What are the side effects of birth control pills? Know the possible disadvantages of Birth Control and learn how to find an alternative birth control method. 

Birth control comes in many forms: from natural to insertions to the Pill. In today’s political environment, having a timeline of the history of contraception is significant so that we can ensure that we remember our story of reproductive sovereignty and maintain the freedom that we have to choose our own reproductive health. 

History of Birth Control

Contraceptive methods have been explored in many cultures and societies before the popularized western method of contraceptive pills became legalized. In 1839, Charles Goodyear invented technology to vulcanize rubber, using it to manufacture rubber condoms, and IUDs (not tires 😉 

At the time, the U.S. was the only Western nation to criminalize contraception, deeming it “obscene.” Margaret Sanger is still one of our greatest advocates today, creating what is now Planned Parenthood in 1916. Finally, by the 1950s, studies were conducted to release the first pill, Enovid, and by the 1960s, The FDA jumped on board and many women were prescribed the pill, with the prescribing laws still defining contraception and freedom of sex as obscene. In the 1980s, the low-dose pill was approved to mitigate the side effects of the pill. It is important to remember our history as our sexual health is becoming more governed and reproductive justice is being threatened today.

What are the different types of birth control pills and what do they do?

There are two main types of birth control pills: the mini-pill and the combined pill. The mini-pill contains only progesterone, while the combined pill also contains estrogen. Both types of pill work by preventing ovulation and thinning the lining of the womb, making it less likely that a fertilized egg will be able to implant itself.

The mini-pill is suitable for women who can’t take estrogen for medical reasons. It’s also sometimes used by women who are breastfeeding. The main disadvantage of the mini-pill is that it needs to be taken at the same time every day to be effective.

The combined pill is more commonly used than the mini-pill. It’s slightly more effective than the mini-pill and can be taken at any time during the day. However, it does have some potential side effects, including weight gain, depression, hair loss, and a lower sex drive. Yet, we usually only get the talk about the less common side effect of birth control: the risk of blood clots and stroke.

It is also important to recognize that the Pill actually affects your ability to choose a partner. Can you imagine waking up, getting ready to try to conceive, and being like… “who ARE you?” Also, it tanks our testosterone and motivation, meaning, the Pill can often make women even less motivated in the workforce.

The best way to choose a birth control pill is to talk to your doctor about your options. They will be able to advise you on which type of pill is best for you based on your medical history and lifestyle. If you’re not sure whether you want to take a pill every day, there are other options available, such as the patch, ring, implant, or IUD. 

The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) is another option that doesn’t involve taking medication or side effects. It is just as effective, if not more effective than medical contraceptive methods when done properly. This involves tracking your menstrual cycle and avoiding sex, or using contraception during your most fertile days. Check out the article here on FAM.

Whichever option you choose, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks and side effects before making a decision. Birth control pills can have significant impacts on your mental and physical health, so it’s important to make sure you’re fully informed before starting any form of contraception.

What are the side effects of birth control pills and how can you reduce them or prevent them altogether?

Birth control pills come with a number of potential side effects. If you are taking the pill as a form of contraception, go for it. I am simply pro-medical sovereignty and would love for you to be informed of the options so that you can choose which is best for you. Here are some side effects you should know about and discuss with your care provider before deciding to take the Pill. Also, remember that the side effects of other hormonal contraceptive options overlap with those of the Pill!

Leaky Gut

Microbiome disruption is one of the most common side effects of birth control pills. The Pill alters the levels of hormones in your body, which can disrupt the delicate balance of your microbiome. This can lead to a variety of problems, including digestive issues, skin problems (ie: acne, eczema…), increased susceptibility to infections, food intolerances, Candida overgrowth, increased inflammation, and autoimmune-like symptoms.

Hormone Imbalances

Lower thyroid and testosterone levels are also common side effects of birth control pills. The Pill interferes with the production of these hormones, which can lead to a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, and mood swings. In some cases, the Pill can also lead to infertility.

The most common autoimmune disease in women is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which is often missed when you have your thyroid checked. Symptoms of Hashimoto’s include depression, IBS, constipation, dry skin, hair loss, weight gain, and more. I have lab value handouts and education in all of my memberships in order to help you read and interpret your own labs, for life. Spoiler alert: Lab Values are drastically different in functional medicine to help you feel beyond fine! Click on the link that pops up in the blog to learn more.

Low testosterone in women can cause muscle loss, fatigue, lowered motivation, and depression. Be sure to have your free and total testosterone checked along with DHEA-S when you are requesting labs from your care provider.

Inflammation

Increased risk of stroke and blood clots is the most common side effect you hear about with the birth control pill.

Increased inflammation is another possible side effect of birth control pills. The Pill can increase the levels of certain inflammatory chemicals in your body, which can lead to a variety of problems, including joint pain, headaches, and fatigue, and so much more. Remember that your gut health mediates most inflammatory reactions in your body. You can read more about assessing gut health in my PCOS labs article.

