Written by Claudia Lipinski
When we think about the long-term complications that are linked to using birth control pills, infertility is typically the first thing that comes to mind. Fortunately, this myth has been debunked over the years and countless women have been able to get pregnant, despite using contraceptives in the past.
But what if the effects of birth control pills extended beyond a woman’s fertility status? What if oral contraceptives were also negatively impacting her digestive system?
In general, women can possibly experience recurring hormonal imbalances due to long term usage of birth control pills. Birth control can often mask the hormonal issues causing side effects.
As surprising as it may seem, long-term usage (over 6 months) of birth control can actually have a huge influence on gut health. Birth control pill usage could eventually lead to nutrient deficiencies attributed to the contraceptive preventing the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals.
Birth control pills are usually recommended and first taken around age 16, indicating that the body could be harboring chronic inflammation since a person’s teenage years. Yet - with the onset of younger women being diagnosed in early years - it is not uncommon for females to be prescribed birth control at even younger ages.
It’s important to note that birth control is NOT only prescribed to prevent an unintended pregnancy throughout one's adolescence. Oral contraceptives are used for alleviating menstrual pain, such as reducing menstrual cramps or heavy bleeding during the menstrual cycle.
In addition, birth control pills can even be prescribed by a doctor as a treatment for acne, endometriosis, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) and other conditions.
If you or a loved one have been taking birth control for a long time, you’re most likely no stranger to experiencing digestive distress that often lacks explanation. Perhaps you’ve even visited multiple doctors about your gut problems, only to leave with unanswered questions and possibly a prescription bottle. You may have even been denied having certain tests performed on you that you thought would offer further insight.
Now more than ever, women should consider birth control as a possible suspect when solving the mystery behind their metabolic dysfunction.
Unfortunately, many women can be left in the dark when it comes to unresolved health issues concerning their digestive systems and hormonal imbalances.
Here are the potential side effects (others not listed may also occur) that women have been found to experience over time after taking oral contraceptives:
Nutrient Deficiencies: A concerning side effect of long term birth control use is often linked to the depletion of multiple vitamins (B1 B2, B5, B6, B9, B12, C, E) and minerals (selenium, zinc, magnesium). These are known as micronutrients that the body needs in order to function properly on a daily basis. For instance, birth control pills have been correlated with Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12 deficiencies, which can ultimately lead to anemia, blood clots and even a stroke, if left untreated.
Hormone Dysfunction: From affecting thyroid hormones and testosterone to producing excessive levels of estrogen and progesterone, birth control plays a pivotal role in hormone function. The wide range of side effects (mood swings, anxiety, depression, lack of libido, weight gain, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and/or cancer) seem to have no end when it comes to the havoc that contraceptives can wreak. Additionally, contraceptives can cause the body to cease its natural hormone production. This “shutdown” mechanism can explain why some women wait years for their menstrual cycle to return to normal after coming off of birth control.
Trigger for PCOS: Although birth control pills are often prescribed to help treat the symptoms of PCOS, they ironically can also worsen this hormonal disorder. This is due to the fact that contraceptive use can lead to excess insulin within the body, possibly even leading to the development of Type 2 Diabetes.
Increased Risk of Breast and Cervical Cancers: The risk of developing breast cancer can increase after only 4-5 years of birth control use, while the risk of developing cervical cancer doubles after using birth control for 10+ years.
Food intake inevitably plays a key role in reversing the adverse effects of a woman’s love/hate relationship with birth control. For instance, increasing one’s intake of healthy fats (fish, avocado, olive oil) and cutting down on dairy (ice cream, cheese, milk) has been shown to diminish inflammation. However, it’s crucial to note that what has worked for one person, may not necessarily work for the next. Healing through a nutrition-based approach must often be customized to each individual, since specific foods (even those you may be eating to enhance your health) may cause further inflammation for some women.
Taking a food intolerance test is highly recommended when developing a food plan designed to control, and eventually heal, the effects of birth control.
Despite what health professionals may have dismissed in the past, more and more women are realizing that birth control pills may have in fact, played a role in their lifelong digestive and hormonal issues.
Some have been taking contraceptives since they were in their mid teens, indicating that inflammation in their gut started to occur before their bodies were even completely developed. Nevertheless, women are recognizing that they are not alone in discovering the damage that birth control has done and are determined to do something about it.