The Pill – Coming Off Hormonal Birth Control
Are you planning on coming off hormonal birth control pills soon? Or are you feeling a little nervous about how your body will respond when you do come off hormonal birth control pills? Arg..let alone how your skin will react!
When you are ON hormonal birth control, you are switching off your own hormone production in favour of synthetic hormones. When you are coming off hormonal birth control your body has to start back up its hormone production, and for some, this may take quite some time.
What is a normal period?
In a normal menstrual cycle, the pituitary gland produces the fertility hormones, Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH). These hormones stimulate ovarian follicles to develop. Oestrogen and progesterone are produced by the ovaries, and together they thicken the endometrium (amongst other things) to prepare your body for pregnancy.
The Pill does not regulate hormones; it switches them off.
Hormonal birth control contains various types of oestrogen and/or progesterone. The body senses that it has enough of these hormones, resulting in the pituitary gland, stopping production of FSH and LH. Pregnancy can not occur as ovulation is stopped.
Just a side note… the hormones in birth control do not have the same molecular structure as human hormones, nor do they have the same benefits.
When coming off hormonal birth control, around 80% of women get their period back within three months. For the rest, it may take longer.
What happens when you come off hormonal birth control?
When you come off hormonal birth control pills you will get an initial withdrawal bleed. This is not a real period. You will have to wait a little longer for ovulation to re-establish before your natural period will begin. Even before you get your first ‘real’ period you may experience some unwanted symptoms. Your skin might break out, PMS might be severe, increased hair loss and you may experience anxiety. These symptoms are not caused by the synthetic hormones as these leave your body pretty quickly. It is due to your body kicking up it’s hormone production.
These symptoms are caused by –
- Oestrogen withdrawal
- Surge in androgens
- Real periods, with a natural rise and fall of hormones.
- Failure to re-establish regular ovulation. Ovulation is the hallmark of a healthy menstrual cycle.
Please don’t let these symptoms trick you into thinking that your body is better off with the Pill.
The ‘period’ that you get whilst on the pill is not a real period. It is a pharmaceutically induced bleed to make you feel as though you still have a menstrual cycle. It no way reflects your natural cyclic hormonal pattern. Because of this, you can not compare your ‘period’ on the pill to your period when you come off the pill.
You also need to consider what your period was like BEFORE you started birth control. Chances are when your period returns, it will be the same as it was prior to starting birth control. If you took birth control to manage adverse symptoms of your period, the underlying problem will have only being masked, not fixed. To get a healthy menstrual cycle you need to look at what is causing the adverse symptoms and address these individually.
You need to be patient and wait at least three months to let your cycle establish itself again. Post-pill amenorrhea is diagnosed if your period has not returned for at least six months after coming off hormonal birth control. Many women come off birth control when they want to start a family, six months may seem like a very long wait.
If your cycle has not returned after three months, then supporting your body to initiate ovulation can help to get your hormonal cycle working again.
Supplements to support your body when coming off hormonal birth control.
Probiotics – hormonal birth control can damage your microbiome, so taking a good quality broad spectrum probiotic can help to populate your digestive system with beneficial bacteria. Food sources include fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut. Include some resistant starch which is considered as a pre-biotic (food for the bacteria). Sweet potato is an excellent source of resistant starch.
Magnesium – is calming to the nervous system and helps to regulate cortisol. It will help with sleep and cellular energy production. It supports insulin to reduce sugar cravings and is essential for thyroid hormones, and the production of oestrogen and progesterone. Food sources include nuts, seeds, and leafy green vegetables. As a supplement, I recommend magnesium glycinate as a gentle, yet highly absorbable form of magnesium.
Vitamin B6 – this vitamin is your essential hormone vitamin. It supports all aspects of hormonal health such as the synthesis of progesterone, healthy detoxification of oestrogen, increases feel good neurotransmitters and it is anti-inflammatory. I recommend activated B6 (pryridoxal-5-phosphate or P5P).
If your period does not return within 3 months you can move onto herbal medicines to help initiate ovulation. This is best prescribed by a qualified herbalist or naturopath.
Other dietary recommendations include cutting out the sugar, dairy, and gluten. Move to a whole food (Pegan) based eating plan that is based around plenty of vegetables, with moderate amounts of protein and healthy fats.
In the next blog post we will talk about post-pill acne and how to get your skin glowing again.