Lately I’ve had an abundance of women, from all walks of my life, talk to me about coming off the oral contraceptive pill.
As a naturopath, this please me VERY much, because I know how much life can change when you move away from synthetic hormones and allow your own, natural hormones to kick back in, and naturally balance.
HOWEVER, I also know that coming off the pill can mean complete havoc for a lot of women.
When I was 22, I came off the pill for good (after having tried many times previously). It took me a good two to three years to truly get my hormones back in balance, and I know that for some women, coming off the pill can entail a LOT of undesirable signs and symptoms. For me, it was bad acne and irregular periods. For many, it can be a LOT worse. And for some, the body will re-adjust quite quickly. It’s a very individual experience.
If you’re thinking of coming off the pill, OR, you’ve already done it and are experiencing some unpleasant signs and symptoms as a result, I’d love to shed some light on several aspects of the process.
What we all need to understand about the pill
Society needs a proper education about how the pill works within the body. While this is not a blog post about the pharmacology of the oral contraceptive pill (which, as naturopaths, we do study), I would like to highlight a few key points about taking it that MANY women have not had explained to them:
- The bleed you have when you’re taking the sugar pills in your 28-day pill sheet, is not a ‘period’ as such – it’s a withdrawal bleed, from the cessation of the 21 days of hormonal pills you’ve just had. There is no egg being flushed from the body (which is what happens with a natural cycle).
- You don’t ovulate while you’re on the pill. Typically, you would ovulate around day 14 of your natural menstrual cycle. This process is the very source of your reproductive capacity as a woman, and once you come off the pill, your body essentially has to re-learn how to ovulate again.
- When you come off the pill, your body needs time to re-balance its natural reproductive hormones. For some women, this can be a long, frustrating process. For some, it can happen quickly.
- The pill has the potential to powerfully impact your mood, because it affects your hormones. We all process pharmaceuticals differently, but I don’t say this lightly: the pill can drastically alter how you feel about life on a day-to-day basis.
- The pill can remain in your system after you stop taking it, sometimes resulting in a process called ‘oestrogen recycling’, where the synthetic oestrogen in the pill can continue to exert an effect on your cells even when you’re no longer taking the pill.
- The pill can be used as a band-aid for symptoms of chronic reproductive conditions such as endometriosis, but at no point is it ever ‘healing’ such conditions. It is absolutely, 100% possible to overcome such conditions, without the use of the pill. I wish more women knew this, so they could make more informed choices.
- The pill will never result in ‘balanced hormones’. Your hormones can only exist in their natural, balanced state, when they have nothing synthetic overriding them. Achieving balanced hormones IS possible, but it will require dedication to supporting your optimal hormonal status through diet, lifestyle, and stress management.
Benefits of coming off the pill
- Less exposure to synthetic hormones, particularly oestrogen, which is very much linked to breast cancer. We live in a world that exposes us to MANY environmental oestrogens from plastics, cleaning products, make-up, body products etc … so, coming off the pill greatly limits your exposure to a hormone that can be harmful in excess.
- Once your hormones are back on track, it’s likely that your mood will also level out and, you’ll get your libido back!
- You may lose weight, as the high dose of oestrogen in some versions of the pill can lead to weight gain and excess fluid retention.
- Your liver will be under MUCH less stress (the liver is responsible for clearing the body of the high doses of synthetic hormones in the pill).
- If you fully support your body in naturally balancing her hormones, you’ll naturally be more fertile. It’s wise to do this some time BEFORE you want to fall pregnant.
- By coming off the pill, you allow your body to naturally fulfil its most innate, natural cycle: menstruation! I think it’s truly incredible that we have this cycle that is naturally supposed to be guided by the 28-day cycle of the moon (yep, these two cycles have LONG since been intimately connected). Honouring that, and doing all you can to support your healthiest hormones, is to honour being a woman, no matter whether you want babies or not.
- You give your body a chance to truly be WELL. If you get the right advice, and your diet and lifestyle are supportive of keeping your hormones balanced, your body will function optimally, without the influence of anything synthetic.
Supporting your body when coming off the pill
Depending on your experience after a few months off the pill, you may want to consider getting specialised advice from a naturopath, nutritionist, TCM doctor, or other holistic health practitioner that can support your body in getting back to optimal hormonal balance and function. Some tips that I often give women coming off the pill (or, women who are struggling AFTER coming off the pill), include:
- Support your liver function by eating lots of organic green vegetables, and organic leafy green salads.
- Take a top-quality liver detoxification supplement to clear excess oestrogen from your system (please consult a qualified practitioner about particular supplement / dose / protocol).
- Minimise sugars. Refined sugar is HIGHLY inflammatory and WILL interfere with your bodies natural ability to achieve a balanced hormonal status. Stick with fresh, high-fibre fruit, and if you really crave sweet treats, go for wholefood sweets that use natural foods as their sweeteners (although, the term ‘sugar is sugar’ is relevant here – don’t overdo it!).
- REALLY minimise alcohol. Alcohol raises oestrogen levels, and this is the exact OPPOSITE of what you want when you come off of the pill.
- Moderate caffeine. If possible, cut back to one coffee per day, and substitute with black or herbal tea if you’re used to having multiple caffeinated drinks daily. Better yet, completely cut coffee, and stick with tea. Caffeine raises cortisol, which wreaks havoc on your delicate reproductive hormones.
- Include a LOT of fibrous foods in your diet. Really up the vegetables in particular, as often as you can. Fruit is great in moderation, and wholegrains are also a great source of fibre. Fibre is ESSENTIAL for cleansing the bowel – it literally scrapes toxins (including old, synthetic hormones) from the walls of your digestive tract, so they can be carried out of the body. This will help prevent oestrogen recycling.
- Keep up water consumption.
- Avoid poor meat and dairy sources. Conventionally raised meat and dairy are often pumped with synthetic hormones and antibiotics, which do you zero good at any time, but especially when you are trying to get your hormones balanced.
- Exercise, as often as you can. It really doesn’t matter what you do, just as long as you get your body moving and your blood pumping, often. I used yoga to heal my hormones – it’s a powerful endocrine balancer, and all the twisting and crunching of your organs is fantastic for the liver.
Sure, the pill is great for contraception. BUT, this comes at a price. (I won’t go into many of the other forms of hormonal contraception, other than to say that these also come at a price). I make absolutely zero judgement about each woman’s contraceptive choices – if you feel strongly that you want to take the pill so that you don’t get pregnant, do that!! I see female clients who are on the pill (and other hormonal contraceptives), and that’s perfectly fine. We do what we can to support them around this.
But, can I be candid, and suggest condoms? It seems that with so many women that I talk with, condoms are just not an option. I can understand that they’re not the most desirable option for many, BUT, if you’re truly looking to get away from synthetic hormones, you may want to consider moving this way. All it takes, is a little vigilance. Be careful, and you won’t get pregnant using condoms. Also, YOU get to choose when it comes to condoms. NOT your other half / the person you are having sex with. I have never given anyone the option of NOT using a condom since I’ve been off the pill.
If you’re not going to be 100% committed, don’t take this path, but I have to say that for me, vigilance when it comes to protecting myself from getting pregnant is nothing, compared to what I was dealing with while I was taking the pill (and in the ensuing post-pill years). It’s worth some thought. ESPECIALLY if you want to be a mama.
Do the work for YOUR hormones, and YOUR hormones will work for you when you want them to.
Please, don’t underestimate just how powerful your precious female hormones are when it comes to how you feel EVERY SINGLE DAY. If you know you don’t feel good on the pill, and you want to come off it, seek support. If you’ve had trouble coming off it, seek support. There IS a way to get you back in balance.