Birth control is a very necessary part of our society, but some methods are definitely healthier than others. The most popular and doctor recommended form of birth control is, of course, the pill. Some women don’t even take it for birth control; it is also prescribed for acne and menstrual cycle regulation. Over 60% of women age 15-29 use the pill (Source). I, myself, took the pill to control my acne for 8 years as recommended by my family doctor. But just because it is popular and widely used doesn’t mean its completely safe; there are some real health problems that come with taking the pill. Many women, my younger self included, don’t know what they are signing up for when they begin taking the pill. Here are 7 ways the pill can affect your health.
1. Nutritional Deficiencies
Women taking the pill can become deficient in folic acid, riboflavin (B2), vitamin B12, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc (Source). Iron and copper, on the other hand, increase in the body while on the pill (Source). While increasing these minerals is not necessarily a bad thing it does point to the fact that the pill affects our metabolic and nutritional processes.
What can happen when you are deficient in these nutrients? Folic acid deficiencies result in fatigue, depression, confusion, anemia, and very serious complications if pregnant. Women are cautioned to not try to conceive directly after coming off the pill due to folic acid deficiency along with any other deficiencies caused by the pill. Vitamin B12 is necessary for energy, so deficiency can result in fatigue and also depression, poor memory, even mania and psychosis. This could be a contributing factor to why some women report feeling crazy or ‘not themselves’ while taking the pill. Magnesium deficiency is common even in people who have never taken the pill because the soil is becoming increasingly deficient in this mineral. Thus, the pill can deplete this already deficient mineral even further in your body. Symptoms of this deficiency include dizziness, muscle cramping, muscle weakness and fatigue.
The ratio between copper-zinc ratio is important in the body as excess of one of these minerals can cause deficiency in the other, which we see with the pill (copper increases and zinc decreases). Excess copper can cause chronic fatigue, hypoglycemia, anxiety, racing mind and panic attacks, skin problems, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Tired bodies (chronic fatigue) with overactive minds (racing thoughts/panic attacks) is the signature symptom of copper-zinc imbalance (Source). As you can see, deficiency or imbalance of any of these nutrients commonly results in fatigue and neurological symptoms (depression, memory problems, anxiety, etc.). So if you are on the pill and having similar issues, nutritional deficiencies could be to blame. Women who take birth control long term have the highest risk of nutritional deficiencies.
2. Bacterial Imbalance/Overgrowth
Bacterial imbalance is often overlooked by western medicine, but healthy gut bacteria is an absolutely essential part of our health. Friendly bacteria in our gut protect us from harmful organisms and are vital for a proper functioning immune system. They also synthesize vitamins such as B12 and K2 (Source). Birth control pills often upset the balance of good and bad bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract because it promotes estrogen dominance, which is caused by the steady stream of estrogen that birth control pills provide the body with (Source). This can result in candida overgrowth and/or SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth). One study showed that women who used the pill, especially long term users, were more likely to develop Crohn’s disease. While the exact cause is unknown, it is known that people with Crohn’s disease have bacterial imbalances. Bacterial overgrowth can actually make estrogen dominance even worse as it interferes with the bodies ability to eliminate estrogen, its a vicious cycle.
The symptoms of bacterial imbalance are very diverse but can include:
- IBS symptoms (gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, nausea, stomach cramping, etc.)
- Fatigue, brain fog, concentration problems
- Skin Conditions
- Headaches and/or migraines
- Respiratory symptoms such as asthma
Read a complete list of candida symptoms here, and a complete list of SIBO symptoms here. If you suffer from GI symptoms but do not have candida overgrowth, you could still have SIBO; you can be tested for both of these imbalances by a naturopathic doctor. Why is bacterial imbalance bad? Aside from the unpleasant symptoms it also affects our immunity, our ability to absorb vital nutrients, and the integrity of our GI lining (can result in food intolerances and leaky gut).
The pill can suppress your thyroid, which can result in hypothyroidism. High levels of estrogen, such as the ones from the pill, increase the levels of a carrier protein known as thyroxine binding globulin (TBG) in the body. This carrier protein binds thyroid hormones that circulate the body and decrease the amount of freely circulating thyroid hormone (that is free to do its job) (Source).
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism are:
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Low body temperature
- Hair loss
4. Hair Loss
Many women report losing more hair than usual, thinning hair, or even losing patches of hair when using or coming off the pill. This could be a result of thyroid suppression, but also genetic predisposition triggered by hormones. Any medication that alters a woman’s hormones can trigger hair loss (Source). In one severe case, a woman started losing large patches of her hair after trying to stop the pill. This resulted in her staying on the pill for many extra years to keep her hair from falling out. Read her entire story here.
Read the next 3 ways the pill can effect your health and about alternatives to the pill on page 2.