You Could Never Regulate Me: Is Hormonal Contraception Good For Your Periods?

You Could Never Regulate Me: Is Hormonal Contraception Good For Your Periods?

Is your contraception helping your hormones or hindering them

Pomegranate looking like womb, ovaries and blood
Warning: Contains explicit content ♦ & is not to be used as medical advice ♥ Disclaimer here

CONTRACEPTION IS NO LONGER JUST ABOUT SEX

Hormonal contraception was designed with the sole purpose of preventing pregnancy yet is now commonly prescribed for a whole variety of issues (acne, cramps, pre-menstrual depression, headaches, irregular periods, bloating, cysts, anemia, heavy bleeding..)  The NHS’ top recommendation for dealing with severe period pain is to take hormonal contraception and in the States only 42% of women who are on the pill take it exclusively for contraceptive reasons. So it seems, not only does hormonal contraception stop you making babies, it’s also a handy and versatile medicine…

Or perhaps it’s not.

MATE, YOUR TERMS ARE MISLEADING

The way we talk about hormonal contraception in relation to how it affects our hormonal issues needs to be revised. Hormonal contraception can only relieve symptoms; it can NOT heal imbalances, yet much of the terminology surrounding contraceptives seems to suggest otherwise. For example ‘hormonal contraception can help regulate your periods’ is an incredibly common yet totally misleading term.

You can not regulate something that is no longer there! When you take hormonal contraception you no longer have true periods.

A period is a bloody mess that exits your vagina post ovulation after your womb lining is at its thickest. It is not just the physical endometrium and blood; a period is an event that's part of a complete cycle of waxing and waning hormones including progesterone and estrogen.

 

Endometrium throughout the month
Your womb and stuff throughout the month, starting with a real period

 

When you take hormonal contraception you do not have a period, instead you experience a withdrawal bleed.

A withdrawal bleed is a bloody mess that can occur any time, to any extent, whenever there is a bit of a dip in progestogen levels. Your womb lining is continually fairly thin, but this dip causes some of it to shed.

A period gives you signs about your overall hormonal health and varies accordingly; it may come early if you are very stressed, or be too heavy if you have unaddressed food intolerances, or be accompanied by an epic sense of peace if you have been able to rest enough... A withdrawal bleed is little more than a bit of red stuff coming out your fanny.

The distinction between withdrawal bleeds and true periods is important because it demonstrates that hormonal contraception is not regulating your periods or balancing your hormones, it is instead creating an alternate set of events. If you take the pill to alleviate cramps, the pill is not 'helping with period pain', it is getting rid of the whole cycle that the period and the pain are part of, and replacing it with a constant level of synthetic hormones and a mock cycle.

Droplets

Ok so with hormonal birth control you don’t have a real period and you’re regulating f*ck all... If you feel better, why does that matter?

It doesn’t necessarily matter. As long as you are aware that by taking hormonal contraception you are not fixing your cycle, nor healing the cause of the issue, you are simply removing your symptoms(There are however some circumstances, such as extreme menorrhagia, in which taking hormonal contraception may be a medical necessity).

But if hormonal contraceptives alleviate unpleasant symptoms, surely they're a good thing for your body?

Not really. Firstly, synthetic hormones can cause a whole host of unwanted side effects such as depression (young women who take hormonal contraceptives are twice as likely to end up on anti depressants), loss of sex drive and lack of concentration. (See this piece for a full list of combined hormonal contraceptives’ side effects).

What's more, your natural hormones have beneficial properties that the synthetic ones in contraceptives do not have; for example natural progesterone promotes hair growth, in contrast its drug-equivalent levonorgestrel, which is the progestin used in many contraceptives, causes hair loss.

It gets confusing because the synthetic hormones in birth control are often called the same names as your natural hormones and they do similar jobs; however they have different molecular structures and are certainly not the same. It is helpful to make a comparison to those children's toys where you have to put the right shapes in the right holes; often you can jam the cylinder block into the rectangular hole and although it might sort of fit, it’s not the perfect match. That's basically what happens with synthetic hormones on a cellular level.

Three ladies wrestling about contraception
The pro absolutely destroyed the two new girls, and despite being incredibly hot, it was never going to be an even match. So too in the case of Synthetic hormones vs Natural hormones: no matter how appealing the former might be it can never match up.

 As well as synthetic hormones being less beneficial than your natural ones, when using hormonal contraception your body becomes accustomed to being fed the synthetic hormones and so once you stop taking them you are even less equipped to manage your cycle naturally. Your hormonal system is not in the habit of regulating itself and the problems you had in the first place may well still be present, if not worse.

Doesn't hormonal birth control protect you from certain cancers and diseases?

Another thing that makes it hard to ascertain whether birth control is a good or a bad thing for your body is the focus many health providers place on the protective health effects of hormonal contraceptives. There is indeed evidence that hormonal contraception can help lower risks of certain diseases or cancers, but regardless of this they cause a whole host of other problems too. For example the combined pill may reduce the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease and colon cancer. However it also increases your risk of thrombosis and breast cancer. The important point is that systemically and accumulatively, synthetic hormones are not good for your health, even if they do have some potential benefits. There are many ways to protect your long term health that do not put you at risk of developing different problems.

 Women in their twenties are our best customers. They stay on our birth control for years and when they decide to stop taking it; they then have to take our Clomid in order to get pregnant.

- employee of pharmaceutical company Sanofi5

An employee of a drug company admits that using hormonal contraception negatively impacts upon women's fertility later in life; Clomid is a drug that helps to trigger ovulation and is given to women who are struggling to become pregnant. By using hormonal contraception some women’s natural cycles become so disrupted that they eventually have to take more drugs in order to get their cycles functioning normally again and that means the drug company can make a whole load of cash. How lovely.

THERE ARE OTHER WAYS

Lifestyle changes or complementary health treatments can be RAD-I-CAL in treating hormonal issues. Period Repair Manual by Lara Briden MD gives a wealth of advice and information on these issues and is a fantastic place to start before resorting to hormonal contraception.

 Hormonal birth control can relieve symptoms short term, but it masks the root causes of your period problems and can make them much worse long term... The truth is that most period problems and hormonal imbalance symptoms can be healed long term with diet and lifestyle changes.

-Alisa Vitti, Integrative Nutritionist and founder of FLO Living

Blueberry in a hand
Contemplating whether or not this ginormous organic blueberry is going to solve all of my period problems.

However, if you are skint AF, buying healthier food or paying for an acupuncturist might not sound appealing and if your periods are horrendous and you need to get on with your life then hormonal contraception could be a handy temporary option, as long as you know it can't possibly regulate you or your periods.

5 - paraphrased quote from 19/3/14 Period Party podcast Myth Busters episode

♦ Over to You ♦

Do you take hormonal contraception for reasons other than preventing pregnancy? Do you feel their effects were adequately explained to you by your prescriber? Leave these and any other comments below and please share this with someone who might like to know

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *