What You Need to Know About the Birth Control Pill

by | Feb 2, 2019 | Health Articles, Women's Health

Ever wondered what’s really going on when you take the birth control pill? In this post I’m covering exactly how it works and its advantages and disadvantages so you can make the best choice for yourself when it comes to birth control.

I was on the Birth Control Pill in my teens for about a year or two before coming off of it. I took it mainly to regulate my cycle and to reduce menstrual pain, and I was only about 17 when I made the decision not to take it any longer.

For me it never felt quite right to take it, but does that mean I think it’s bad for everyone? Health-wise, it’s not ideal. But it’s a method for preventing pregnancy that is best for many people when we consider other factors.

In this post I’m going to cover what the birth control is, how it works, its advantages and disadvantages as well as what I personally use!

Monthly Cycles: The Basics

To understand how the pill works, it’s handy to first understand the basics of how our monthly cycles work.

A normal cycle lasts anywhere from 25-35 days and consists of 3 specific phases: follicular, ovulation, and luteal. The first day of your period is the start of the follicular phase. Estrogen increases gradually until ovulation occurs around the middle of your cycle when an egg is released into the Fallopian tube and carried away to be fertilized or to die. After ovulation we enter the luteal phase where progesterone becomes the dominant hormone and once tapered off, our uterine lining sloughs off which marks the start of the cycle all over again.

How the Birth Control Pill Works

The birth control pill has one simple objective: it works by stopping ovulation altogether due to the estrogen and progestin (synthetic progesterone) it contains. It also:

  • reduces menstrual blood flow
  • thins the lining of your uterus, making it difficult for an egg to implant if it were to become fertilized
  • inhibits the development of egg in the ovaries
  • thickens cervical mucus to prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg

The pill is both a very effective and high-risk form of contraception as it carries along with it a number of potential side effects, some of which can be particularly harmful.

Advantages

  • 99% with perfect use, however it’s considered 92-97% with typical use (source: Planned Parenthood Toronto)
  • May reduce acne
  • Can regulate cycle length and reduce pain associated with PCOS and other reproductive conditions

Many people find the pill great for relieving symptoms related to certain health conditions. Just keep in mind that the pill is not addressing the underlying causes of ailments, but rather masking them instead. Once off the pill, these symptoms tend to return. It’s important to understand what you’re dealing with and why.

Disadvantages & Side Effects

  • Enlarged/swollen or tender breasts
  • Low libido
  • Acne
  • Digestive problems
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Mood swings, anxiety and/or depression
  • Irregular bleeding or spotting
  • Nausea
  • Increased risk of blood clots and stroke
  • May increase risk for certain cancers such as breast cancer and cervical cancer
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Nutritional Deficiencies

B-vitamins: The pill depletes vitamins B2, B6, B12 and folic acid (along with others including vitamin C and E). These nutrients play critical roles with assisting in the production of feel-good neurotransmitters such as seratonin and dopamine and serotonin. B vitamins are also required for energy and adrenal function and deficiencies can manifest as anxiety, depression, nervousness and tension, especially low B12. Lack of folate is linked to depression and neurological birth defects. Adequate levels of B6 are required to remove excess levels of progesterone in the body, and when we’re literally ingesting progesterone, this vitamin is readily used up.

Make sure you’re eating plenty of B-vitamin-rich foods if you’re on the pill such as eggs, leafy greens, fish, turkey, and nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds and almonds. Additionally, you can consider taking a B-complex supplement.

Magnesium: Hundreds of chemical reactions in the body require magnesium. It’s essential for bone health, relaxing our heart and other bodily muscles, maintaining nervous system function and energy production. Low energy and fatigue when taking the pill is a common complaint.

I always tell people that when you think of magnesium, think green. The best sources of magnesium is dark green leafy vegetables! Supplementation is also easy to do. 200mg is an average starting dose, but speak to your natural healthcare practitioner if you have any questions about dosage or brand.

Selenium: Most people get enough selenium as it’s found in a wide range of plant foods, and we only require trace amounts. But it’s required nonetheless and it’s an essential mineral for thyroid function, healthy reproduction, preventing cancer (low amounts have been linked to cancer) and protecting your cells from oxidative damage. Brazil nuts are one of the most fantastic sources of selenium. You can also consider a good quality multivitamin + mineral combo if you’re concerned about your levels.