Nutrient depletion is another potential side effect of birth control pills. The Pill can interfere with the absorption of nutrients from food, leading to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. This can lead to a variety of problems, including fatigue, muscle weakness,  bone loss, anemia, hair loss, blood sugar dysregulation, depression, and anxiety. and weight gain. My question is, “why don’t the doctors that prescribe birth control alert you to get on a high-quality prenatal and magnesium alongside the Pill?”

What is Post-Birth Control Syndrome?

Post-birth Control Syndrome is a condition that can occur after you stop taking birth control pills. It is characterized by a variety of symptoms, including irregular periods, mood swings, weight gain, and acne. In some cases, Post-birth Control Syndrome can persist for months or even years after you stop taking the Pill. 

As mentioned above, gut problems are among the most common birth control pill side effects; and therefore one of the most common side effects experienced by women with Post-Birth Control Syndrome. A glaring but cleverly disguised truth! The Pill can trigger Candida overgrowth in some women because of its impact on the liver, hormones, and microbiome. This is because the Pill influences the gut by changing the microbiota (a result of the synthetic estrogen), contributing to intestinal inflammation, and decreasing nutrient absorption. In addition, the most common forms of birth control all contribute to estrogen dominance

Post-Birth Control Syndrome can occur simultaneously with the perimenopausal transition. If a woman decides to discontinue the pill later in life (late 30’s and beyond), it is possible that the onset of an array of hormone-related symptoms can be very difficult to untangle. For example, in the first few months after discontinuation of the Pill, amenorrhea is very common. But is this lack of a period due to the syndrome, or the result of the irregular cycles that are characteristic of perimenopause? To learn about one of my perimenopausal patient’s experience of the concurrence of Post-Birth Control Syndrome and Perimenopause, read Celia’s story here.

Increased risk of cancer is another possible side effect of birth control pills. The Pill has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer, liver cancer, and uterine cancer. If you have any concerns about the potential side effects of birth control pills, be sure to talk to your doctor.

What are the risks associated with taking birth control pills, and how can you minimize those risks as much as possible?

As with any medication, there are certain risks associated with taking birth control pills. These risks can be divided into two main categories: those that are specific to the Pill itself, and those that may occur if you have any of the increased risks associated with taking the medication.

Blood clots and strokes are more likely to occur in women who smoke or have diabetes, pre-existing diseases, or a family history of clotting disorders. Additionally, some birth control pills can also increase the risk of developing thyroid disease or autoimmune diseases, depression, anxiety, cancer, and compromised gut health. If you or anyone in your family are at increased risk for these, it is best to consider alternatives. Of course, you can complement your decision to take the Pill and mitigate the risks with naturopathic/functional medicine.

Implementing an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, supplementing with proper nutrients, and assessing your micronutrient levels before, during, and after the Pill can help prevent some of these risks.

How to know if birth control pills are right for you – pros and cons to consider before making a decision

Deciding whether or not to take birth control pills is a decision that should be made with care. There are many factors to consider, including how effective the Pill is at preventing pregnancy and the potential side effects. For example, the Pill can cause weight gain, mood swings, and headaches. Some women also experience a loss of libido. Additionally, the Pill does not protect against STDs, so condoms must still be used. 

The Fertility Awareness Method is another option to consider. This involves tracking ovulation and avoiding sex during the most fertile days of the month. However, this method is not as effective as the Pill. 

Condoms and copper IUDs are other options to consider.

In Closing

Ultimately, the decision about which birth control method to use is a personal one. There are pros and cons to each option, so it is important to consult with a healthcare provider before making a decision. To learn more about the side effects of hormonal birth control, read here.

Birth control pills are one of the most popular forms of contraception, with over 100 million women using them worldwide. While they are incredibly effective at preventing pregnancy, there are some risks and side effects associated with taking them. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision about whether or not to take birth control pills. If you decide that they are right for you, be sure to work with your doctor to find the type and dosage that best suits your needs. 

Before deciding which contraceptive method is for you, determine if Fertility Awareness Method is an option for you, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Is my period regular, and if not, why? 
  • How can I use (Fertility Awareness Method) FAM with irregular periods? 
  • Am I in perimenopause and at risk for ovulating multiple times a month?
  • Do I have a regular system and routine set to begin using FAM? 

***Also, remember that Fertility Awareness Method does not prevent STIs and STDs… that’s, ehem, what condoms and getting checked regularly // asking your partner to get checked are for 🙂 Health sovereignty is accountability. 

Please see the Cyclical Living Articles, or take my Cyclical Living Course for more information on getting started with FAM…safely, empowered, and with body literacy. 

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Brønnick Marita Kallesten, Økland Inger, Graugaard Christian, Brønnick Kolbjørn Kallesten. The Effects of Hormonal Contraceptives on the Brain: A Systematic Review of Neuroimaging Studies. 2020;(11): 1664-1078.DOI=10.3389/fpsyg.2020.556577

Britton LE, Alspaugh A, Greene MZ, McLemore MR. CE: An Evidence-Based Update on Contraception. Am J Nurs. 2020 Feb;120(2):22-33. doi: 10.1097/01.NAJ.0000654304.29632.a7. PMID: 31977414; PMCID: PMC7533104.