047: Mary Lee Snodgrass on the Long-Term Dangers of Birth Control Pills

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Wellness Mama » Episode » 047: Mary Lee Snodgrass on the Long-Term Dangers of Birth Control Pills
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The Wellness Mama Podcast
047: Mary Lee Snodgrass on the Long-Term Dangers of Birth Control Pills

Pharmacist Mary Lee Snodgrass and I discussed the overmedication of America in our last episode, and she is back to talk about one of the root causes for health problems (and one of the leading causes of prescription medication use), hormone imbalance. In this episode, we discuss how pharmaceuticals can affect and deplete hormones and how nutrient deficiencies also play into that cycle.

Mary Lee explains the complexity of hormones in the body and how the ovaries and our adrenal and thyroid glands work together by balancing in a triangle. She specifically talks about how hormonal contraceptives and birth control pills can interrupt the natural production of hormones and also cause nutrient deficiencies, leading to further problems.

We talk about how she has seen the rise of hormone-related problems in recent decades and how addressing nutrient deficiencies and hormone balance is a much more effective solution than taking hormones. We also focus on the significance and work of progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone in our bodies as women.

Finally, we talk about a topic that is near and dear to my heart and also very important to Mary Lee:  preconception health and preconception hormone balance. Mary Lee tells us how your health today and your body today will affect your baby’s health in the future and how to create a nurturing environment for fetal development through the foods we eat and our lifestyle.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Get Mary Lee’s Informational PDF!

To help you discover your own health answers, Mary Lee has offered her guide which shows the cascade effect that can occur from taking just one medication. To get this along with bonuses from past episodes, join the free Wellness Mama content library by clicking here.

[toggle title=”Read Transcript”]
Katie: Mary Lee, welcome back to the podcast. I’m so excited we’re talking again. In the
last episode we talked in pretty general terms about the issues that you’ve seen
firsthand in working as a pharmacist in the medical industry, but also in patients,
and all of the root causes that we’re seeing for people in their health. One of the
ones that you mentioned were that we have issues with hormones, and how
pharmaceuticals can affect hormones and deplete hormones, and how nutrient
deficiencies also play into that. In this episode, I would love to really delve deeper
into the hormone topic, because I think a lot of people listening are struggling
with a hormone imbalance of some kind, and maybe trying to figure out what that
is, or how to find out what that is, and to really understand it for themselves.

It’s a hot topic right now, hormone health. I feel like we’re really starting to
understand it more. But also the endocrine system is very complex, and it can be
a confusing topic. It’s also one that it seems like there’s not really a single pill fix,
because everything, like you said, is so interconnected, and changing one affects
others. Can you give us kind of a general primer of how the body’s hormone
system functions, and how our hormones work together?

Mary Lee: Yes. Katie, it is not a one-pill fix. It’s so complicated. We have volumes of books
written on this topic. Really, to be honest, what I feel like is the more I know the
more I don’t know. Just to kind of sum it up, imagine a triangle. You have to have
a balance of these systems. In that triangle we’ve got to balance our adrenal
gland with the thyroid gland and our ovaries. If one of those is out of whack, the
other two are out of whack. Things that get it out of whack would be all the root
causes that I spoke about earlier. So it’s really important to maintain that balance.

Katie: That makes perfect sense, and how, like you said, they’re all in a triangle
together. If you shorten one, you’re making the others longer, and you’re pulling
them all out of balance. I feel like, it’s kind of, a lot of people know that they have
a hormone imbalance, but it’s not like chronic pain or arthritis, where you know
what the cause is, and you feel it where it is. So it’s a lot harder to try to figure out
where it’s coming from and maybe what’s out of balance. I think a lot of doctors
are starting to really learn more about this, thankfully. But is there, how can
maybe someone who suspects that she has a hormone problem, but doesn’t
really know where it’s coming from, what would be a way that she could figure
out if it is a hormone imbalance and where it’s coming from, so that she could
start trying to address that.

Mary Lee: Well, first of all, you look at symptoms. But if you’re not working with a
practitioner that would even consider hormone imbalance a problem, then you
would be prescribed a lot of medications unnecessarily. Some of these symptoms
might include depression, PMS, insomnia, headaches, low libido, anxiety,
bladder issues. Also, but not so obvious, increased blood pressure, increased
cholesterol. Some people have joint pains. If you didn’t know any difference, you
would be prescribed medications for these symptoms.

There are actually three ways to test hormones, three reliable ways. The first one
is serum. You would go to your practitioner’s office and get blood drawn. Another
way is an at-home saliva test. Another way is an at-home urine test. All these
would be, I think, a good base to see where you are, and from that you would
kind of connect your results from your labs with your symptoms and realize it’s
probably going to be a hormonal imbalance.

Katie: Yeah, that makes sense. In the past, when I was trying to figure out answers for
my thyroid, and also even as far back as high school when I had acne, I would go
to the doctor and they would always, they would kind of touch on, oh, it’s a
hormone thing, so you need to take the pill. Thankfully, I never ended up taking it.
I’m very grateful now. But I feel like that is the common answer. It’s like, oh, it’s a
hormone thing, you need to be on the pill. Or, oh, it’s acne, you need to be on the
pill. Or, oh, whatever it is, you need to be on the pill. So many women are on it for
these reasons or for all these different compilation of reasons. Does a birth
control pill offer actual solutions for that, or does that further mess up the triangle.

