Are you on birth control? If so… do you know how it works?
If not - you’re not alone!
I’m shocked by the number of women who take it and have no idea how it actually works.
Before I went to school and became a nutritionist, I had ZERO clue how to pill *actually* worked.
My mother took me to the doctor, who prescribed it for my acne and all my friends took it so I didn’t even question it.
I had no idea of the implications it would have on my mental health.
After 10 years of hormonal birth control, coming off was one of the best things I did for my anxiety.
Now let me be very clear, I am pro-choice and I think it’s so important that women have reproductive control and freedom.
What I’m against is the lack of information young girls and women have before they are quickly prescribed the pill as a hormonal Band-Aid without knowing the potential side effects, especially when it comes to their mental health.
And what’s worse is that so many young women are prescribed hormonal contraceptives to treat things like PMS, mood swings and acne, which are just symptoms of a larger problem. One that could be addressed with proper diet and a bit of supplementation.
So if you’re like I was and had no idea the pill could actually be creating your anxiety, stick around!
After hanging out with me for the next few minutes (reading this blog) you will walk away with a better understanding of how birth control works, how it could be contributing to your anxiety and what you can do about it.
When I came off the Pill it was like a fog had lifted, I felt more alive, more clear, more myself.
I took the Pill every day for 10 years and here’s what I knew about it- it prevents pregnancy and regulates your period 👍
But of course, it’s not the whole story.
Hormonal contraceptives work by altering the levels of estrogen and progesterone in your body (and ps this particular hormonal imbalance is partly to blame for your anxiety).
If you look at a graph of hormone levels in a normal menstrual cycle versus one on contraceptives, you’ll see quite the difference. There’s basically no fluctuation.
Women using birth control pills don’t ovulate. Hormonal contraceptives stop the normal production patterns of reproductive hormones and prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs by altering the usual hormonal “cycling.”
If you’re not ovulating (i.e. releasing an egg), there’s nothing to be fertilized by sperm and you can’t get pregnant.
This was very convenient.
But the pill can actually be creating your anxiety in a few ways:
👉 compromises your gut health
👉 creates HPA axis dysregulation, impairing your stress response
👉 it creates nutritional deficiencies that trigger anxiety
At sixteen years old the pill was a godsend.
It offered up a solution to my menstrual pain and acne. I was able to come off the antibiotics I was on for my mild, but very stubborn, acne.
Even just having one tiny pimple was the end of the world when you’re sixteen, plus all my friends were on the pill … I wanted in on the action.
All of the sudden my periods were easier and lighter and my skin looked amazing.
The pill was revolutionary and quite literally changed women’s lives, giving them the choice and freedom to work outside the home.
I’m all about this. So, please know, there is NO judgment from me if you’re currently on the pill.
But did you know that one area of the body that takes an especially heavy hit from birth control pills is your gut?
Most prescription drugs alter gut flora, which includes oral contraceptives.
There’s definitely no warning label on the package saying “may contribute to microbiome disruption,” and tbh disruption might actually be an understatement.
If you experience any sort of GI issues--bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation-- this is an indication your gut flora needs some attention.
The gut is full of various hormone receptors, and the hormones that are present in birth control pills can have an effect on those receptors--sometimes a pretty severe one. This leads to altered estrogen metabolism, inflammation, and the potential to develop things like IBS, IBD, and leaky gut due to altered intestinal function.
Also … the majority of serotonin is created in your gut. Because of this gut health becomes incredibly important if you want to avoid anxiety.
Here’s the unspoken truth about birth control: women will tolerate the worst side effects just to maintain their reproductive freedom.
In 2016, a clinical trial for a promising hormonal contraceptive pill for men was halted for safety reasons. A number of the men complained of side effects such as acne and mood swings.
Which is ironic, because most health-care professionals fail to listen to women’s concerns about how the Pill might be affecting them.
Hormones influence the brain and if you change hormones you’re going to change your brain. Period.
Birth control pills are designed to disrupt the communication between the brain and the ovaries. It’s how they stop ovulation. But that communication is critical to keeping your mood balanced and preventing anxiety from hitting you up.
