Some people think that taking pills is the best way to control child birth. If you’ve been taking the pill since your first period, how can you tell if it’s actually messing with your hormones?
The CDC’s last comprehensive study found that 28% of women take oral contraception—yes, 10.6 million people take a tiny pill every day containing hormones to stop ovulation.
“As a gynecologist practicing functional medicine, I have a skewed perspective when it comes to BCPs,” admits Sara Gottfried, MD, author of The Hormone Cure and Younger. A Harvard-trained doctor, Gottfried draws on holistic methods to help other women. “I’ve seen many women over the years suffering from side effects from these pills. From vaginal dryness to lost libido in about 20%, from micronutrient deficiency to premature menopause, and from infertility and early menopause to worsening mood problems—I’ve seen it all.”
If you’ve been taking the pill since your first period, how can you tell if it’s actually messing with your hormones? According to Gottfried, there are a number of subtle clues that your system might be out of whack. “When your hormones are imbalanced, you may have a range of symptoms including fatigue, sugar cravings, weight-loss resistance, bloating, belly fat, trouble sleeping, anxiety or irritability, and constant stress,” she says.
We hear you—these signs are frustratingly vague and all too common, so how do you know if you’re just a regular, sugar-craving, stressed-out person or someone with a hormonal imbalance? “You won’t truly know if your hormones are to blame for your symptoms until you get some basic blood work done,” she says. Record your symptoms and check in with your physician about your concerns.
Request the following blood panels from your doctor, she recommends:
- TSH, free T3, reverse T3, free T4
- testosterone: free, bioavailable, and total
- day 3 estradiol
- day 3 FSH
- day 21-23 progesterone
For millions of women, taking oral contraception is a daily routine that doesn’t merit a second thought. It’s just a regular part of our routine. But given that the birth control pill is a medical drug, it’s important to know exactly how it works.
According to Planned Parenthood, the hormones in the pill work to stop our body from ovulating. “No ovulation means there’s no egg hanging around for sperm to fertilize, so pregnancy can’t happen,” the organization explains. “The pill’s hormones also thicken the mucus on the cervix. Thicker cervical mucus makes it hard for the sperm to swim to an egg—kind of like a sticky security guard.”
When you ingest a pill that contains hormones, it alters your body’s natural balance. “BCPs contain synthetic versions of estrogen and progesterone, the two main female hormones,” says Gottfried. “Studies show that testosterone levels drop on average by 61% in women on BCPs.”
Over the years, the number of hormones in the pill has changed too. “Over time, the dose of synthetic estrogen in BCPs has declined, [and] more synthetic progestins have been included,” Gottfried continues. “BCPs are now prescribed, mostly off-label, for acne, painful periods, irregular menstruation, reduction in risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers, and improvement in premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.”
This doesn’t mean that the pill should be demonized though, argues Wendy Wilcox, MD, vice chairperson of the North Bronx Healthcare Network Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She tells Parents that there are a number of benefits to taking oral contraception, and it should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. “Oral contraceptives have been around for 50 years. They’ve undergone many improvements, including decreasing the amounts of hormones put into the pills,” she says. “All that makes them safer.”
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