Mary Lee: Totally messes up the triangle. Let me emphasize that. The birth control pill,
along with synthetic hormones, they just mask symptoms. This is one of my
passions, is educating people about the birth control pill and synthetic hormones.
They are like putting a square peg in a round hole. The body doesn’t recognize it.
But the biggest thing about birth control pills is they cause so many nutrient
depletions. We are put on the birth control pills at such an early age, as early as,
I’ve seen women, really, excuse me, young girls, 3 years old, on the birth control
pill. All it’s doing is masking a symptom. Whether they had acne or heavy periods
or just irregular moodiness, they will be put on the birth control pill.

But let me tell some of the nutrients that this birth control pill or synthetic
hormones can cause. First of all, B vitamins. B vitamins are essential for good
health. They make serotonin. That’s our happy chemical. B vitamins, if you’re low
in B vitamins you can have fatigue, depression, insomnia, anxiety, issues with
hair, skin, and nails, and even issues with your nerves because we need B
vitamins to keep our nerves healthy.

Another big nutrient that these birth control pills deplete is magnesium.
Magnesium is huge in the body. It’s used in over 300 functions. It’s essential. If
you’re low in magnesium, these symptoms you might experience: headaches,
migraines, constipation, insomnia, increased blood pressure. You can have heart
palpitations, fatigue, even bone loss, osteoporosis. Believe me, most people are
low in magnesium to begin with, never mind adding a birth control pill, which is
going to lower it even further. There’s lots of potential prescriptions to be
prescribed due to the birth control pill, if these depletions are not addressed.

Another big factor with the birth control pill, it depletes many trace minerals that
support the thyroid. So now we’ve got somebody that’s going to have thyroid
issues probably because of the birth control pill. This is what I see over, and over,
and over again, Katie. You’ll see a young girl put on the birth control pill say at
age 15, 16 years old, for whatever reason that’s going to mask that symptom.

The pill starts depleting magnesium and B vitamins. It usually takes about a year
or even shorter with some patients. But what will happen, these patients will get
depressed. They’ll go off to college, they come back, they’re depressed. Not
enough B vitamins. So some doctor will put them on an antidepressant.

Then, because of low magnesium, they might develop constipation. So now we
can’t poop. They also, because of low magnesium, start developing headaches
and migraines. So now they’re on a medication to treat the migraines, and even
to prevent the migraines. So that’s three more medications that we’ve just added.
Also, I see these girls, as they get a little bit older, they have a sluggish thyroid
because of the birth control pill. But that’s not addressed. So what has
happened? Now they’ve got to be treated for underactive thyroid. Now, because
they’re not making enough B vitamins to make the serotonin, they’re depressed,
as I said. You’ve got to have serotonin to make melatonin. Now these young girls,
they’re probably late 20s, can’t sleep. What happens? They’re put on Ambien, or
a sleeping medication of some sort.

So we’ve got an antidepressant. We’ve got a headache medicine. We can’t poop.
We’re depressed. We have low thyroid. We can’t sleep. Now the antidepressant
that they’ve been on for many years stops working. So a doctor will add another
one, or even worse, even worse, they’ll add an antipsychotic. You see, this is a
cascade of doom. I really emphasize this with my patients that will listen to me, if
you’re going to be on a birth control pill, understand what this is doing. Something
that will help, at least, first of all, you’ve got to really watch your diet. But you’ve
got to add a good multivitamin. I would add a good probiotic, and I would add
extra magnesium to address these symptoms due to the nutrient depletions from
the birth control pill. I’m sure you can educate your listeners about other ways …

Katie: To space pregnancies or whatever it may be, as an alternative. Because that’s
what I always find funny. That obviously is the reason that we have them in the
first place, or that’s what’s said. But it seems like the majority of the time, people
aren’t even actually put on hormonal contraceptives for contraceptive purposes.
They’re often, they start off for all these other different health problems. Because
there’s this myth, it seems like, that birth control pills “balance hormones,”
because they make your cycle regular, and they make your period light, and they
do all these things. They might help with acne. But like you’ve been talking about,
they don’t really address the root cause.

For us, like I know, I use something called the OvaCue. I’ll make sure there’s a
link to it in the show notes. But it basically is something that can plug into your
phone and be used as an app, or it’s its own stand-alone system, that has a very
scientific basis, and it measures hormone levels throughout the month, and
tracks based on vaginal pH, saliva pH, and body temperature and some other
factors, a woman’s cycle, and lets her know when she’s fertile and when she’s
not. So that’s an alternative that’s not hormone based, that’s also been really
fascinating, because I’ve learned so much about my body by actually seeing my
hormones graphed out every month. Actually through using that, I found out that I
double ovulated every month, which I didn’t know, but it makes sense.

But I think you’re so right. I think people buy into this idea that the birth control pill
is going to help them balance hormones. Balancing hormones is an important
thing. Like you just said, it contributes to everything for health. But I feel like,
going back to the last episode, that you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. For lighter
periods and a regular period, you’re trading off depression and trouble sleeping
and all these other problems. Do you feel like there are other ways to balance
hormones besides the birth control pill that are more effective? What do you
usually recommend to maybe a woman who has acne, or has hormone issues
that she’s trying to address?