That’s because hormonal contraceptives introduce more estrogen into your body, this triggers the inflammatory response to kick in, which disrupts the communication network of your HPA axis.
Your HPA axis, in a nutshell, is you stress response. I wrote a blog about it HERE.
Your adrenals know exactly what’s up and respond by shooting out your stress hormone cortisol to suppress the inflammation.
Every darn day you’re popping those pills that cause the body to react, which completely overwhelms your HPA axis and it gets to a point where the body just can’t handle that sort of stress long-term.
And if that wasn’t enough, birth control pills also increase amounts of a specific protein called cortisol-binding globulin, which latches on to cortisol so your body can’t use it.
As a result, your blood is pumping with cortisol that can’t even be used to suppress all that inflammation that just keeps on rising.
It’s a non-stop vicious cycle. The pill causes the inflammatory response, the adrenals pump out cortisol to fight it, and your body binds cortisol so it can’t be used.
Over time, your adrenals can’t communicate with your brain and you’re now left with HPA dysfunction, which is a huge factor in the development of anxiety.
For one of my clients coming off birth control was the solution to releasing her anxiety. She described it as stepping out of a black and white painting, into the real world.
Within a few short weeks her world suddenly became totally manageable and her depression lifted as well!
The body needs certain nutrients to create neurotransmitters, and if it doesn’t have them, production suffers.
And the result? Anxiety.
Sometimes it really is as simple as that.
Birth control has been known to deplete a whole slew of critical nutrients including vitamins B2, B6, B12, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, and zinc.
Your body NEEDS these nutrients to build neurotransmitters.
Aside from protein (amino acids), which are the building blocks for neurotransmitters, the body also needs choline, vitamin C, the B-vitamins, zinc, magnesium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D to synthesize and regulate their production.
If you’re lacking in any of these nutrients from a nutrient-poor diet, undereating, over-exercising, or birth control use … you run the risk of insufficient neurotransmitter production, which is directly linked to anxiety.
Oh! And one more thing …
Remember how the pill works by shutting down ovulation?
Well if you don’t ovulate you do not make progesterone. Progesterone stimulates your GABA receptors. GABA is the anti-anxiety neurotransmitter.
You need GABA to feel calm.
When I came off birth control I was no longer vibrating at the same neurotic frequency I was used to. I felt so calm, so chill and so relaxed.
Was the Pill really to blame for my anxiety? Could all the emotional turbulence I had endured in my ten years of taking it have simply been avoided? I was a very emotional, moody teenager and there’s so many things that could have contributed to that but the pill was definitely one of them.
If after reading this you are tempted to cut your birth control pill out cold turkey … DON’T DO IT!
The pill has been in the driver's seat for as long as you’ve been taking it, and kicking that driver out just like that may get you into an accident.
Your hormones will need a lot of support after you stop birth control, so if you just pull the plug, anxiety may get worse before it gets better. And that’s the last thing we want to happen.
Have you heard of post-birth control syndrome?
Post-birth control syndrome is a wide-range of symptoms women will experience when coming off hormonal birth control. It generally occurs within the first four to six months after coming off and rarely goes away without taking the necessary steps to bring your hormones back into balance.
This can include, but is not limited to:
Heavy or painful periods
I highly suggest working with a nutritionist (like me 😉) or naturopathic doctor when coming off birth control, to mitigate these symptoms.
I’m not here to scare you off the pill and I’m definitely not here to tell you what to do.
I’m here to educate, empower and support you to make the best decisions for your health.
Ultimately, you are the only person who can decide what is best for you as you are the only person living inside your body.
If remaining on the Pill is the best option for you, I wholeheartedly support your decision and just know there is still so much we can do to support your mental health, while remaining on the Pill.
My program, Breaking Up with Anxiety provides women with all the tools and resources they need to support their body and mental health whether they decide to stay on birth control, or transition off.
If you’re curious about how to smoothly transition off birth control, prevent pregnancy AND get rid of your anxiety CLICK HERE to book a free consultation call with me!