Last month I had a rant about the many downsides of hormonal birth control. Rant over. I rest my case.
This month I’d like to talk about how to come off the Pill or implant safely, re-balance your hormones and prevent any post-pill symptoms from developing such as acne, irregular periods or problems conceiving.
Coming off hormonal birth control will mean different things to different people. Let’s consider some of the most likely scenarios.
1) You had normal periods before you started the Pill
You went on the Pill simply for contraception, and last time you tried to come off it your period returned as normal. This is the easiest scenario - just stop taking it.
You may experience some mild acne or anxiety, but it shouldn’t last longer than 3 months. During this time, eat a well-balanced diet with healthy fats, plenty of protein and fresh veggies, and get out in the sun whenever possible.
The Pill can deplete your stores of essential nutrients like B vitamins & magnesium, so you may want to supplement these initially too.
If after three months your period has not returned, you may need to take an ovulation stimulant herb such as Vitex agnus-castus.
Vitex promotes ovulation by encouraging the secretion of dopamine from the pituitary gland (in the brain), and reducing the secretion of prolactin. Less prolactin means better ovulation, and good ovulation creates more natural progesterone, which has natural anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory and circulatory effects.
Never take Vitex too soon after stopping the Pill, and don’t take it for longer than 3-6 consecutive months.
If after three months your period has not returned, you may need to take an ovulation stimulant herb such as Vitex agnus castus.
2) You had irregular periods before you started the Pill
You may have been put on the Pill to help ‘balance’ your hormones - and last time you stopped, your periods came back as irregular as before, or not at all.
In this case, you’ll need to ask yourself: “What is the problem with my periods?”
If you were put on the Pill as a teenager for irregular periods, chances are you may have simply grown out of that problem.
If not, reach out to your doctor or natural health practitioner to reach a diagnosis. Is it PCOS and insulin resistance? Are you under-eating and over-exercising? Are you deficient in a particular nutrient that is preventing ovulation?
A good place to start is with some blood tests. Check your insulin levels, thyroid function, vitamin D status and for gluten sensitivity - all these can affect ovulation.
Check your insulin levels, thyroid function, vitamin D status and for gluten sensitivity - all these can affect ovulation.
If you’re insulin resistant, eliminate sugar and simple carbohydrates from your diet, take magnesium and chromium, minimise stress and get some good quality sleep.
If your thyroid is functioning sub-optimally, remove gluten from your diet and see a natural health practitioner for further tests & advice.
If you’ve been given a PCOS diagnosis but you’re not insulin resistant, you’ll need to explore this further. There are many sub-types and the condition is often wrongly diagnosed. My next article will be all about PCOS, so stay tuned for that.
Once you’ve made the necessary changes, you’re ready to stop the Pill.
When you do, you may want to practice ‘lunaception’ to nudge your cycle back to regularity: sleep in a completely darkened room until the full moon, then sleep with your curtains open and facing towards the full moon for three nights every month.
3. You went on the Pill as a treatment for acne
Synthetic hormones block the production of skin oils and are therefore effective at clearing the skin - however, the skin compensates by making more oil, so when you stop the Pill the acne may come back even worse than before.
Start natural treatment at least one month before coming off the Pill - follow a sugar and dairy-free diet with limited refined carbs, take zinc and berberine, or the herb Barberry.
Barberry is a powerful antibacterial herb - it helps to re-establish a healthy gut flora and intestinal barrier and lowers chronic inflammation associated with conditions such as acne. It is also a potent insulin regulator and lowers blood glucose levels, which is important as too much insulin and glucose in the blood leads to oily skin and blocked pores.
A 2012 Iranian study found a 45% reduction in acne amongst teenagers fed a daily dose of barberry for four weeks. Changes were not significant in the placebo group, leading the researchers to conclude that barberry is a safe and effective treatment for moderate to severe acne vulgaris.
Post-pill acne is a condition that can happen even in women who haven’t suffered from acne in the past. All the above treatments will help - but persevere! These withdrawal symptoms can last up to 12 months after stopping the Pill.
Post-pill acne is a condition that can happen even in women who haven’t suffered from acne in the past.
4. You had very heavy and/or painful periods before the Pill
If this is you, you may be understandably worried about coming off the Pill.
Firstly, you’ll need to check whether you have any underlying gynaecological conditions like fibroids or endometriosis. If you do, you’ll need to seek proper treatment, ideally with both your doctor and natural health practitioner, before coming off the Pill.
If you don’t have any gynaecological issues, your heavy bleeding will be due to oestrogen excess. To detoxify from oestrogen, cut out alcohol and processed foods, go organic, avoid plastic, use natural skin care products and take diindolylmethane or DIM.
For period pain, start by reducing inflammation - go dairy-free and take 2-3 teaspoons of turmeric per day during your period, with your food or mixed into a drink like golden milk. These two simple strategies can yield dramatic results.
Heavy bleeding can also be a sign of iron deficiency - test your iron & ferritin levels and supplement accordingly.
Next month: stay tuned for the lowdown on PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome. This condition can be both very straightforward and very complicated. It's important to reach a firm diagnosis and treat accordingly.