Why the pill isn’t the answer to your hormone imbalance.
Hormones are chemicals that are produced by the glands of the endocrine system, which exert their action by delivering ‘messages’ to tissues and organs on what to do. Hormones have many roles within the body, they help to regulate metabolism and appetite, our heart rate, sleep and wake cycles, mood and stress, and body temperature. One of the most well-known hormone functions is that of the reproductive cycle – we wouldn’t be here without it!
It is somewhat normal to experience fluctuations in hormones, for example, hormones do fluctuate when you’re pregnant, and this is normal. When a hormonal imbalance occurs outside of these fluctuations, it’s often due to hormones not functioning as they should. This can be caused by medications, environmental factors, poor diet and lifestyle, nutrient deficiencies, chronic stress or medical conditions (e.g. diabetes & hypothyroidism). There are almost too many symptoms to mention when it comes to possible hormone imbalance. As women, we experience changes in our hormones around puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause (just to name a few!).
Some symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women include:
- Painful, heavy or irregular periods
- Hot flushes
- Constipation/ Diarrhoea
- Increased / decreased hair growth
- Unexplained weight gain
Often when women are experiencing these symptoms it could be a sign of an underlying condition such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, early menopause or ovarian abnormalities. First line treatment (in the medical world) for the symptoms, though, is usually hormonal birth control, used to ‘regulate’ cycles and symptoms.
The Oral Contraceptive Pill (OCP)
Oral contraception, better known as ‘the pill’ or ‘OCP’ is often prescribed as a fix-all for hormonal imbalance. In actual fact, the pill can further disrupt hormones, while masking the symptoms of underlying conditions (that are still there!).
Most oral contraceptive pills are made with synthetic oestrogen and progestin (synthetic progesterone), which, once entering the system, interrupt the natural signalling processes within the brain.
This effectively acts as a hormone disruptor, preventing the hypothalamus from telling the pituitary gland to release hormones. This stops you from ovulating and also changes the consistency of cervical mucus.
There is also usually a ‘sugar-pill’ aka. Placebo week which induces a bleed. This is not to be confused with a menstrual period, as this ‘bleed’ is just allowing from a breakthrough of the tissue and is an artificial release of what would naturally be occurring in a cycle without hormonal contraception. A pill bleed is also known as a ‘chemical bleed’ or withdrawal bleed.
Because the synthetic hormones that are within the pill aren’t natural, there can be some cross-reactivity with effects exerted on different receptors. For example, Progestin (the synthetic version of progesterone) may bind to other receptors and give signals. This effectively can throw the body off balance and lead to hormonal imbalances and cause many unwanted side effects like infertility later in life. Therefore, the OCP not only covers up hormonal imbalance, but it can also actually trigger further imbalance.
Doing more harm than good
For some, the side-effects of the pill may not be obvious, or minor. Some common side effects include amenorrhea (loss of periods), bleeding/spotting, vaginal irritation, breast tenderness/ enlargement and loss of libido (ironic much?).
Other side effects can include random hair growth, acne, weight gain. migraines, digestive issues and increased sweating. But there can be a heavier toll of taking the OCP.
The OCP can increase irregularities in blood pressure and increase your risk of blood clots and strokes. Research has now shown that the OCP can alter brain structure and neurotransmitter function, as well as effect mood. One study found that in women taking the pill, the hypothalamus region of the brain was physically smaller than those who do not take it – by 6%!
Women on the OCP are also more likely to be depressed, stressed and have microbiome disruption. The pill can increase cortisol levels (a stress hormone) which can lead to long-term neurological, hormonal and digestive issues. Since the oral contraceptive pill can also disrupt the microbiome of our gut, is can lead to issues such as leaky gut, and further mental health concerns such as anxiety.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. The pill can also interfere with nutrient absorption of important vitamins and minerals. In particular, B vitamins are often depleted, as well as magnesium and zinc, all of which are important for hormone regulation to begin with.
Overall, most of these long-term effects will do more harm than good for our endocrine system. Taking the pill to fix hormone balance is like putting a band aid on a deep wound – it will only do so much until you get to the root cause of the imbalance.
Back to Balance
Are you considering stopping the pill? It may be easier said then done. Depending on how long you have been taking synthetic hormones, it may take time for your body to get back into balance. Often, it brings to the surface all the hormonal imbalances that were already present before you started taking it. This being said, it is possible to have a healthy, regular, pain-free cycle, to have clear skin and to have better moods.
It’s important to have assistance in balancing hormones and getting your endocrine back into it’s natural rhythm. Book in a consultation with me so we can get to the root cause of the imbalance and we can work together to improve it.