Zinc: Zinc is another mineral shown to be influenced by oral contraceptives. It’s needed for healthy skin and other tissues, immune function (super important!), sexual function, growth and development and even detoxification. It’s recommended that zinc supplementation is taken in combination with copper as it can offset mineral balances, so be sure to speak to your healthcare practitioner before supplementing. Otherwise, foods like lamb, beef, eggs, oysters, leafy greens and pumpkin seeds are great sources of zinc.

Should You Take The Birth Control Pill?

The answer to this question is ultimately up to you! Everybody is different and it’s important that you determine what’s best for you when choosing a birth control method. Some things to consider include:

  • Efficacy
  • Convenience/spontaneity
  • Side effects
  • Cost
  • Medical conditions
  • Partner reliability/communication
  • Environmental concerns
  • Maintaining fertility for when/if you want to have more kids
  • How often the method must be used or how permanent it is
  • Your values

Birth control is a personal choice and all methods have advantages and disadvantages. It’s important to be educated about your options and to choose one that ultimately makes you feel most comfortable and at ease.

I personally choose not to take hormonal birth control because I don’t want to manipulate my hormones, nor do I want to take on the associated side effects or risks. I’ve learned how to follow Fertility Awareness so that I can maintain side-effect-free birth control and a healthy, normal functioning reproductive system.

Does that mean natural birth control such as Fertility Awareness is the be all end all? Well, no. I do think that sex education regarding natural pregnancy prevention can be significantly improved but at the end of the day, as long as we’re properly informed about our options, the choice is up to us.

I’d love to hear from you: do you take hormonal birth control or do you choose not to take it? Leave me a comment below!

by Meghan Livingstone

Note: this post may contain affiliate links. Learn more here.

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6 Comments

  1. katie

    Thank you so much for posting this! It has helped me realize I made the best discussion. I literally just went off on Sunday and already I have clarity. No one ever tells you how the pill can mess with your digestion system!! It is now Wednesday and got my period and with that my terrible cramps but I rather deal with that then the nausea, headaches and constipation. I am so thankful Meg for all your wonderful blogs and videos. You truly have made such a wonderful impact on my life. Can’t thank you enough!!

    Reply
    • Meghan

      So happy to help Katie!! xoxoxo

      Reply
  2. Ruth

    Hi Meghan! I started taking the birth control pill for acne a few years ago and it worked really well. However, I decided to stop taking it about a month ago and my acne came back even worse and my hair is falling out! I did some research and I’ve been taking Vitex supplements for a few weeks which has helped my skin a bit but my hair is still falling out in big clumps. Do you have any ideas for what I can do for it?

    Reply
    • Meghan

      Hi Ruth! Vitex can be a great supplement. Glad it’s helping your skin. As for further recommendations, you’d be best to work with a naturopath who can look into everything as I don’t have your full health history. Have you had your thyroid hormone levels checked? You may want to look into that as low thyroid function can cause hair loss! 🙂

      Reply
      • Fior

        Hi Meghan! I just read up on the your blog you posted about menstrual cycle. And then I started reading this blog about birth control. I’ve had my IUD for 10 years it’s been changed through out time. But I want to get off birth control for good I don’t want to have anymore children. What is the natural path to go through birth control free? I just want to have some clarity about it before I make my final decision. Just want to add I’m 41 years old.

        Reply
        • Meghan

          Hey Fior! If you are interested in getting off birth control, besides speaking to your doctor first about the next best steps, you may find it helpful to learn about Fertility Awareness which utilizes several methods for tracking your body/menstrual cycle. Here are a few resources I recommend: the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, Red Tent Sisters (they have a website), and you may also find my blog post about how I track my cycle useful. You can just search for that here on my website! Hope this helps xx

          Reply

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MEGHAN LIVINGSTONE, CNP

Hi, I’m Meghan. I’m a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, blogger, and YouTuber with a passion for healthy, simple living. I’m here to inspire you to listen to your body, eat mindfully and wholesomely, and create a fulfilling life that’s completely unique to you.

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