Eye-opening info about the pill
Written by the Founder of Bare Biology, Melanie Lawson.
If you have teenage or young adult daughters, I urge you to read this. When I sat down to write it, I realised just how much there is to say!
Essentially, this is a terrible tale about the negative effects of the contraceptive pill, so often prescribed to young girls ‘to balance their hormones’. To take away period pain, PMS, acne, heavy bleeding, irregular cycles and more. Well, I believed that lie when I was 19 and suffered the consequences. I’m not letting that happen to my daughters, and I’m on a mission to help other mums (and girls) know what they’re dealing with. I’ve been to several lectures in the last few months with world-renowned female hormone experts, and I feel compelled to share the shocking things I learned. I didn’t know them because nobody teaches any of this at school, and doctors don’t explain this either (perhaps with the exception of a rare few, so those of you who do, please don’t take offence!).
The experts I have learnt from are Tanya Borowski (incredible and wonderful Nutritional Therapist and Functional Medicine Practitioner), Lara Briden (Naturopathic doctor and best-selling author) and Dr. Nicky Keay (Medical doctor with a stellar list of qualifications and published books). They really know their stuff and it’s worth buying their books.
The myths of the pill, sold to us as a miracle cure.*
The contraceptive pill does not ‘balance’ hormones or ‘regulate’ the cycle; it flatlines them. It literally turns them off. It takes up to 12 years from when a girl’s period starts to fully mature and calibrate into a ‘normal’ cycle. The analogy Tanya used was learning to drive. The pituitary gland is the ‘driver’ (or conductor as Nicky Keay says), and it’s learning how to get everything in harmony. Or, the driving analogy, learning how to change gear, accelerate, indicate, check mirrors and turn the steering wheel all at the same time. What does this mean? So-called ‘irregular’ cycles are natural at this age. Heavy periods are normal because young girls don’t produce much progesterone. Pain is normal (unless it’s so bad you can’t do normal daily activities, in which case it could be endometriosis). Bad skin while hormones are changing is perfectly normal and will pass. Omega-3 has been shown to be highly effective in reducing menstrual pain and problematic skin. My eldest daughter is living evidence of this.
Then, guess what happens when they come off the pill, let’s say 10 years later, and decide they want to have a baby? The body hasn’t learned to drive, the lessons were abruptly cancelled by the pill and it has to start the process from scratch. So, women think they’re infertile! And get put on other drugs (like clomid) to make them ovulate. This is the bit that shocked me the most. My mouth literally fell open in horror, as this is exactly what happened to me. I was also misdiagnosed with PCOS, which is for a separate blog post!
Hormones aren’t just produced for reproductive reasons; they’re vitally important for bones (hello teenagers whose bones are still growing), the brain, cognition, neuroprotection, GABA receptors for reducing anxiety (hello teenagers again), the heart, muscle, the immune system, central nervous system, metabolism, the GI tract, producing collagen, and the list goes on. So it’s a really bad idea to switch them all off, especially for teenagers.
A Danish study of 1.1 million women found a conclusive link between hormone contraception and depression, with the risk highest in teenage women. A study in the UK based on 264,557 women concluded: “the use of oral contraceptives, particularly during the first 2 years, increases the risk of depression. (...) Patients should be aware of this potential risk”. Quote from a recent Instagram post by Tanya Borowski, thank you Tanya).
Can we help teens appreciate their hormones?
I’m quite embarrassed to admit this, but I didn’t know that the bleed you have on the pill is not a period. I took the combined pill (prescribed to ‘help’ with heavy and painful periods) and I had a monthly bleed. There I was, thinking it was a period, but it was a ‘withdrawal’ bleed. There is no medical reason to have a withdrawal bleed on the combined pill. If I’d known that, I would have passed on all those years of bleeding, thinking it was healthy and I was having a period.
The pill suppresses ovulation and, therefore, estradiol and progesterone. Contraceptive hormones are not the real thing. If you were to take a blood test while on the pill, neither of these hormones would show. Another thing I learned, which I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know, is that menstrual cycles aren’t just there to make babies. Ovulation is ‘the main event’ as Lara Briden says of the menstrual cycle but hormones help us stay healthy and prevent osteoporosis, stroke, dementia, breast cancer and heart disease in later life. I’m peri-menopausal now and everything is making so much more sense. Hormones don’t need to be a mystery. Why isn’t this taught in detail at school? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Estradiol, for example, is heavily involved in mood. How many people do you know who say they felt depressed after going on the pill? I know plenty. Real progesterone is really important for hair and skin. Progestins (in the contraceptive pill) are ‘testosterone-like’ and can make skin conditions worse and cause hair loss. Progesterone also helps mood and sleep; progestins have been shown to increase anxiety and depression. More compelling reasons for teenage girls not to be prescribed the pill without looking at all other options first and without them having the full picture.
Professor Jerilynn Prior (an endocrinologist who has spent her career studying the menstrual cycle) says ovulatory cycles are a “creator of good health” and an “indicator of good health”. Your body can tell you something’s wrong through your menstrual cycle. Another huge reason not to switch them off.
Could we teach our daughters, and ourselves, to appreciate the vital health-giving role of hormones rather than seeing them as our enemies to be turned off? And of course learn to listen to our bodies when they’re telling us something is off, rather than switching the warning system off completely?
Some helpful resources to do further research yourselves are below, but we will continue this theme and there will be more to come soon.
*You’re all highly intelligent people with the ability to think for yourselves but obviously, don’t make any drastic changes or risk an unwanted teenage pregnancy off the back of this article. Always do your own research and do what’s right for you.