The Little Pill & Listening to Our Bodies
As you read this post, you may be wondering why I’m writing this to begin with. I’m not a health professional nor have I undergone any technical training that fully qualifies. I’ve simply done a heck ton of research on my own. I believe there are not enough women who know about the effects of birth control and what our bodies are capable of doing without the help of medication.
Through some of my own experiences and learning from some incredibly intuitive women, I have learned to create daily practices, track my menstrual cycle, and ultimately, listen to my body. I know our bodies speak to us, but we have so many layers and external factors that prevent us from understanding what they are saying. Stress is one of the biggest.
My journey into all of this research started about a year ago when I went to get some blood tests done and had abnormally high hormone levels. I went to my gynecologist who referred me to an endocrinologist. After getting blood work done twice, he told me I have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) which causes excessive hair growth, acne, cysts on the ovary, and weight gain. In some cases, it can cause infertility and sometimes cancer if not addressed properly.
The doctor who I went to told me it is a normal condition (8-10% of women of child bearing age have it) and recommended I take hormone blockers or birth control to regulate the hormones. When I asked him how these high hormone levels and the gland that is producing these hormones are having an effect on my rest of my body, his response was, “I don’t know. I only specialize in this part of the body”. I was perplexed. The body is an interconnected system just like the rest of the world. As a doctor isn’t he supposed to know the rest of the body just as much as his specialization? Of course, this is just one experience and in no way a generalization of how other doctors would respond.
I didn’t know much at the time, but something told me to not take the recommended medication. That experience also taught me to figure out what is happening in my body on my own. How can he help me if I can’t even understand what is happening with it?
It led me to learn more about my alternatives, so I went to see two doctors who practice homeopathy and three other doctors who take Ayurvedic and naturopathic approaches. After all of this, I wondered what it would be like if I had taken the medication. I spoke with others who had taken it at an earlier point in their life and decades later, they said it quite simply screwed up their system. I wanted to know more about the effects of more traditional medications and if they did exist, why more women weren’t talking about it.
I started learning more about birth control and our other contraceptive options. After the Trump administration signed a draft that would deny birth control to those who receive them for free under the Affordable Health Care Act, many were upset. According to the New York Times: two-thirds of women using birth control pills and nearly 75 percent of women using the contraceptive ring were no longer paying out-of-pocket costs. In 2013 alone, the mandate had saved women $1.4 billion on birth control pills, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
However, I wondered what exactly it was that we were getting upset over. As women, we tend to see contraception, especially the pill, as a women’s right. I used to believe that as well, but then I did some digging. Putting money and political beliefs aside, currently 16% of women in the US are taking the pill.
There are usually two predominating reasons why women take birth control: two regulate periods or to prevent pregnancy. It is prescribed for everything from acne to endometriosis. When we take birth control, we think our hormones are being regulated, but we are actually suppressing our ovarian function and shutting down our hormones. We are actually taking in artificial hormones, or “synthetic steroids” which cannot deliver the benefits that our real hormones can.
The best and easiest way to explain this is through the following excerpt:
Our real endogenous hormones are estradiol and progesterone. In contrast, synthetic steroids are ethinylestradiol, levonorgestrel, drospirenone, and many others. Real hormones and synthetic steroids are similar molecules, but they’re not identical and as a consequence, synthetic steroid have many different effects on the body, some of which we are only now beginning to understand.
For example, estradiol improves insulin sensitivity. Its synthetic counterpart ethinylestradiol impairsinsulin sensitivity  (which is one of the ways the Pill causes weight gain). Progesterone is beneficial for hair, brain health, and bone density, but its synthetic analogueslevonorgestrel, drospirenone, and medroxyprogesterone have quite different effects. They cause hair loss, depression , and reduced bone density. Moreover, the drospirenone progestin found in the Yaz, Yasmin and Ocella series of birth control pills, increases the risk of heart attack and stroke six fold. Its modified shape blocks what are called the mineralocorticoid receptors. These receptors are responsible for salt and water balance (think swelling) and blood pressure.
The only way that ethinylestradiol and progestins are similar to real hormones is that they induce a uterine bleed. They can even induce it monthly, but only if they’re dispensed that way.
This brings me to the next point that really caught my attention. What we think is our menstrual bleed is not actually our period bleed. It is, in other words, a “pharmaceutically induced bleed”.
Regardless of when we choose to bleed, the pill bleed is not the same as menstruation. Remember, the purpose of oral contraceptives is to block ovulation and prevent pregnancy. Without ovulation, our bodies do not produce endogenous hormones. Indeed, as any woman who has gone off of the pill after a long period of usage will tell you, it takes some time for ovulation and hormone production to begin again.
I don’t expect you to just believe all that I have written here. I hope you go out and do your own research to find evidence that supports why your opinions are what they are. I am writing this to catalyze dialogue and question certain beliefs we have held onto. In many ways, we think we are taking a radical approach fighting for rights, when really it may just be becoming the dominant paradigm. In effect, we have used hate and anger against certain policies, governmental structures, and big corporations to determine our fate. I’m not saying we shouldn’t stand our ground and try to change our systems, but we can still take what happens to our bodies fully into our own hands.
I think we have yet to become active participants rather than bystanders in regards to what we are putting into our bodies. Birth control, which we may see as a right and “freeing" also does a lot more to our bodies than what we are aware of.
So, you may be wondering what your alternatives are if you are not on the pill. For pregnancy prevention, there is always the condom, non-hormonal IUD, or even this cool thing.
I think our bodies are a lot smarter than we think they are. Each of our bodies has something different that works for it and understanding how we’re wired- what habits and lifestyle changes can help in the smallest ways to accommodate it can make the biggest difference. I’m not saying this should be a substitute to seeking help from a medical professional and taking other treatments. We can seek assistance externally, but ultimately, our bodies, our biological systems, are meant to guide us and empower us.
I have a lot more to learn in this space, but I felt moved to write this post. This is based on my own experiences, other women I have spoken to, their experiences, and the research I have done. As I mentioned earlier, this information is for your knowledge, but is not a substitute for professional advice. Feel free to comment. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!