Mary Lee: That’s something I have just been shocked by these young girls think periods are
bad. That they don’t like them. I’ve even had an OB-GYN tell me, “Well, my girls
don’t want to bleed.” I’m like, well, that’s a normal thing. The reason that they
don’t like it, because they have heavy, clotty, long, crampy periods. Well, that’s a
hormonal imbalance there. What you need to do is ask, well, why do we have
this. Well, that goes back to lifestyle. These girls are probably eating a lot of
processed food with a lot of grains, a lot of sugar, fast foods. All that affects our
hormones. How stressed are they? That affects our hormones.

We go back to the basics once again. Once again, Katie, the food comes in.
Remember, the food we eat today is not the food we ate. This has all happened
so quickly over the past 20, 25, even 30 years. This has come across that fast.

Katie: I find it amazing. Looking back, even, I can only speak to my own experience, but
in high school and college I had acne, and I had horribly, horribly painful periods.
I would usually end up taking ibuprofen or something, they got so bad every
month. Now with all the lifestyle changes and dietary changes we’ve made, I
don’t have cramps at all. It’s a completely, been a 180 for me. I haven’t used
contraceptives to address it at all. It’s just been purely lifestyle change.

But it makes so much sense that if you’re artificially manipulating this hormone
cascade, that’s supposed to happen every month, or much less if you’re stopping
it all together, that you’re going to mess up the body’s natural cascade of sex
hormones. Because, like you said, they’re all interconnected with the thyroid, the
adrenals, and the ovaries. Even within those you’ve got all these progesterone,
and estrogen, and testosterone, and luteinizing hormone, and follicle stimulating
hormone. When you’re artificially controlling that, you’re messing those up. I feel
like a lot of people don’t really understand how much that can make a difference.

Let’s talk about progesterone, because that’s a big, important hormone for
women, especially women of childbearing age. I get a lot of commentors on the
blog from women who have been through this exact thing that you just talked
about. They were put on contraceptives as a teenager. They went through the
whole cascade. They have the depression. They have the headaches. Now
they’re on all these medications for these. Then they want to come off the
contraceptives because they want to get pregnant. But now they’ve got all these
other underlying issues that they’ve got to address, and they’ve having trouble
getting pregnant. One of the things involved there is progesterone, which is tied
in to the fertility process. But what exactly is progesterone, and how might
someone know if they have too little or too much? What are some ways besides
contraceptives that someone could address that problem?

Mary Lee: I love progesterone. It is my favorite hormone, if you have to claim one. I love it
because it is our calming hormone. It’s a natural diuretic. It’s a natural
antidepressant. Estrogen, we call her Queen Bee. She runs the body. But
progesterone comes in and calms estrogen down. Because if we don’t calm
estrogen down, we get into estrogen dominance, which creates all sorts of
problems. Progesterone is very protective of the breasts and uterus. It is not the
same as Provera. That is the prescription progestin. Progestins are not the same
as natural progesterone. A lot of people get this confused, because you’ll get
negative feedback when you talk about progesterone, if a doctor doesn’t
separate it out. He assumes it’s progestin, or Provera. Just for your listeners to
know, it is not the same. Progesterone is naturally produced in our body. That’s
what I’m speaking about.

If you have low progesterone, Katie, it can actually start declining in your mid to
late 30s. Low progesterone will cause many symptoms, headaches, anxiety,
infertility, acne, cramping. Some women gain weight about that time. We can lose
our libido. We have mood swings and depression. PMS, that’s a huge one. Low
progesterone. Fuzzy thinking, even joint pain. It’s a big issue. In the body, stress
plays a big part here, because the body will make cortisol, which is our stress
hormone, at the expense of progesterone. That’s one of the reasons we’re seeing
earlier and earlier declines in hormones because of stress.

Katie: That makes so much sense. Based on that then, taking a contraceptive would
not actually help increase the body’s progesterone levels, because that would be
a synthetic version. Am I understanding that?

Mary Lee: That is correct. It is a synthetic version of estrogen and progesterone.
Katie: Okay. From the reading I’ve done, it seems like you see a lot of estrogen
dominance. It seems to be becoming more and more of a problem, or at least I’m
seeing more and more research on it. That’s obviously another hormone. You
said estrogen is the queen bee. Can you talk about estrogen and how it works in
the body, and also how it comes into play with progesterone. Because it does
seem like, from the reading I’ve done and the books I’ve read, people tend to be
low on progesterone and high on estrogen a lot of the time. Have you found that
as well? What are some ways that someone could address that if they perhaps
do have estrogen dominance?

Mary Lee: As I said earlier, and you said, estrogen is queen bee. We have estrogen
receptors all over the body. It’s actually used for over 400 functions in the body.
First of all brain health, memory, concentration. This is huge. Women get foggy
as they get older. Hearth health, estrogen is very protective of the heart. We
know estrogen regulates body temperature. That’s how we can get our hot
flashes and night sweats. Estrogen is essential for good sleep. We know it
hydrates the skin and keeps us juicy. Estrogen, you may not know this, helps to
regulate blood pressure and cholesterol. We see a lot of woman as they age,
they’re blood pressure and cholesterol goes up. What happens? They’re put on a
medication. Their hormone deficiency is not being addressed. Estrogen is also
important for mood, libido, and of course, bone health.

