About 10.6 million women in our country are currently taking birth control pills for contraceptive purposes, and many are unaware of the potential negative health consequences. I was one of them until a year or two ago, when I learned that there are in fact many ways in which the pill can impact your nutrient status and overall health. I wrote this post to share with you my newfound knowledge and tips on how to best support your health while on the pill or while coming off of it.
What are birth control pills actually supposed to do?
As a very brief oversimplification, most oral contraceptives contain synthetic estrogen and some also contain progesterone, which mimic the estrogen and progestin created by the body. The intended purpose of introducing these additional hormones is to prevent pregnancy by preventing 3 specific activities: eggs from releasing, sperm from fertilizing the eggs (if the eggs do release), and the fertilized egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus (if fertilization does occur).
What are some potential side effects of birth control pills?
This is not a comprehensive list of nutrients that birth control pills can deplete, but it does highlight those that are most likely relevant to women hoping to come off the pill and conceive. It is sadly ironic that many of the nutrients so essential for pregnancy can be depleted by birth control pills, resulting in women attempting to conceive with deficiencies in nutrients they need in increased amounts.
- Zinc: Deficiency is connected with fertility issues (in men and women) and reduced immune function. Zinc is needed for hundreds of body functions, including proper digestion, and maintaining healthy skin and bones.
- Folic Acid: Critical for cell growth of a fetus as well as infants after birth. It is also critical for appropriate brain and nervous system function in people of all ages. It is a nutrient that should be included in any prenatal supplement, as it can contribute to the proper development of the baby as well as the overall mental capacity of the pregnant mother.
- Vitamin B6: Essential for a pregnant woman’s hormonal balance (including controlling nausea in morning sickness!) and a developing fetus’ nervous system.
- Magnesium: Necessary for DNA production, blood pressure management, and can help alleviate symptoms of PMS.
- Vitamin E: Antioxidant properties, deficiency has been connected with fertility issues.
Altered gut bacteria
Taking the pill has been known to cause digestive issues, and specifically a disruption in the bacteria in the large intestine. This can cause a variety of problems, such as reducing the body’s ability to assimilate nutrients from food that are necessary for the creation of hormones.
Impaired Detoxification Pathways
Once hormones like estrogen and progesterone have served their purpose, the liver will deactivate and eliminate them during normal detoxification processes. When birth control pills introduce synthetic hormones in excess of the body’s natural production, these detox pathways can become overwhelmed and may require additional support. A chronic excess of estrogen in the body (as can occur on the pill) can also increase the risk of breast cancer.
Yikes - what can I do to stay healthy while taking the pill or support my health while coming off of it?
Chronic stress is the #1 way we can interfere with our hormonal function. Eating in a relaxed state is critical for nutrient absorption so slow down your meals, breathe in deeply, and chew thoroughly.
Try to incorporate these foods into your diet to make up for the deficiencies:
- Bone broth to provide gut healing, which is fundamentally important for absorbing all the nutrients from the below foods!
- Raw Leafy greens for Folic Acid and Magnesium. Try to get them in 2 out of 3 meals / day!
- Animal fats like butter, eggs (whole egg with the yolk!), and meat for Vitamin E, Zinc
- Organ meats like chicken liver are packed FULL of nutrients that may be depleted as well as will support restoring YOUR liver if any detox pathways are impaired.
- Beets to support proper liver function and detoxification pathways.
- Fermented veggies to restore gut bacteria and improve digestive function.
Minimize consumption of highly processed foods, especially refined sugars.
Whole foods naturally contains the vitamins and minerals that our bodies will need to properly digest and assimilate it. Industrial processing strips foods of many of these vitamins and minerals, so in order to digest highly processed foods, we further deplete our vitamin and mineral stores which we are working so hard to build back up after being on birth control.
Take Epsom salt baths to restore liver detox pathways.
Start with 1 cup of salt / bath for 15-20 minutes. Work up to 1-3 / week with 3 cups of salt for 25 minutes.
Thank you for reading this and considering your overall health. Breathe in. Ponder for a moment the significance that a seemingly small act like taking a pill can have on your body. Pick one step to start with to replenish your body with the nutrients it needs to fully function. Breathe out. Let go any frustration you may have with yourself for not knowing sooner, for not asking more questions, for any other reason you may be berating yourself right now. You are worth care and attention and love.
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