How to stay healthy on or off hormonal birth control

Last week we talked about the effects that hormonal birth control can have on the body, so naturally this week we want to arm you with some solutions!

Our message here at Vitasave is always to listen to your own body and choose what is right for you. Whether this means staying on oral contraceptives or choosing to transition off there are ways you can support your body.

If you do choose to discontinue hormonal birth control use it's possible to encounter side effects while your body detoxes the synthetic hormones and transitions back into producing your own natural hormones.  

Possible side effects from stopping hormonal birth control

  • Heavy periods
  • Painful periods
  • Missing periods
  • Acne
  • Mood swings
  • PMS
  • Anxiety
  • Low libido
  • Fatigue
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Spotting
  • Bloating
  • Headaches
  • Tender breasts
  • Nausea
  • Increased appetite

This is also known as Post Birth Control Syndrome. Any of these symptoms may arise due to the imbalances promoted by hormonal birth control and the withdrawal effect from synthetic hormones being pumped into the body over time.

By supporting your body optimally this can help to reduce unwanted side effects and restore healthy cycles post hormonal birth control use. You are not guaranteed to experience the above symptoms however it's important to be aware that they may arise and that they are only temporary.

If you do decide to continue OCs it is even more important for you to support your body as much as you can on these medications so you can best avoid complications and unwanted symptoms down the road.

The severity of symptoms may differ according to the age you started hormonal birth control, how long you took it, and any underlying health conditions.

The earlier you start to support your body the better your chances the transition will be smoother for you. So how can you do this?

 

Supporting your body

Replenish nutrient stores

As we mentioned in our previous post, many essential nutrients are shown to be depleted on hormonal birth control.

Supplementing with a multi-vitamin or prenatal is thus a good idea while taking hormonal birth control or transitioning post HBC use alongside a nutritious diet that provides a variety of nutrients.

Magnesium rich foods: legumes, nuts, cacao, avocado, tofu, seeds, whole grains, and leafy greens.
Vitamin C rich foods:  citrus fruits, leafy greens, berries, kiwi, parsley, brussels sprouts.
Vitamin E rich foods:  nuts and seeds, leafy greens, avocado, spinach, butternut squash, broccoli.
Zinc rich foods: beef, pumpkin seeds, liver, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, lamb, clams, chicken breast, wild salmon, oysters, seafood.
B12 rich foods: clams, liver, trout, salmon, tuna, beef, chicken breast, eggs.
Folate rich foods: Liver, Sunflower seeds, raw spinach, cooked chickpeas, avocado, cooked lentils, eggs, clams, wild salmon, oysters, cooked kale, chicken breast.
Selenium rich foods: brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, oysters, clams, sardines, wild salmon, liver, eggs, beef, raw spinach, cooked kale.

 

Manage your stress

Hormonal birth control can disrupt the HPA axis and our stress hormones, as it can elevate inflammation, increase cortisol, and interfere with the communication between the brain and the ovaries (1).

Stress management and nourishing the nervous system are thus important parts of healing. So what might this look like?

Adopting an anti-inflammatory hormone friendly diet, getting atleast 7 hours of sleep nightly, eating blood sugar friendly balanced meals, addressing any nutrient deficiencies, consuming enough calories and nutrients, and supplementing where necessary. 

Lifestyle habits to adopt that can significantly help to reduce stress include meditation, breath work, laughing, nature therapy, and rest.

Supplements and nutrients that are especially useful in regulating the stress response may include phosphatidylserine, l-theanine, magnesium, and adaptogens like ashwagandha or holy basil. 


Reduce inflammation

Hormonal birth control has been shown to raise inflammatory markers (2)(3)(4). What's more, inflammation is often at the root of many hormonal symptoms such as PMS, acne, and menstrual irregularities. Reducing inflammation in the body can go a long way in fighting these unwanted symptoms and supporting healing.

Inflammation can be a result of poor diet, infections, medications, toxins, and high stress. When you address the root cause of where your inflammation is coming from you can improve your overall health and symptoms over the long-term.

Your diet is always the obvious place to start as the Standard North American or Western Diet is typically highly inflammatory and void of nutrients. Include plenty of whole foods, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and quality protein and avoid the processed, packaged, and fried foods whenever possible.

Omega 3 fats, turmeric, extra virgin olive oil, and ginger are some of the best anti-inflammatory foods you can consume as they can help to modulate inflammation.

Removing infections, healing the gut, removing toxins from your environment, and managing your stress are all important steps to take in order to manage inflammation. 

 

Support your liver

The liver is a highly underrated organ to say the least. It has over 500 jobs to do but puts a halt on many of these when toxins and chemicals are ingested that need to be processed. What's more the amount of toxins, exogenous hormones, medications, and inflammatory foods consumed through our diet and environment put a lot of strain on the liver and can result in it performing rather sluggishly. It's fair to say our liver deserves some TLC!

Hormonal birth control can tax the liver as important nutrients are depleted, inflammation is raised, and synthetic hormones are introduced into the body.

Contrary to popular belief tea detoxes and juice cleanses aren’t going to cut it for liver support or detoxification. That’s because the liver requires a substantial amount of nutrients for detoxification to proceed optimally such as B vitamins, selenium, and vitamin C and these are all shown to be depleted by oral contraceptives. In addition the liver has to detoxify exogenous hormones from the pill which also promotes a state of estrogen dominance. This is a common hormonal imbalance that is a cause of many unwanted symptoms for women.

Liver supporting and estrogen detoxifying foods may include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, beets, cilantro, brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, milk thistle, dandelion, burdock, artichoke and turmeric.

Supporting the liver requires not only reducing our exposure to toxins but also supplying this organ with the right nutrients on a regular basis. This isn’t a one time thing, your liver works every single day!

Please take note, if you choose to stay on the pill and work on your liver this could potentially alter the effectiveness of the birth control method. Work with your health care practitioner if you have any concerns about this.

 

Love on your microbes

Our digestive system can take a hit from oral contraceptive use and that includes the beneficial microbes that live in our gut. This can create a state of dysbiosis where pathogenic bacteria can take over and our good gut bacteria are diminished. 

Supporting the microbiome dietarily can be done with the above recommendations but also through the inclusion of probiotic and prebiotic foods which should be consumed regularly if tolerated. Probiotic supplements may be required during the initial healing phase as well as additional gut supporting nutrients.

 

Metabolic Repair

As mentioned previously, hormonal birth control can trigger or worsen insulin resistance. This can make weight loss trickier and result in cravings, increased appetite, energy crashes, overeating, and unwanted weight gain.

If you are on hormonal birth control it's even more important for you to balance all of your meals with a quality source of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats to keep your blood sugar stable.

Does this mean you have to avoid all carbs? Please don’t fall for this trap, whole food carbohydrates are important in the diet because they supply the body with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber which are all essential for insulin regulation and blood sugar balance. Whole plant-based foods are natural sources of soluble and insoluble fiber that may improve postprandial glucose metabolism, reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, and lower the risks of developing diabetes (5)(6). Plant foods also feed our good gut bacteria which are linked with healthy weight and blood sugar balance. On the other hand, we would all do better avoiding the unhealthy carbs such as baked goods, candy, soda, added sugars, and desserts.

 Conclusion

Though there are many things you can do by yourself around diet and lifestyle we recommend working with a practitioner for best results to support you while using hormonal birth control or stopping its use so you can avoid as many side effects as possible and feel your best, whatever you decide.

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