So yes, we see a lot of estrogen dominance in … You’re seeing it younger and
younger and younger. It, to me, in my opinion, all goes back to the lifestyle, the
food, the stress. What are we doing to our bodies? Because this is a new thing.
We did not used to see so much estrogen dominance. So just signs of estrogen
dominance, you’re going to have fluid retention, whether it’s in your fingers, your
rings you can’t get off, or your ankles. Breast tenderness is a huge symptom of
estrogen dominance. Nervous, anxiety, and irritability, that describes a lot of
women I know. Estrogen dominance can of course, cause heavy, crampy
periods, weight gain, mood swings. It can actually throw you into an underactive

We can treat estrogen dominance, or the imbalance, first of all looking at lifestyle.
What are you eating? What are you drinking? Are you sleeping? How stressed
are you? We treat that. Then if you’re perimenopausal or you’re menopausal, and
if you’re a good candidate for it, then we can use bioidentical hormone therapy to
replace what is low or deficient, or balance that which is out of balance.
Katie: That makes sense. Back to the idea of kind of the triangle. It does, getting, like if
progesterone’s low, will getting progesterone in the right level also help bring
estrogen down to where it’s supposed to be? Can changing one affect the other?
I know that I’ve seen a lot of writing about people who use progesterone cream,
natural progesterone creams, not the synthetics, but natural ones. Is that
something that you’ve seen with patients as well?

Mary Lee: Yes, you can help balance it out that way. Estrogen, not to get too technical, but
estrogen basically has two receptors, and alpha receptor, and a beta receptor.
The alpha receptor causes growth stimulation, and that’s good, to a point. You
don’t want that to be over stimulated. The beta receptors calm down the growth.
Progesterone comes in, turns on the beta receptors, and calms everything down,
so estrogen is kept in balance.

Katie: That makes sense. So if someone doesn’t have enough progesterone, they’re
getting too much of that alpha side, and not enough … kind of how everything in
the body, the parasympathetic and the sympathetic. Everything …

Mary Lee: Exactly.

Katie: That makes a lot of sense. I feel like the other hormone that women often ignore,
and from what I’m seeing is actually very important, and we kind of ignore it at
our own expense, is testosterone. A lot of women assume that that’s just
something that, men have testosterone. But really, women do to in smaller levels,
of course. But it’s very important from, at least what I’ve seen in the research, for
keeping those other hormones in balance. Can you talk about the way that
testosterone functions in a woman’s body and how it’s different than in men, but
also how that comes into play with the estrogen and the progesterone, and do we
support that in the same way with lifestyle mainly?

Mary Lee: Yes, I can talk about. Yes, women need testosterone. Guess what? Men need
estrogen too. It’s just at different percentages. Testosterone, as you know, we all
think it’s just for libido, but it’s not. Testosterone gives us a sense of well being.
We feel good. It helps to increase muscle mass and strength, decreases body
fat. We need that along with the progesterone and estrogen to keep our bones
strong. A lot of people don’t know this, but we need testosterone for bladder
health. There are testosterone receptors as well as estrogen receptors on the
bladder, so we need it for that. Testosterone is great. It can get out of balance
too. We go into the PCOS and all that. All that goes back to the lifestyle. Whether
we’re sleeping. What are we eating? Are we active? What are we drinking?
How’s our stress? If testosterone is too high, it’s going to throw the other ones
out of balance, too.

Katie: That makes sense. It also makes sense if, I know I’ve often heard that estrogen,
too much estrogen can lead to weight gain, and testosterone helps to bring that
down, which makes sense, because every 16-year-old boy that I know tends to
not struggle with weight, and they have plenty of muscle, plenty of energy, and
they sleep a lot. It makes perfect sense that they’re all tied in like that.

You’ve mentioned a couple times that synthetic hormones are not the same as
the naturally occurring ones in our body, which makes perfect sense. But can you
explain a little bit more natural versus synthetic hormones, and when someone
does have a true imbalance, is there a natural form that they can turn to to help
that, or is lifestyle really the best option?

Mary Lee: Okay, so there’s a huge difference between synthetic and natural hormones. Like
I said, a lot of people just clump that all in together. A synthetic hormone, as I
said earlier, is like putting a square peg in a round hole. Examples of synthetic
hormones, birth control pills, Premarin, Activella. Let me just tell you a little bit
about Premarin. Have you ever heard what Premarin is made out of?

Katie: I’ve heard, but I’d love to have you explain it, because I don’t know that I can,
being this pregnant and nauseous.

Mary Lee: Premarin is, listen to what I said, Pre-ma-rin, pregnant mare’s urine. That
estrogen is not our body’s estrogen. Somehow, this is shocking, the
pharmaceutical industry convinced medical doctors that it was better for a
female’s body to use pregnant mare’s urine instead of their own estrogen. Think
about that. Probably the same group convinced women that formula was better
than breast feeding, years ago. That’s what we’re putting in our bodies, and we
don’t want to do that.

With bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, we are mimicking nature. We’re
using hormones that your body would recognize, because it is your body’s
hormones. That’s the biggest difference. We give small, physiologic doses, not
big, pharmacologic doses. There is not one size fits all. Everybody is
individualized with their dosing.

Katie: That makes sense. For some women it may be as simple as reducing stress and
getting enough sleep, and optimizing magnesium and B vitamin levels. But some
women can benefit then probably in more of a short-term way from a small
amount of natural hormone, to just help their own body start to create that again.
Is that what you’re saying?

