It’s no secret that hormonal birth control has become the one-stop-shop ‘solution’ for women’s hormonal imbalances.
They’re highly prescribed by doctors to manage symptoms like acne, migraines, cramps, mood, irregular periods, and even cold sores. It’s not their fault, they’ve literally been trained to do so for the last 30 years in med school.
But just because that’s the ‘norm,’ doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. In a previous post we quoted “hormonal birth control is a contraceptive, not a hormone solution” and received a lot of great feedback.
It seems as if more women are finding out the truth about hormonal birth control being inappropriately used as hormonal bandaid. And as a result, more women are choosing to come off the pill.
Hormonal birth control works by suppressing the natural rhythm of our HPO axis, meaning we don’t get any estrogen and progesterone from our ovaries. At first glance, taking HBC to suppress these hormones seems reasonable: if hormones are out of whack, control the hormones and the symptoms will (hopefully) go away.
Except that ‘controlling’ these hormones actually leads to a host of negative side effects like stroke, depression, permanent loss of libido, infertility, weight gain, just to name a few.
But the question (and concern) remains, “how do I solve my period problems without the use of the pill?”
Word of Caution
First we need to understand that coming off the pill will allow our period problems to shine through – this might seem like a bad thing, but it’s actually very helpful and even necessary.
If we can’t hear our body talking, then we can’t identify the root cause and what we need to heal.
Before coming off the pill, there’s strategies to ease these symptoms, but this will likely be an uncomfortable transition.
Natural Period-Problem Resolutions
Natural AND effective solutions to period problems and hormonal imbalances that are commonly treated with the Pill do exist. These solutions work to HONOR our body, rather than wrecking further havoc.
Any of these recommendations should first be discussed with your functional medicine doctor and/or nutritionist before commencing.
As someone who has been to every dermatologist, submitted to rounds of acutane, and chronically prescribed birth control pills to suppress her acne, I can relate to the pain and shame of this symptom.
There are many steps I took to drastically improve my skin health. Here is what I did:
- Gut health – took probiotic am and pm (we love hyperbiotics PRO-15), increased fiber to 35g per day, increased water intake to half my body weight in ounces plus 15, Cut out sugar, dairy, gluten, coffee and alcohol (this one still gets me on occasions), added a gut support supplement (we love GI revive from Health by Designs)
- Removed Environmental Toxins – I cleaned up my kitchen cabinets, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, shampoo/conditioner/body wash/lotion, and cosmetics, I removed candles, air fresheners and perfumes and replaced with essential oils. You can learn more about how to clean up your house and products with our courses here.
- Reduced Stress – I noticed that whenever I had caffeine or went too long without eating I’d have a massive breakout along with oily skin. I made sure I was relaxing more throughout the day (meditation/journaling in the morning, 60 min walk after lunch), yoga in the evening), keeping my blood sugar regulated (eating breakfast and then every 3-4 hours later, including at least 20g of protein in every meal, cutting out added sugars), and broke my caffeine habit (weaned off coffee and replaced with matcha green tea)
- Decreased inflammation – I incorporated some foods and spices that have a natural anti-inflammatory response in the body. These included garlic, turmeric, ginger, matcha, berries, fish oil supplement, walnuts, etc.
Cramps / Pelvic Pain
For some women, the discomfort is merely annoying. For others, menstrual cramps can be severe enough to interfere with everyday activities for a few days every month.
Some women may also experience nausea, loose stools, headaches and dizziness along with the painful cramps.
The first obvious consideration we need to make is that your pad or tampon may very well be causing cramps. Most are made with synthetic fragrances and environmental toxins that can disrupt the ecosystem of your vaginal. We like Honest pads and tampons as they are made 100% cotton and work great (in our opinion).
Another consideration is reducing inflammation.
During your menstrual period, your uterus contracts to help expel its lining. Hormone-like substances (prostaglandins) involved in pain and inflammation trigger the uterine muscle contractions. Higher levels of prostaglandins are associated with more-severe menstrual cramps. So following a low inflammation diet and lifestyle will be key to reducing these symptoms.
According to the Mayo clinic, menstrual cramps can be caused by:
- Endometriosis. The tissue that lines your uterus becomes implanted outside your uterus, most commonly on your fallopian tubes, ovaries or the tissue lining your pelvis.
- Uterine fibroids. These noncancerous growths in the wall of the uterus can cause pain.
- Adenomyosis. The tissue that lines your uterus begins to grow into the muscular walls of the uterus.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease. This infection of the female reproductive organs is usually caused by sexually transmitted bacteria.
- Cervical stenosis. In some women, the opening of the cervix is small enough to impede menstrual flow, causing a painful increase of pressure within the uterus.
We recommend working with a trusted health care practitioner when ruling out these causes.
PMS / Mood Swings
PCOS: Many women with PCOS are put on the birth control pill to ‘regulate’ their missing or irregular periods. However, we know that taking the pill is not regulating anything, it’s suppressing everything. That blood you see when you take the sugar pills at the end of the pack? Merely just a withdrawal bleed from the ethyl-estradiol in the pill. In fact, those developing the pill thought it would be more ‘convincing’ for women to consider the pill if they still bled every month. For more on PCOS, click here.
Hypothalmic Amenorrhea: Women can still suffer from a missing period even if they don’t have PCOS. Likely the cause could be HPA-axis dysfunction in which the brain perceives too much stress for ovulation to take place. Often times a reduction in stress, increase in calorie intake, along with a decrease in high intensity exercise and stress will help restore a missing period. Your recovery will depend on what lifestyle factors caused you to lose your period in the first place. If you lost a lot of weight, you will need to eat more. If you over-exercised, you may be able to cut back on exercise without changing your diet very much. If you were chronically stressed, you should focus on finding healthy coping techniques like meditation and yoga.
Peri-menopause: Women going through peri-menopuase may also be prescribed the pill to ‘regulate’ and ‘manage’ the symptoms during the transition. Because of the fast paced world women live in today, we are all going through life frazzled and stressed to the max. We’ve likely accumulated many deficiencies along the way and we’re now paying the price as our ovaries begin to turn down the dial. This leaves the adrenal glands as the sole producer of estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. However, if we are stressed, cortisol gets the first priority – as a result we are left with low levels of hormones and a whole host of symptoms to go along with it. Stress reduction along with an increase in nutrient-dense food has been very promising for women transitioning to menopause.
Migraines / Headaches
Many women who suffer from migraines are deficient in magnesium. “Taking a supplement can help relax blood vessels that constrict during a migraine attack, bringing significant relief,” according to Dr. Brian Grosberg, co-director of the Montefiore Headache Center in New York City. Reducing stress, never skipping meals, and sleeping an adequate amount can also mitigate menstrual migraines.
We hope that these recommendations help in the decision if hormonal birth control is right for you. Let us know in the comments what you think!
Lara Briden, MD, Period Repair Manual
Dr. Jolene Brighten, Beyond the Pill