Let’s get this out of the way up front: This isn’t an article bashing birth control, because the way you choose to maintain and control your fertility is up to you. However, it’s also important to be an educated advocate for your own health. When you’re having that conversation with your provider about what birth control method is right for you, you should come to the table with the research, facts, and figures that can help you ask them how it applies to your personal health.
Hormonal birth control is a common prescription for many ailments—and they’re not just limited to irregular or painful periods. Practitioners might recommend it for a myriad of symptoms, which is another reason it’s important to know what the potential side effects are. Let me restate what we want to ensure every one of our patients knows: You know your body better than anyone else. You live in it every day, and you are the one dealing with your symptoms. So, if you’re looking to start hormonal birth control or you’re wondering if some of your symptoms could be related to being on birth control, listen to your intuition, and speak up to your doctor. Here are a few of the potential hormonal birth control side effects to be mindful of.
Birth Control & Depression
Women who use hormonal birth control have higher rates of being diagnosed with depression and needing subsequent medication. What’s more, women who are between the ages of 20 to 34 who are on hormonal birth control are at higher risks of feeling depressed and feeling the need for antidepressant medication. The data indicates that younger women are more sensitive than older women to the influence of hormonal contraceptive use, which is something to consider, depending on your age and your family’s history of depression.
Birth Control & Your Gut
Your gut is your body’s window to the world and how it functions controls just about everything. When estrogens are being processed in the body (including the ones that are in your Pill), they are actually excreted in your stool… meaning they get eliminated from your gut. Studies show us that being on the Pill can predispose you to inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
At the core of these GI diseases is inflammation, meaning the Pill may be contributing to some of this inflammation in the intestinal lining. A less serious, but still problematic, condition that occurs when the intestinal cells become inflamed is called intestinal permeability (a.k.a “leaky gut”). Intestinal permeability has been linked to worsening of autoimmune conditions, nutrient malabsorption, a compromised immune system, and negative food reactions.
On a related bacterial side note, studies have also found that the Pill can actually change the bacteria in your vaginal canal. Women who either had an IUD or were on the Pill had higher levels of unhealthy bacteria and Candida albicans strains than women who were not on the Pill. Women with no history of either an IUD or oral contraceptive had more normal (lactobacillius) flora.
Birth Control & Autoimmunity
Your hormones are huge controllers of your immune system. We know this because women who transition through menopause typically have a worsening of their autoimmune diseases or have new onset of immune-system related conditions.
Research found that taking hormonal contraceptives can actually cause changes in your immune system that can significantly increase your risk for several autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune disease such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus (SLE), Multiple Sclerosis, and Graves thyroid autoimmunity are the most researched. If you have a personal or family history of autoimmune disease, it is an important topic to bring up with your physician!
Birth Control & Inflammation
With studies showing a link between hormonal birth control and inflammation, you should be asking your physician what steps you can take to lower your chances of this inflammation affecting other vital organs—notably your thyroid function and your chances of heart disease later in life. Depending on your body’s current state of health or inflammation, you may not be a candidate for all hormonal contraceptives and may want to look at other methods of birth control.
Not all women will experience these potential side effects, but it’s important to be aware of the ways in which hormonal birth control can impact more than your ability to get pregnant (or mitigate your symptoms). You have to decide for yourself what’s best for your body, and having more information allows you to ask the questions you need to make your decision.
Wondering if hormonal birth control is for you—or wondering what other options you have? Schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation with us to learn more about how we can help you figure out the best contraceptive plan for your needs.
Dr. Cassie Wilder is a registered Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and founder of MIMC. Her passion is empowering her patients through education, understanding, and support through their healing journey. After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Wilder earned her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, a fully accredited and nationally recognized institution in Phoenix, AZ. During her clinical training, she received extensive hands-on training with many leading experts in the field of functional medicine and developed a passion for treating hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and adrenal fatigue.