Mary Lee: Yes. Yes. Especially the perimenopausal/menopausal years. We’re living longer
than we ever have. Hormones are preventive health. When I do hormone
consultations with somebody, I always tell them, I’m not trying to make you feel
25. I want you to feel good where you are, get your symptoms minimized, and
support heart, brain, bone health. That’s for moving forward with your health.

Katie: Yeah, that makes sense. I think the Premarin industry is definitely a controversial
one. I know there’s been some recent controversy surrounding them, because
they truly are, to put that in perspective for women, harvesting the urine of
horses. That’s what you’re putting in your body. If you can imagine, it’s not a very
pleasant experience for the horses either, and so a lot of people are up in arms
about that. But that makes sense that the natural is always preferable whenever

One of those other pillars of that original triangle that you talked about was
thyroid. I know that this is a very hot topic for a lot of women. It was definitely an
issue for me, and one that took me years to get addressed. Lifestyle talk about
thyroid problems for a minute, specifically how thyroid problems can contribute to
other hormone imbalances in the body, and how a woman might notice if she
thinks she could be having a thyroid problem, and when it would be a good time
to go talk to a doctor. Because that is one that seems like is harder to remedy
with just lifestyle. There are women who do tend to actually need a thyroid
prescription. But how would a woman know that, and how is that going to affect
the rest of her hormones.

Mary Lee: Thyroid’s huge. You may not know this, but in 2014 that was the number 1 drug
prescribed, Levothyroxine. I’m sure it was probably pretty close in 2015. We just
haven’t heard yet. That is a big change I’ve seen in pharmacy. It was rare we
dispensed a prescription for underactive thyroid, or even overactive thyroid. Once
again, you step back and ask, why is this? This is new. The testing has not
changed. Something has changed. There again, lifestyle, stress, food, other
medications, hormone imbalances whether it’s from your adrenal glands, or too
much estrogen that can throw your thyroid out of whack.

There are so many symptoms of low thyroid. Some of the obvious ones are cold
extremities, dry skin, low libido, scalp hair loss, or many people start losing the
outer third of the eyebrow, weight gain, anxiety, headaches, that’s a big one, high
cholesterol, guess what, infertility, another one. There are a lot of symptoms. The
problem with thyroid is the testing. Most doctors are only testing like a TSH and a
T4. That is not enough, because if you fall within the normal of that, they’re going
to say, “Well, it’s not thyroid. Let me give you an antidepressant instead. Let me
give you something to treat your headaches instead.” So you’ll get a lot of
unnecessary prescriptions once again. You have to expand the testing, look at it
broader, and listen to the patient’s symptoms. If they’re within the normal range,
but they’re low normal, you need to be thinking about, “I need some thyroid

Now a lot of times with thyroid, I do, with my patients, I address, “I wonder why
your thyroid’s off?” A lot of times it’s because of stress. If your adrenals are way
overactive, your thyroid’s going to slow down. It’s a protective mechanism. If
you’re in estrogen dominance, that’s going to throw your thyroid off. You don’t
want to necessarily just throw somebody on thyroid medicine. You want to treat
the estrogen dominance first. Once again, we all get back to treating the root
causes, asking why and treat the why.

Katie: That is so logical. You mentioned earlier with birth control pills and hormones
how that can affect thyroid. It seems like that’s also a very common prescription,
is birth control pills. It makes sense in the last few decades that’s become so
much more common that we’d be seeing these thyroid problems as well, and
especially with sleep and all these other factors that we’re contributing to.

How would a woman … So you’re saying the testing ranges should be expanded
a little bit. I’ve read that also and how, it makes sense that the current ranges we
have are based on averages, but typically people who go in to get tested are
people who suspect they have a thyroid problem, so the averages are almost
based on the problem, sort of. I love that that’s the approach that you take, is
getting women to work with their doctors to address that, even if it’s not
necessarily medication at the beginning, but addressing all of those other
symptoms and factors to try to get it in range without just going on an
antidepressant, which sounds like it might also affect the thyroid eventually.

Mary Lee: It will. Yes, it will.

Katie: So it can pull everything out of balance.

Another topic that I think really related to hormones that really affects a lot of
people listening, and that you and I have talked about a little bit, is preconception
health, and preconception hormone balancing. Like I mentioned, I have a lot of
even friends locally, and friends that I’ve talked to that do the whole hormone
cascade. They get on the pill in hormones, and they’re on all the other
medications related to the symptoms of that. Then at some point in their 20s or
early 30s they decide they want to have kids. So they just stop with the birth
control. They’re still on all these other medications. They probably still have
underlying hormone imbalance, and then they have trouble getting pregnant, and
they may not necessarily be nourished because these medications are depleting
their nutrients. Let’s talk about how preconception health works, and maybe
some of the factors that women can optimize to make sure their bodies are really
ready for a pregnancy.

Mary Lee: Oh, Katie, I loved that you asked this, because I love preconception health. Being
in the pharmacy, I’ve seen so many changes with newborns and children. This
has been really sad. You wonder why these changes happen to these children.
They have reflux. They have asthma. They have eczema or psoriasis. They have
behavioral disorders. They have bowel disorders. Children, babies. You’ve got to
ask why is this? I feel like it starts with preconception health. Because the health
of you today, your body today, will affect your baby’s health in the future. I work
with a lot of girls at work, and I’m always saying to them, the younger ones,
prepare your womb. Prepare your womb.

