Hormones: Fake to Fearless! 3 Key Steps to Ditching Hormonal Birth Control
By Laura Mar, AFAP Certified Fertility Awareness Educator and a Hormone Health Coach
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”- Maya Angelou
Synthetic Hormones: Friend or Foe
Many of us have become aware by now that synthetic hormones, the non-natural kind, are just plain bad for our bodies and the ecosystem. We don’t want them in our food or in our water. But what about hormonal birth control? Women have been prescribed high amounts of synthetic hormones since the release of Enovid, the first oral birth control pill. It was the first drug ever developed to shut down a perfectly normal bodily function in healthy individuals. Yep, that was the price women paid for reproductive freedom at a time when gender norms were far more polarized than they are today.
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Unfortunately, women still carry the unequal responsibility of birth control despite the fact that men are fertile every day and women who cycle naturally are only fertile for up to 7 days per cycle. That’s right, women are infertile most of the time but hormonal birth control subjects the body to a daily cascade of changes that very real effects on your whole body experience. Did you know that Depo-Provera (an injectable hormonal birth control) is used to chemically castrate sex offenders? It has been shown to prevent convicted sex offenders from committing new sex crimes. It’s preposterous to give a woman that same medication and think it won’t have any adverse effects!
The idea that your natural hormonal cycle can be suppressed with synthetic hormones for years on end with no health consequences is not only false, it’s dangerous. Most people are never fully counseled on the risks, benefits, and alternatives to hormonal contraceptives. Our healthcare system has a lot of improving to do, especially around informed consent. I highly recommend you invest a little time and get educated on the full list of risks and side effects of hormonal birth control.
Many of us, myself included, didn’t need the research to tell me that the pill was wreaking havoc in my body and my mind. I got off that train 11 years ago and never looked back. For those of you who are thinking about ditching hormonal birth control or for those of you who already have but might be struggling with menstrual irregularities, I’ve put together a guide map to ease your transition from cycle suppression to ovulatory cycles. We’ll focus on 3 key steps: Replenish, Clearing & Support
As you prepare to drop the fake hormones in favor of your yummy home-made hormones, let’s review just a few of the influences these little synthetic suckers may have on your whole body. This will help you to be patient with yourself and excited about the journey – it’s so worth it!
- Perhaps you are already familiar with the “subtle” mental and emotional side effects of birth control. Yes, your experience is valid and true. I won’t go into detail here, but medical studies confirm that hormonal contraceptives increase the risk of anxiety and depression.
- It messes with your libido and lowers your testosterone levels. Basically, the pill can zap us of our mojo. Many people experience sexual side effects, but they don’t make the connection to the pill. Luckily, you’re tossing those little suckers out and saying YES to reconnecting with your fantastic sexuality.
- Long-term use is associated with higher rates of cervical, breast, and liver cancer (and reduced rates of ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancer).
- The pill creates mayhem in your gut. It impacts gut flora, adversely affecting estrogen metabolism, and sending you into a yucky spiral of discomfort.
3 Steps to Ditch Birth Control
We also know that the pill depletes key nutrients that support healthy hormone production, specifically vitamins B2, B6, and B12; vitamins C and E; magnesium, selenium, zinc, and folate. Vitamin D levels may also drop after coming off HBC (time for some sunshine!)
So, how do we REPLENISH what our body is lacking? For this one, I asked my sister, the chef/nutritional therapist/cookbook author galore. Her playful answer was to “eat plants and animals”. Below is a slightly extended version of that.
Focus on emphasizing nutrient-dense foods at every meal:
- Dark leafy greens and other phytonutrient-rich vegetables (aka colorful veggies)
- Low-glycemic fruits like berries
- Healing oils (coconut, olive, butter, cod liver oil, avocados)
- Pastured and organic animal protein; and nuts and seeds
- And consider taking a high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement.
2. Clearing Estrogen
CLEARING out estrogen excess is especially important if you were on a pill that contains synthetic estrogen but is also beneficial for re-establishing healthy hormone balance in general. Here are ways to help your body flush out hormones it no longer needs.
- Restore good gut bacteria. These little critters help to break down and eliminate estrogen. The pill has wreaked them, and they need to rebuild their colonies! Eating pre and probiotic foods are one way to go. If tons of sauerkraut and kimchi (or pickles) isn’t your favorite, then definitely go with a high-quality probiotic that contains at least ten billion CFUs from a variety of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium
- Love on your liver. It’s working hard to breakdown all the stuff that your body shouldn’t hang on to and sometimes letting go is hard to do (is that a song? Well, it’s true). Help your liver clear out estrogen excess by limiting your chemical intake. If you haven’t already done this, now is the time to consider glass containers instead of plastic food containers, natural choices for body care products, and limiting synthetic fragrances as much as possible.
- Feed your liver well. Yes, it has food preferences. Cool, right? The liver thrives when we eat brassica vegetables like kale, cabbage, collard greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, watercress, and rutabaga- as they contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol (I3C) that helps your liver metabolize estrogen more efficiently and reducing the harmful effects associated with excess estrogen in the body. I3C can also be found in supplement form and so can DIM, an active compound that is derived from 13C. Organic berries, like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries, are another liver favorite.
3. Tender Loving Care
Let’s talk about a love language for your hormones when you ditch birth control your hormones need TLC. Your menstrual cycle is super responsive to a wide variety of lifestyle factors. Sometimes getting off the pill and nourishing your body through food is just enough to get you to that happy place of cyclical wellbeing. Sometimes, your hormones need some extra attention and affection. For those of us who are really special (wink), here are some options to explore. Jumping into everything at once is not necessary, maybe just pick one small change this week and go from there.
- Create a sleep sanctuary. Blackout curtains are my favorite! Your bedroom should feel cozy, soothing, and peaceful to you. Make your room as dark as possible (total darkness is ideal). Go to bed before 11 pm and leave your phone elsewhere (as in, not next to your head by your night table. For realz. Listen, I have kids and sometimes they sleep at grandma’s house so my phone is in fact nearby but I put it in a drawer in my room so that the light doesn’t affect me and the whole wireless thing feels less menacing.) Point is, do what works for you.
- Move your body. Shake your body. Take your body out for a walk. Dance in your living room to Shakira. We all have different capacities/abilities for movement. Whatever inspires you to move it, do it.
- Yes, we all know that stress is “a fact of life” for most of us and sometimes the hardest thing to address. Here is the mini spiel on how stress affects your cycle. It can cause ovulatory disruptions, abnormal bleeding patterns, or shorten your luteal phase. So, it’s a wonderful idea to find practical ways to connect with your deepest self and rediscover what brings you joy (cuz joy and happiness are antidotes to stress).
- Slow down. Rest in quiet reflection. Take on or renew a mindfulness or meditation practice.
- Find ways to access soul-level nourishment
- Cultivate sisterhood (moon circles, gatherings, sisterhood is potent)
- Reconnect with what makes you feel happy.
- Spend time in nature.
If you made it this far, you are already doing great! There’s lots of info here. Refer to it often and eventually, you’ll integrate this knowledge in your own unique way. Trust yourself. You’ve got this! If you need more support to ditch birth control, I’m here to help. If you want to explore non-hormonal birth control methods, let’s talk!
Check me out Cycle Science with Laura Mar, I’d love to hear from you!
Additional Resources for Ditching Birth Control
Fix your Period, Nicole Jardim, check out Nicole’s recent interview on Body Wise Podcast
Non-Hormonal Birth Control Options to Explore:
- Fertility Awareness Method/ Sympothermal Method
- Male condoms.
- Female condoms.
- Diaphragm/cervical cap.
- Copper IUD.
- Tubal ligation.