Re-thinking the Oral Contraceptive Pill & HRT

The contraceptive pill was introduced in the 1960’s. It changed women’s lives, allowing them greater control over their fertility and sexuality. Hormonal contraception such as the pill is still the most popular method of birth control. Around 75-85 % of women in NZ have used the pill at some time in their lives. The early 1990’s then brought the advent of Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for controlling the symptoms of menopause in women. Overall women are taking more synthetic hormones now than at any other time in human history. Subsequently, women’s hormonal profiles today are vastly different from those of our evolutionary past.

The question needs to be asked as to what effect may this have on women’s health? Studies show that synthetic hormones do impact our microbiome, nutrient status, mood, cancer risk and overall well-being. So what can we do to reduce the negative impact of hormones on our bodies, do we need to be taking them long term and finally what are the alternatives?

How does the pill work

The Pill prevents pregnancy by interfering with the bodies normal cyclic release of the hormones that cause ovulation. Taking the pill effectively “tricks” the body into thinking it is pregnant – This inhibits ovulation and the production of fertile mucous. Some of the side effects are a direct result of introducing synthetic chemicals to your body, which mimic but are not identical to the hormones you naturally produce, as these synthetic hormones are approximately four to eight times stronger than your natural hormone levels. This creates a markedly different hormonal profile in the body compared to a women in her natural hormonal state.

Side effects of the Pill

Research shows that absorption of key nutrients is disrupted by taking the Pill. Vitamins B1, B2, B6 and B12 levels are reduced, the zinc/copper balance disturbed, and iron stores increased. Research backs up that women who take the Pill have lower levels of these nutrients in their body. This affect is cumulative over time. In addition to nutrient depletion, a study conducted at the University of Copenhagen showed a link between woman on the contraceptive pill and depression. Women on the pill were 23 % more likely to develop depression, and 34 % more likely on the mini pill than non-users. Teenagers were particularly vulnerable and up to 80% more likely to develop depression when on the pill.

There is also some evidence that both the pill and HRT influence the gut microbiome. Increased risk of Inflammatory bowel disease is associated with taking them and this may be because synthetic oestrogens alter gut permeability. They can also effect gall bladder function and increase the risk of gall stones which can effect digestion and assimilation of nutrients.

The reason for some of these affects are speculative however could be the result of subtle nutrient deficiencies, or the pills effect on reducing testosterone levels which research has shown has a significant link to depression. Other reasons could be synthetic progesterone’s influence upon serotonin levels, which also effects the area of the brain involved in emotional and cognitive processing.

For many women the pill is a useful and convenient first contraceptive method – however it can be all too easy to just keep taking it without considering how long you want to be on it, or what the alternatives are. Consider your options.  Ask yourself  “Do I need to be taking synthetic hormones?”  If the answer is yes then consider for how long and what is your exit strategy.

What to do if you are on the Pill

I have set out some useful tips below for how to minimize the side effects of taking the pill and HRT.

-Drink a liver cleansing tea such as Artemis liver detox tea every day

-Take a high quality broad multivitamin and mineral.

-Take a high quality probiotic

– Empower yourself by learning natural contraception methods

Did you know that a fertile woman can only fall pregnant on 6 days maximum per month? You can learn to accurately read your bodies signs and identify which are your fertile days and have no need for contraception on the other days.

The Natural Fertility Contraception Program is a safe, natural and empowering method of avoiding pregnancy. The program teaches you to understand and cooperate with your fertility cycles. Through observing body signs such as cervical mucus and basal body temperature and combining this knowledge with your cycle dates, you can then choose what to do for the few days a month you are fertile.

This method of natural fertility awareness was originally called the sympto thermal method (SMT) and when used correctly it has a 99% success rate, which is the same safety level as the Pill. This method takes up to 3 cycles to learn effectively and is dependent on a women having regular cycles.

What to eat if you take the Pill

Pumpkin seeds – A great source of magnesium and Zinc.

Lentils are a fantastic source of folic acid

Eggs and dairy products are a great source of B2 or Riboflavin (try almonds if you are vegan)

Spinach is a great option here as a good source of B6, folate, vitamin A and K and Magnesium

The Herbal Dispensary has many naturopathic options for helping with the symptoms of menopause, as well as multivitamin and liver cleansing tea options. Come and talk to us today about what you can do to stay well when taking the pill or HRT.

Anita Roy-Chaudhuri

Medical Herbalist, Nutritionist, Natural Fertility Consultant.

BHSc, PG Dip.(Human Nutrition), Dip.Phyt. Cert.Natural Fertility

Anita offers consultations for women wishing to learn natural fertility contraception methods. Anita is a senior Medical herbalist and Nutritionist with over 20 year’s clinical experience. Anita works extensively with all areas of women’s health.

Anita Roy-Chaudhuri

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