These are just some recommendations I suggest to them. I try to get them off the
pill, number 1. Get your body regulated so you know what your hormones are
doing. That’s huge right there. Watch your food. We’ve got to stop the processed
food. That affects everything in your body. Eat good fats. Good fats, real butter.
We love butter. Coconut oil is fabulous, as you know. And olive oil. Get rid of all
the other fats. They’re inflammatory. We have got to change our meats. We
cannot keep going to the grocery store and get these meats with antibiotics and
hormones in it. That affects your health and your baby’s health down the road.
Eat clean meat. Lots of vegetables, and I’m not talking canned. I’m talking real
vegetables, people. That’s how we used to eat in the past. That’s what we’re
supposed to eat. We have to eat that today.

If you’re going to do dairy, try to get raw dairy. I know it’s hard to find. Fermented
foods are essential to gut health. Healthy gut, healthy body. You’ve heard me say
that before. This is going to determine your baby’s gut health, is your gut health.
Let’s drop the artificial sugars. Stop these Diet Cokes. Stop these diet foods. That
affects your thyroid, your gut, and even your brain. Those are your foods. We
want to get your gut healthy. As I said, your foods affect your gut. We have got to
get on a good probiotic. Remember, as I said earlier, we have trains of bacteria in
our gut. It is the mother of our body. It is how we stay healthy. We need a good
probiotic every single day. We want to repopulate that gut with good bacteria.
Because if you think about your history, if you’ve had an antibiotic, it is like a
shotgun going off in your gut. Not only is it killing the bad bacteria, but it’s killing
the good bacteria. If you don’t repopulate your gut, you’re going to get out of
whack. Gut health is essential for your child’s health.

You’ve told me about the movie Microbirth. I found that amazing. It was so simple
as to why we’re having issues with our babies these days. It is through the
natural birthing process, the vaginal birth, that the baby starts to populate his gut
with good bacteria. That’s the first step. The second step is skin to skin. We’re all
clothed in gowns and don’t want the baby to touch anybody, but we need skin to
skin contact with that baby, because you’re transferring good bacteria to that
baby’s gut. Then breastfeeding, essential for your child’s gut health. So just that
birthing process alone is going to help populate your child’s gut with good
bacteria, so he won’t have these issues of asthma and skin issues and eczema
and behavioral and gut issues.

Managing your stress, another way to prepare the womb. We have got to calm
down. We cannot get so worked up and stay on all the time. It goes back to being
still, sitting quietly, gathering yourself. I read this somewhere, and I say this every
day to myself and to my consultations. Stillness is the language that God speaks,
so you have to be still.

Watch your thyroid. Make sure your thyroid’s optimal before you work on
conceiving. Avoid antibiotics. Avoid the birth control pill. Avoid pain medicines
such as the opioid-based prescriptions. Lots of things that we can do to prepare
the womb. None of that was really hard. Our ancestors did it, no problem.

Katie: Exactly. I think that that alone makes such a drastic difference, because it makes
sense, even going back to what you said before. We can’t give what we don’t
have. If we don’t nourish our own bodies, we can’t give that to our babies. That
process can take a little bit longer than just the 1 month it takes to get pregnant. I
think that’s such an important reminder to so many of us to nourish our bodies
before, during, and after pregnancy especially.

Is there anything else related to hormone health that you want to make sure that
women understand or know? Or do you feel like that those are going to be the
big things, like the lifestyle factors that we just talked about, and diet, and sleep,
and stress being the big ones.

Mary Lee: Yes, I do. I don’t want people to think you just slap on hormones to get healthy.
You need to be healthy first, and then if you have an imbalance, or deficient in 1
or more hormones, then you can use a bioidentical hormone therapy. But your
whole answer is your lifestyle. You’ve got to start addressing that. That’s how you
take back control of your health, is by addressing your lifestyle, and your food,
and your stress, and your sleep, and you should be a healthy female moving into
the future.

Katie: Perfect. Again, that’s what I love about your approach. You’re not saying there’s
never a time and a place for medicine. But you’re saying it needs to go hand in
hand with lifestyle, and that it shouldn’t be a long-term solution, but one just to
help the body get back to homeostasis, which I love. I appreciate your time,
again, in being here. I can’t wait till our next episode, when we’re going to tackle
another kind of triangle, of the heart health, blood pressure, cholesterol, all that,
and how that’s all intertwined, because I know that’s also a big topic for that. So
look for that in the next episode. Thanks, Mary Lee, for being here.

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Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


26 responses to “047: Mary Lee Snodgrass on the Long-Term Dangers of Birth Control Pills”

  1. Beth Kalinsky Avatar
    Beth Kalinsky

    Hi Wellness Mama!
    I have been on birth control now for 14 years (I am 37 years old) and I have been wanting to get off my birth control for years but honestly very nervous of whats going to happen to my body. I have talk to my doctor about it and she wasn’t very helpful.
    Are there other sources to read on this issue? I want to get off my birth control and hearing this podcast was really interesting and helpful!!!
    Thank you so much for all your help!

  2. Cheryl Avatar

    My daughter was diagnosed with PMDD during her first year of college. She has been on birth control for the past 7-years. As she looks forward to starting a family, she is scared to death to stop birth control as her PMDD is awful. How would you recommend she start this process?

  3. Catherine Avatar

    Hi Wellness Mama!

