47: Long-Term Dangers of Birth Control Pills

birth control and hormones

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.

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Reader Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

    • 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 (http://amzn.to/25xumeR) 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.

    • 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.

  3. Therefore you should use Natural Cycles 🙂 A way of tracking your fertility and finding your most fertile days, it’s so good —> http://www.naturalcycles.com

  4. 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! 🙂

  5. 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!

    • 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…

    • Hi Melissa- have you cut out dairy completely?

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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. 🙂

  8. 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

    • 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

    • 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.

  11. 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?

  12. 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!

    • 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?

  13. 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?

  14. 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!
    Best!

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