Were you prescribed the pill as a teenager to help regulate heavy, painful or irregular periods? Or perhaps you started taking it a little later as a convenient way to avoid pregnancy? You may have even started taking it to tackle acne, like many of my Clear Skin clients (and perhaps you too have discovered that as soon as you stop taking it, the acne tends to comes back with a vengeance.. 😣 ).
Whatever your reasons for taking the pill, you’re not alone – many millions of women opt for the pill for to its convenience, and many doctors prescribe it without making patients aware of the effects it may have on your health.
Firstly, do you know how the pill actually works? The pill doesn’t regulate your hormones – it switches them off entirely. When you bleed on the pill, this is not a period. It’s a ‘pill bleed’ – a medically induced bleed that doesn’t have anything to do with the natural cycling of your hormones.
What The Pill Does To Your Body
The pill shuts down your ovaries, switches off your natural hormones, and ‘replaces’ them with pseudo-hormones. These hormones are not human hormones and they are not part of normal human physiology. They don’t have the same beneficial effects as natural hormones. You see, our hormones aren’t just about pregnancy. We need oestrogen and progesterone for things like mood regulation, bone health, thyroid health, muscles and metabolism.
Think of your hormones as rivers. These hormonal rivers begin to flow when you’re a teenager and gradually carve out ‘grooves’ which they will continue to flow down. These ‘grooves’ or patterns can take up to 12 years to become a healthy and mature menstrual cycle. So if you start taking the pill before they’ve had a chance to mature, you’re essentially stopping your body from completing that process.
When you finally stop taking the pill, your periods might be very irregular, because they never had a chance to mature in the first place. It can take some time for your cycle to restart properly and those rivers to flow nicely.
Why Periods Are Important
Menstruation is a vital sign. This means that it is a reflection of your overall health. When you’re healthy, it will arrive smoothly, on time and without symptoms. Yes, really! It is possible to have a painless, healthy periods. In fact, it is normal. We often confuse what is common with what is normal, and unfortunately, unhealthy periods are very common.
Potential Side Effects of The Pill
There are other downsides to switching off your hormones with The Pill.
- Loss of libido or sex drive (because it switches off your natural testosterone)
- Hair loss (some hormonal birth control has a high androgen index which can shrink hair follicles, and the types with a low androgen index can result in hair loss when you stop taking it – a sort of ‘rebound’ effect with your own androgens)
- Weight gain (the pill interferes with insulin, causing sugar cravings, preventing muscle gain and causing fat to be deposited on the hips and upper thighs)
- High blood pressure
- Nutrient deficiencies (the pill depletes b vitamins including b12, vitamin c, vitamin e, magnesium, selenium and zinc)
- Reduced thyroid function
- Alterations in normal gut bacteria that can lead to digestive issues
- Alterations in normal vaginal bacteria that can lead to yeast infections and abnormal PAP smears
- Reduction in bone health
The pill is what we call a band-aid solution. It suppresses skin oils, so it clears up acne. Rather than balancing and supporting your hormones, it simply shuts down your ovaries and switches those annoying hormones off. Until you stop taking it, of course… then all hell breaks loose.
The truth is, the pseudo-hormones in the pill often work well to clear up acne. They strongly suppress sebum (the natural oil in your skin). In response, your skin has to up-regulate sebum production, and it will continue to do so even after you stop taking the pill. Which means that when you finally stop taking it… disaster. Even more sebum blocking up your pores than before. In addition, your natural androgen hormones will rebound and can make the situation even worse.
But, there’s good news! Post-pill acne tends to peak at about 6 months off the pill. The withdrawal process tends to last 6-12 months. After that, your skin should start to improve.
Help – What do I do?!
I know you might be feeling overwhelmed and maybe quite worried by this information, but rest assured there is a better way to manage your health and your cycles than taking the pill.
Repairing your periods naturally doesn’t require medication. It’s a much more gentle approach that works by supporting your body rather than shutting it down. Read on for my guide to healing your cycle naturally.
Healing Your Cycle Naturally
It’s time to start taking notice and taking notes. Does yours arrive late? Is it heavy or painful? Does it bring night sweats and depression with it? These symptoms are all useful indicators of your overall health, but don’t panic – if your period is less than perfect, this is exactly the information we need in order to know what needs changing.
It’s time to become a detective! That’s basically what I do in clinic, and I’ll teach you to do the same for yourself. Firstly, start tracking your periods with a period tracking app. I use Natural Cycles – you can use my link to get 20% off your subscription. This will allow you to track your symptoms and figure out if and when you are ovulating – ovulation is important as this is how we produce and benefit from those healthy hormones.
Next, we figure out what your period might** be trying to tell you. Here’s a rough-and-ready guide to what sort of things to expect:
Does your period come at least every 35 days?
If your cycle is longer than this, you might not be ovulating. We need to investigate PCOS and your thyroid health.
Do you have painful periods?
We need to look at inflammation, and you might need some supplements like Magnesium.
Do you have very painful breasts?
You might need more iodine in your diet.
Healing Acne For Good
If you’ve been using the pill to control your acne and you’re ready for a better solution, I’ve got you. I can guide you step by step through the process of balancing your hormones, repairing your cycle and ultimately getting rid of your acne, for good. Drop me an email with the subject Heal My Cycle to register interest.
** It’s important to work with a qualified practitioner who can guide you through this process.
Huge thank you to Lara Briden and her Period Repair Manual – much of this article is inspired by her wonderfully thorough research and years of clinical wisdom.