    Thank you for the great post! I just had a baby in February, and went back on birth control because I have PCOS and experienced terrible PPD after the birth of my baby. I have been on and off birth control for 10 years, but haven’t had success with coming off and hormones balancing naturally. I didn’t hear Mary speak about how to balance hormones after the pill or with existing hormone imbalances. I saw you mention bio identical progesterone cream? Would bio identical progesterone pills do the same? Is it possible to come off these medications successfully? I’m frustrated by it all, because it doesn’t seem possible to balance hormones naturally (at least from my experience). I have been making drastic diet and lifestyle changes since December 2014, and plan on sticking with them for life. Have you known of heard of ladies who have had success going off the pill and hormones regulating with the suggested diet and lifestyle changes? I guess I’m just looking for hope here before I embark on another journey to achieve balance. Thanks again for the info, and I hope to hear from you!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      I personally used natural progesterone cream to help balance hormones with great results. Is there a naturopath or functional medicine doc near you who could help with the transition?

  4. Tia Avatar

    I too was on birth control but as a contraceptive. I have since stopped and almost immediately noticed a flair up in cystic acne like never before. 3 years later and I am still dealing with acne and what seems to be a real hormone imbalance (irregular periods, getting better) I have a healthy lifestyle, eat plenty of fats and vegetables and avoid processed food, gluten, sugar and dairy. I lightly exercise and take vitamins like vitex, maca, vitamin d and kelp. I feel like I am on my way to recovery but it’s hard to tell when nothing visible has changed. My most obvious concern is the acne seeing as my periods seem to be getting a bit more regular. Is anyone in a similar situation that may have found solice in something in particular?

  5. Kate Avatar

    Thank you for this post. My mom and aunt have both Suffered with health issues directly related to birth control use. My mother just had her second pituitary tumor surgery, but will likely lose her sight anyway. I was blessed with a possible stroke as a child and was therefore advised against using birth control. Now as a mother and a Christian, I have come to realize that God is the author of all life and contraception interferes with His holy will. If one feels they must intervene with His agenda, then there is always natural family planning.

    1. Caitlin Avatar

      I am so sorry to hear about your Mama! I will pray that the Lord fully restores her sight and blesses her with good health.

  6. Ashlee Avatar

    I too have been on birth control since age 16 and have come off recently. It’s been three months and I haven’t had a period. My acne did flair up slightly since stopping but otherwise I feel amazing !! My new Gyno told me that before I was on a really high dose of estrogen birth control and for my weight it should not have been that high. I’m wondering now if my body will ever readjust to the lower level of estrogen. I also noticed that since going off the pill my body fat has decreased which I know can also lead to Amenhoria.

  7. Kathy Gibson Avatar
    Kathy Gibson

    Concerning the birth control pill, some people consider it to be possibly abortive (by affecting the thickness of lining of the uterus). Its important to research any method of birth control

    1. Kathy Gibson Avatar
      Kathy Gibson

      I was referring to the REGULAR birth control pill. Supposedly there is a version of the pill that is ok (in regards to abortive aspects). I cant say for sure having never studied it. I highly suggest studying the different ways the pill is supposed to prevent pregnancy. HOW any method of birth control works.

  8. Sherri Avatar

    Hello, I would just like to throw this out there too that having a Tubal Ligation can also cause havoc on our hormones. I had mine done 7 years ago and I’ve had issues every since and only got worse last year. I never knew of the side effects. I had all my levels checked and everything was out of balance. Diet,and supplements have helped tremendously but I’m still not where I would like to be. There is a syndrome called PTLS post tubal ligation syndrome you can research it and find tons of info and I’m also in a support group on Facebook for this. I’m actually considering having mine reversed and hope I feel even better a lot of women report relief afterwards. I know there are some that may not believe this but I just thought I would let people know. I was also on the pill several years ago as well and I’m sure that didn’t help things. I hope my input helps someone. 🙂

  9. Lindsey Avatar

    Hi, Katie!

    This was an amazing podcast! Thank you so much for sharing it! As someone who is 5 months postpartum with my second child and can’t seem to shed these last 10lbs I’ve really been researching hormone imbalance so I found this podcast extremely insightful. My question is regarding a progesterone-only birth control. I am currently breastfeeding and, not wanting to get pregnant again so soon, my doctor suggested the “mini pill”. Since it is progesterone-only does it fall within the same criteria as traditional combo birth control? Should I be concerned it is causing an imbalance? I know Mary suggested a cream so I wasn’t sure this may be viewed the same. Also, since I’m breastfeeding, I’m concerned about what may be crossing over into my supply. Of course my doctor said it was minimal if any, but after listening to the podcast I am a little concerned.

  10. Jonathan Avatar

    The article doesn’t mention the risk of blood clots and strokes and pulmonary embolisms from birth control pills. It’s very real.

  11. Melissa C. Avatar
    Melissa C.

    I have horrible endometriosis and when I get my period I am unable to walk, eat or do anything but lay down and scream in pain. My abdomen literally swells out 4 inches. I started having this issue when I turned 14 and I was prescribed birth control at age 16. I quit taking birth control about 4 years ago and since I’ve been off the pill I’ve noticed my symptoms rapidly worsening. Having endometriosis has had a negative affect on my health, my work, my family and my love life. I’m at a loss for what to do and am at my wits end with the whole thing. I eat healthy, whole foods, I stay away from grains and plastics, and I use red raspberry leaf and other herbs religiously but the only thing that ever seemed to help was the birth control. I don’t want to go back on the pill but feel there is no alternative to stop the pain. I need help, especially since I just started working at my dream job and cant go home when the pain hits. All the doctors I’ve seen want to put me back on the pill… do you have any advice for someone in my situation?

