing what I do now, I probably never would have gone on the pill at all, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Being on the pill for so long did have some negative repercussions in my case and I know from talking with other women who were on BC pills for a long time, things could have been even worse. I share this because maybe you, too, have been on the birth control pill for a long time and might want to know some of the ways you can start to address the damage it may have done. Here are three major things to consider:

1. Nutrient depletion

Studies have shown that oral contraceptive use can deplete certain nutrients, especially after long-term use (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23852908). The most common ones noted are: folate, magnesium, zinc, B12 and B6. These are also nutrients that play an important role in a woman’s monthly cycle, which can be a reason why some women experience difficulties with irregularity, cycle length or lose their period completely (amenorrhea) after getting off the pill. Other than their affect on monthly cycles, these nutrients are crucial in so many other functions of the body. Being depleted in any of them is a very big deal. You can read about the importance of zinc here. Magnesium is involved in many bodily functions including: cellular energy and metabolism, insulin production, nerve function, bone growth, tooth strength, and muscle relaxation to name a few. B12 forms red blood cells in the marrow and it also helps keep homocysteine in check. In addition to those, it helps produce myelin for the sheaths of our nerves. B6, as a coenzyme, acts in over 60 reactions that are involved in the metabolism of fatty acids and amino acids. Because of this, it is needed for pretty much every bodily function. A helper of B6 in the metabolism of fatty acids and amino acids is Folate. Along with that important role, it also makes genetic material and transmits signals from nerves. 

2.  Gut disruption

There are hormone receptor sites all throughout the GI tract. These can be influenced negatively by the hormones you are putting in your body through the long term use of birth control pills. According to Functional Medical Doctor, Robin Berzin, MD, “We are now understanding how powerful the role of the microbiome is in our health. And the things that alter our microbiomes most are chronic medications, like the pill.” A study that was done by Harvard University gastroenterologist Dr. Hamed Khalili, found that there is a strong link between women who have a genetic pre-disposition to chronic GI diseases and birth control pill use. The study (https://www.medicaldaily.com/birth-control-pill-may-triple-risk-crohns-disease-women-family-history-condition-325850) found that those who were on the pill for at least 5 years could be three times as likely to develop Crohn’s disease (an autoimmune condition). I know from my own personal experience with intestinal permeability (leaky gut) that my many years on birth control pills contributed to the gut issues I have had to deal with and am still dealing with today.

3. Detoxification capabilities

If your gut has been compromised from long term oral contraception use, then this will affect your body’s ability to be able to detoxify and eliminate the excess hormones that have been accumulating over the many years of taking the pill. If the body can’t effectively detoxify and eliminate the excess hormones then they will be re-cycled back into the body where they can wreak havoc on your hormonal balance. After dealing with estrogen dominance for a long time now, I can attest to this being a real issue. I have had to support my liver and detoxification pathways in order to restore hormonal balance.

So, if you have been on the birth control pill for a long amount of time, or are perhaps still on it; it might be a good idea to add some detox support, liver support and to make sure you are getting either foods rich in the nutrients that have been/ are being depleted or supplementing for those.

Things That Can Help:

-Epsom salt baths are a pretty good option for general detox support. You can add three cups of Epsom salt to hot water, and soak in that for 20, 25 minutes a night. Bonus: Epsom salt baths also give you a transdermal form of Magnesium which is easily absorbed through the skin.

– Making sure you are well hydrated is also a good option for general detox support.

– Eating foods/ drinking drinks to support the Liver: Beets, Kale, Burdock root, Dandelion root tea, Garlic, Broccoli, Carrots, and complete proteins life fish, chicken and beans + rice

– Eating foods rich in the nutrients that have been/ are being depleted:

Zinc rich foods:

meats, poultry (especially dark meat), fish and other seafood (especially oysters), liver, eggs, and legumes.

Folate rich foods:

beef liver, lamb liver, chicken liver, pork liver, dark leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale and beet greens), broccoli, asparagus, whole wheat, and brewer’s yeast.

B6 rich foods:

eggs, spinach, carrots, peas, meat, chicken, fish (especially herring and salmon), brewer’s yeast, walnuts, sunflower seeds and wheat germ.

B12 rich foods:

lamb and beef kidneys, lamb, beef, calf and pork livers; beef, herring, mackerel, egg yolk, milk, cheese, clams, sardines, salmon, crabmeat and oysters.

Magnesium rich foods:

milk and other dairy products, meats, seafood, nuts, blackstrap molasses, seeds, soybeans, and wheat germ.

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