As I threw the half empty packet of birth control pill in the bin, I had no idea what would happen in the coming months.
Thinking about the chemicals I put in or on my body was scary. Health problems were appearing, there was no way I could continue neglecting my body anymore. From mental health, digestive health, hormone health, skin issues and dysfunctional limbs. If there’s a time to prevent diseases, it’s now, well technically it was long before now, but in panic, damage control was most definitely my new priority. I wanted to eliminate as many chemical sources as possible from my lifestyle and put myself in the best position for success. I took a look at everything from medications and skincare, to what I was eating and the toxins I was exposing myself too and I’m not taking about exhaust fumes.
Deciding to come off the hormonal birth control pill, limiting my use of medications for emergencies only, along with reducing my use of plastics and chemical laden skincare products was a learning curve (and still is). Going cruelty free / vegan certainly helped lessen my use of these products in general. Understanding that the skin is your biggest organ drinking up all the chemicals you put on it, is not laughing matter. And my skin was unhappy. My acne got worse, and while the pill cleared mine for some time it was masking underlying imbalances.
Don’t get me wrong, the pill definitely has it’s place and for a lot of women the pros out weigh the cons. It can actually be a treatment option for many however I didn’t need the pill to help with my cycles, it was extra birth control with some skin clarifying affects as a bonus. Choosing to go without any form of hormonal birth control from pill, patch or IUD can be an inconvenience at times, let’s face it, female birth control is the most convenient for heterosexual couples. It’s a safety net. But having control over my own body became my main focus and I learned a lot more about my cycles in the process.
What changes could I expect to see after seven years on this drug?
I expected my period to be absent or irregular for a few months, for my acne to flare up, my boobs to decrease in size (that and removing dairy from my diet and strength training definitely did mean saying goodbye to some boobage), other than that it was just a waiting game to see happened.
My first cycle appeared ‘normal’ and I thought I’d been lucky. Every month after that my cycle became more irregular. From suspiciously long cycles to strangely short ones. Tracking my cycles on an app every single day for over a year, all my moods, food intake, activity level and all the important TMI bits that I’ll spare you the details of! Over the course of a year, patterns slowly became apparent.
At first it was my consistent mood fluctuations at certain points in the month and after 6 months patterns in my cycles themselves. Every second cycle was at least a week longer. My body would feel like utter crap for two weeks beforehand, on the longer week. From the small amount of information I could find online, my guess is one ovary ovulates later or struggled to ovulate at all. By not ovulating effectively, hormones fluctuate and it is one of the many reasons hormones can become imbalanced.
Fun fact: Ovulating (which doesn’t happen on the pill) is important because once an egg is released from a follicle, the corpus luteum (the remainder of the follicle after the egg bursts out), hangs around and produces progesterone for up to two weeks. This corpus luteum is the main producer of progesterone in the body, without it our progesterone levels can become too low. Estrogen therefore becomes more dominant without the balance of progesterone. It’s still beneficial to ovulate even if you’re not trying to get pregnant for hormone balance.
Not to mention the adrenal glands try to produce pregnenolone (a precursor for female hormones) and I’m sure anxiety and the constant feeling of ‘fight or flight’ stressed those glands out, perhaps my adrenals were struggling too. These are things I couldn’t see until I had a true menstrual cycle. Coming off the pill has allowed me an opportunity to find the missing link and nourish the weaker ones. I was oblivious to the fact that for my hormones to be balanced, the rest of my body would have to be in check too. The secretions from all glands, the toxic build up in organs, the interaction of hormones within the entire body are all relevant. Hormones like Cortisol, Melatonin, Insulin and Thyroid (T3,T4 and TSH) not just Estrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone. Think of it like a circuit board, if one area isn’t working well, you can bet the other organs and hormones are lagging. It’s not all just happening down there, in the ovaries and uterus, it’s all connected.
Just over a year later, my cycles have finally gotten into a routine. The longer second cycle is reduced in length, but still a few days longer. My cramps are back with a bang, something I did not miss! I’ve always had mild acne, however my jawline was rarely free from painful cystic acne after being pill free, something I didn’t have before going on the pill. Turmeric face-masks, vitamin C and dark leafy greens smoothies with Maca powder added seem to help. I’m not sure of the exact reasons it took my body a year to stabilize but I imagine from the build up of chemicals I had to detoxify and nourish to restore balance.
I researched other ways hormonal imbalance can occur from external sources. Consistent exposure to even small amounts of chemicals must have an effect on our bodies, right? From processed food or even the abundance of fresh foods that have been sprayed with pesticides. Creating better habits of thoroughly washing fresh fruit and vegetables, buying organic when possible. Plastics are another huge problem in our direct environment; prepackaged foods and Tupperware containers, microwavable plastics to plastic travel cups filled with hot drinks and the Teflon lining of non-stick pans we cook food in.
In the beginning I started opting for plastics that were BPA free. (All plastics have a code on the base of the product – try to stick with CODE 5, it’s the safest). I began microwaving food on a plate or a glass container instead of in the microwave friendly tubs (although I’m considering avoiding microwaves altogether – the price we pay for convenience, eh?) and of course we can make the switch to a glass water bottle and try to store food in glass containers when possible, maybe pick up the fresh baked bread in a paper bag instead of the prepackaged. Little by little, I’m changing the materials I store things in. Investing in the safer options. Think about it, how long does food, especially preserved food, sit in plastic? Plastics have so many chemicals in them and can leak into food over time.
Chemicals and fragrances are also endocrine disruptors and while it’s certainly more effort to find natural non-fragranced skincare and cleaning products, it’s worth it. We are constantly bombarded with the idea that fragrance is sexy, smelling of something other than your natural self is cleaner, to welcome people into a nice smelling home by using febreeze! Or using the harshest unstable chemicals to clean your house, the chemicals we inevitably inhale. Think about it. Perfume directly on skin, the clothes and bed linen washed in highly fragranced detergent that you wear or lie in for hours, artificial ingredients in your skincare products, the bleach used to whiten tampons, pads and liners that go on the most delicate skin you have. Being aware of these things is key. While I do aim for a safer, natural ingredient list in the products I use, by no means am I at the point of living completely chemical free but making better choices is so important for our health and the environment too.
If I had stayed on the pill, I wouldn’t be as aware of the true stress my body had gone through. By upping my intake of antioxidants, vitamins, trying to establish a better sleep routine and avoiding as many chemicals as possible, I believe hormone balance after the pill is possible. Am I there yet? No.
Are there permanent long term side effects that I haven’t encountered yet? Possibly.
Do I regret going on the pill? Yes and no. Yes, because it damaged my natural bodily functions and balance. No, because it gave me peace of mind in terms of birth control. I just wish I hadn’t gone the chemical route.
Would I like to see more in depth information provided for young people in schools, not just the easy bits? Yes. With more information we can make better choices based on our own circumstances.
I’d like to know your experience with hormonal birth control and if you have seen any health issues if you have stopped the pill, patches or internal hormonal birth control. Leave your experience in the comment section.
Links to informative content
Hormonal Imbalances explained by Barbara O Neill The Importance Hormones and Sexual Health explained Which Plastics are best?