    I know you’re not a medical physician but I would appreciate any information you would have to offer. Great episode by the way!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      Hugs to you! That is so tough! Have you researched the autoimmune/endo connection? It might be a good starting place for some information on dietary and lifestyle measures that can help…

    2. Vivi Avatar

      Hi, I understand your struggles. I had surgery to remove endo from my ovaries and other parts. I found a Broda Barnes doctors who solved this issue for me with armour thyroid and natural progesterone. Best of luck.

    3. Tricia Avatar

      Melissa, After I started taking birth control, I went from an easy 3-4 day period to a 12-day period with large blood clots and tremendous bleeding. On some occasions, I would go through an overnight pad in 20-30 minutes. I had surgery, but the problems continued. It seemed that I had excessive estrogen, so I began lifting weights (kettlebells) each morning. I believe the increase in testosterone balanced my estrogen and I now have a 2-day period. I also took black strap molasses and apple cider vinegar. I no longer do any of this, but my period is still only 2-days. Wishing you all the best and better days ahead.

    4. linda Avatar

      melissa, i was also on birth control for many years specifically for endometriosis. my cramps don’t sound as bad as yours but they can still be awful. i did discover a recipe a few years ago that relieves the cramps amazingly well and it’s so easy & tasty. (my endocrinologist told me to go off birth control as it was likely contributing to other health issues i now have.) i had randomly read a blogpost on making smoothies and someone commented they made a mixed berry smoothie with yogurt and drank it early the day they normally got cramps and the cramps either disappeared or never showed up to begin with. i figured it couldn’t hurt to try and since i don’t have a blender i just pour either yogurt or milk kefir over a bowl of frozen mixed berries, and add a little stevia if needed to sweeten, and amazingly my cramps disappear (or don’t happen) too. i have no idea if this would help you but it is so easy & healthy it can’t hurt.

  12. Martine Avatar

    I am 38 yrs old and I have been on the birth control since 14 yrs old 🙁 I now believe that my hormones are unbalanced but I can not get pregnant.. Would anyone have accurate info on what I could do for my husband and I to not get pregnant or how to balance my hormones on the pill

    Thank you! 🙂

  13. Carli Avatar

    Hi Katie! As an eager listener to this awesome resource of a podcast, I was super excited to see this topic as hormones are an issue I’ve been grappling with for a while now.

    I got off the birth control pill just over a year ago (having been on it 8 years), and about 6 months in began showing symptoms of what I think might be a hormone imbalance- cystic acne, terrible PMS, anxiety, insomnia, and depression. I have been working since September to get this issue under control and I’ve tried various things such as: going dairy free (already gluten free), supplementation (Vitex herb, B complex, Krill oil, Cal/Mag/Vitamin D, and Zinc), acupuncture and Chinese herbs, along with good diet/lifestyle practices (sleep, mostly organic whole food diet, lots of veggies). While I think my symptoms have improved slightly, I’m still dealing with a lot of it, and I’m researching almost daily to find a solution.

    I have a couple questions following up on the podcast:

    1) Do you recommend any companies for at home hormone testing?

    2) You asked Mary in a couple parts of the podcast about how to FIX a hormone imbalance, but she never really got to the answer of that question. If you have a hormone imbalance, how can you go about fixing it naturally? I have read your article on this topic, but I’m wondering if Mary has any more advice on this question based on her expertise. What are the natural hormones she spoke of briefly you can use to balance hormones/ increase progesterone?

    Anyway, I really appreciate this podcast and attention on the issue of hormone imbalances and the pill. I had never heard of these potential issues in all the years I was on the pill and was shocked to find out the truth after my body had to adjust to living without it. Thank you Katie for all you do!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      SO glad it was helpful to you and thanks so much for listening! I know from experience that she and others recommend natural progesterone cream https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00XBBASS4/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=ll1&tag=wellnessmama-20&linkId=e9d233a3f555ae318f3dc7f30c407855&language=en_US) in the second half of the cycle (between ovulation and start of the period) to help balance hormones post pill… It is basically used topically for those two weeks a month to help bring hormones into balance again.

    2. Viv Avatar

      Hi Carly, same thing has happened twice to me. First time in 2001 after 12 years of bcp. Exactly same issues as you, but it was ‘diagnosed’ as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Took just over a year to feel back to normal. I found Acupuncture extremely helpful. Then it happened last summer, after 9 years of Mirena coil. This time I was aware of feeling perfectly normal on day, and going from bad to worse from the moment it came out. This made me realise that what had happened in 2001 was exactly the same thing! What is helping me is taking vitamin supplements and I see a herbalist/acupuncturist again to help rebalancing hormones. It takes time (a lot of time) but I am getting there now. Find someone to work with with experience in balancing female hormones. General physicians usually want to throw more hormones at you. Play the long game.

  14. Kavita Goyal Avatar
    Kavita Goyal

    Hormonal imbalances are occurring due to stressful lifestyle and we are making it worse by such medications. More importance needs to be given for such issues. Very informative article.

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