If you didn’t already know - hormone health is kind of our thing, so we’ll always be in favour of contraception that doesn’t affect your natural hormones.
Buuuut in saying that, the pill has played an instrumental role in female empowerment and reproductive freedom in the past 70 years it’s been around, and that's definitely something we can get behind too.
The reality is, when we got our first pack of oral contraception we may not have had a full rundown on what its effects are, and understanding how something works is essential for making an informed and empowered decision around whether it’s something you want to put in our body or not.
If the pill works for you and you’re not quite ready to come off it just yet, that’s totally cool—this is your body and your life! We want to provide you with the tools and knowledge to make informed decisions about your health and wellness wherever you are on your journey.
Here are 5 ways to support your body while taking oral contraception.
1. KEEP YOUR NUTRIENT STORES TIP-TOP
Research shows that our nutrient stores take a pretty big hit while on the pill. Key nutrients depleted by oral contraception include:
- Vitamin B9 (folate);
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin);
- Vitamin B12;
- Vitamin E;
- Vitamin C.
The huge demand for these nutrients created by the pill is near impossible to achieve through food alone. We’d recommend supplementing with a high-quality multivitamin (on top of your already nutrient-rich diet) as a minimum while on oral birth control.
2. LOOK AFTER YOUR GUT
Like other oral medications, birth control pills are absorbed by the digestive tract, and can disrupt normal gut flora in some women, making them more susceptible to an overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria and yeast.
This process can also increase intestinal permeability, or ‘leaky gut,’ which can increase food sensitivities and intolerances, and cause bloating, gas, and other forms of digestive upset, as well as fatigue, brain fog, skin issues and sugar cravings.
To keep your gut in good shape and your bowels moving on the reg, it’s important to eat plenty of fibre-rich foods (plants), drink enough water and include probiotic foods in your diet, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, coconut yoghurt and kefir.
Bone broth, collagen, L-glutamine & omega-3s can also help to nourish and heal the gut lining and reduce inflammation.
3. LOWER INFLAMMATION, NATURALLY
The pill can increase inflammation in the body. In fact, studies have shown that those on oral contraception have elevated C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker, compared to those who aren’t on the pill.
Higher levels of inflammation in the body can lead to period pain, PMS, fatigue, low moods, brain fog and general aches & pains.
To lower inflammation in the body, make sure to:
- Eat more anti-inflammatory foods, such as salmon, olive oil, green leafy vegetables, raw nuts, herbs & spices;
- Make friends with turmeric, a powerful anti-inflammatory agent that also supports the gut and liver.
- Limit or avoid inflammatory foods, such as gluten, trans fats, processed meats, artificial sweeteners, alcohol and dairy products.
4. LOVE YOUR LIVER
Your liv-er is a pretty big deal when it comes to, ya know, liv-ing.
It does more than detox your body of last night’s pinot noir. It’s the organ that cleanses and rids your body of any chemical (natural or synthetic) that it has used up and no longer needs; including the hormones in your birth control pill.
Oestrogen that your body no longer needs is metabolised down one of three pathways; 2-OH-E1, 4-OH-E1 and 16-OH-E1. Ideally we want higher levels of a friendly metabolite called 2-OH-E1, and lower levels of the 4-OH-E1 and 16-OH-E1 metabolites which are known to be more inflammatory.
The pathways your liver uses can be influenced by nutrient stores, the availability of amino acids (protein), inflammation status and even your genetics.
To encourage your liver to favour that nice 2-OH-E1 pathway, make sure to eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables, (i.e. broccoli sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, collard greens, radish, bok choy, brussel sprouts and watercress). These vegetables are especially rich in a compound called Diindolylmethane (DIM), which supports the liver in metabolising and detoxifying oestrogen.
5. BALANCE YOUR BLOOD SUGARS
Our body’s own natural oestrogen supports our metabolism by improving carbohydrate tolerance and insulin sensitivity. The synthetic form of oestrogen in the pill can actually have the opposite effect in some women.
This means that while you’re on the pill, it’s super important to support nicely balanced blood sugars. Make sure to:
- Reduce sugar and processed carbs. These kinds of foods can cause a quick spike in your blood sugar levels, followed by a crash not long after.
- Include a source of quality protein and healthy fat in every meal. To provide slow-burning energy that keeps your blood sugar levels nice and stable.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation also increases insulin resistance and stimulates our hunger hormones.
- Move your body. Exercise depletes glycogen stores and increases insulin sensitivity, both of which are great for blood sugar balance.
On the pill for reasons other than contraception?
For some of us, the pill is a reliable way to prevent pregnancy while taking a break from heavy, painful periods, acne, PMS or other debilitating hormonal concerns.
By suppressing natural hormone production, the pill can provide some much needed reprieve from these conditions, however it is more of a ‘band-aid’ than a treatment. Unless you work to address the root cause, these can, and often do, come back with a vengeance when you come off the pill later on.
In many cases, the underlying cause of these symptoms is hormone imbalance, hence by switching your hormones off, they go away. Testing your hormones to find out what’s really going on, then making adjustments to your diet and lifestyle to bring them in to balance is a great natural and long-lasting alternative.
Our goal is to help you understand your hormones, and make choices that support and celebrate them in all of their magic.
If you do decide the pill is for you right now - these 5 ways to support your wellness can help you to minimise the negative effects and keep you feeling fabulous. Plus, if you do decide to come off it one day, these strategies should also help to make the transition as seamless as possible.
More on that topic soon..
A wee disclaimer: we recommend chatting to your GP before stopping or starting any form of contraception.