The most popular form of birth control in the industrialized world is the pill. Ninety-nine per cent of women have used this synthetic hormonal contraceptive at one time. Despite evidence indicating there are health risks associated with it, one-quarter of women using non-permanent forms of birth control choose the pill. Other options used are the patch, implants, injectables, vaginal rings, condoms and IUD’s. Ten percent use fertility awareness methods. Vasectomies make up 13%.
The pill depletes our healthy gut bacteria and can cause yeast overgrowth or other infections. Dysbiosis in the gut has been linked to migraines, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, psoriasis, depression & even infertility. Often women who have been on the pill for years can have trouble conceiving.
To metabolize hormonal contraceptives, the liver requires extra B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc. If your diet is poor & your digestion is inhibited then you won’t have these essential nutrients available to you. Other health issues are likely to arise.
The pill is prescribed commonly for many reasons including fibroids, pain, PCOS, skin issues, PMS and heavy cycles. Its often paired with an anti-depressant for mood issues. Evidence indicates that most women know the pill affects their whole body. One of the main negative side effects is on mood.
I’m part of that 1% who never took the pill. So what have I done instead?
Get to Know Your Cycle
Strengthening your natural menstrual cycle is an excellent way to optimize your health in general. If you want energy, a libido and the ability to get pregnant then track your cycle. Maybe you simply want to enjoy sex without fear of harming your body. I know a master herbalist with teenage daughters who agrees with this approach. We don’t want to suppress the body’s wisdom. We want to get to know it, respect it & work with it.
There are 3 simple ways to know when you ovulate: waking temperature, cervical position and cervical mucus. The last two require that you to be intimate with your body. Learn how to contact your cervix. Notice the monthly discharge that comes with feeling aroused or a sensation in the ovaries which some women experience. Temperature can be charted by technology. I suggest trying all these methods & relying on two.
The Lady Comp takes your temperature and tracks your cycle. This device will chart what is happening for your fertility. It lets you know with a simple red, green or yellow light. On the green days you don’t have to worry at all. Our fertile window is about 6 days so the rest of the month will be in the green meaning good to go.
The longer you use it the more data you have. There is a six hour window in the morning to take you temperature but it has to be taken upon waking. Any movement or activity will alter your temperature.
There are many devices and apps available to make tracking temperature easier. This is just one that also offers a fertility aspect.
Fertility and Influencing Gender
If a baby is what you want then you can get the baby version of Lady Comp. It allows you to turn it to the best time to make babies and how to optimize your chance of having a boy or a girl. It can do this b/c male sperm move faster and female sperm last longer.
Risks associated with Contraception
Estrogen dominance, blood clots, osteoporosis and cancers are all associated with long-term use of hormonal contraception. I’m not going to go into detail about this but have a look at this research for more information.
The copper IUD can lead to chronic inflammation and deplete the body of zinc because zinc balances copper. It can also have a negative impact on gall bladder function.
Many of my colleagues agree that this era of birth control use on a massive scale will be looked back on as a very strange time in the history of women’s health.
Get Your Sexual Partner(s) On Board
Thirteen percent of men choose to have a vasectomy. The rest of them can get on board with understanding women’s cycles. The best partner knows his partner’s cycle better than she does. This allows her to relax, feel safe and enjoy herself.
Talk about fertility, family planning and why you do or don’t want a baby. Fertility is an integral part of sexuality. A woman’s ovulatory cycle can be a fun part of your sex life.
Let me know what you think! I’d love to hear from you.
Permanent sterilization by a procedure called Essure was approved by Health Canada in 2001. It was sold in the US until just a few months ago when it was finally banned. Bayer bought this product in 2011 despite many complaints from users of its safety and efficacy as a contraceptive device.
There are now an estimated 16,000 lawsuits filed against it. Women have reported severe injuries, including perforation of the uterus and the fallopian tubes. Several deaths, both of mothers and infants, have been attributed to the device or complications arising from it.
Bayer officially states it stopped sales prior to the ban not because of safety. They said a decline in its use prompted them to stop because women were simply choosing other options. The company denies that it was due to the litigation or the complaints.
Women and advocacy groups repeatedly demanded that the Food and Drug Administration ban the device. The FDA repeatedly declined until recently.
What is Essure?
It was meant to replace tubal ligation for women which is an invasive procedure. Micro inserts placed into the Fallopian tubes via the cervix are meant to elicit enough scar tissue to block the tubes. They were manufactured to stay in the body permanently. What are they made of? Heavy metals and polyester.
Today the FDA has received ten of thousands of complaints regarding the devices. Dr. Shawn Tassone, OB/GYN is a patient advocate. After seeing patients of him suffer and get pregnant with the device he figured out how to remove it safely. He is now training other doctors to remove Essure. Surgery for removal requires general anesthetic but only takes 30-45 minutes. Recovery time is 2 days to 2 weeks.
Dr. Tassone mentions that the only safe sterilization method available is the vasectomy for men.
“Women have reported serious complications from Essure, and there has been no unbiased long-term research to refute or confirm those reports,” Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research. “Both the FDA and the company are responsible for a situation where women could not make informed decisions.”
It should never have been approved. Why is it protected?
Women who reported severe injuries, including perforation of the uterus and the fallopian tubes. Several deaths, including of a few infants, have also been attributed to the device or complications from it. Reports of severe abdominal pain are often dismissed by doctors even after several visits to the ER.
I’m reminded of the Dalkon Shield of the 1970’s which should never have been on the market. This IUD was dangerous but got passed for profit. I lost a sister because of this device. My mother’s doctor suggested in place of a copper IUD which was working just fine for her.
How does this still happen in 2018?
Dr. Tassone mentions that somehow Essure received a label which protects the device itself from legal action. This protection is usually only given to products that are used in life-threatening surgeries like a heart stint.
Dr. Tassone goes on to say that we would never react this way if a man’s testicle was perforated and he was experiencing the kinds of side-effects these women have. I looked at a support group where there are 40 000 plus women are sharing the negative side effects they’ve experienced. What’s worse is they are having trouble getting these devices removed because doctors aren’t taking them seriously. Its ‘just abdominal pain’. Seriously? We can do better than this.
PMS affects at least 75% of women. That’s right, the majority of women are feeling it. Of these some suffer more than others. Twenty percent of women with PMS require regular interventions with medication. Eight percent have symptoms so severe they are now labeled with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
What is the underlying cause of PMS?
PMS is not inevitable. It does not require medical intervention in most cases especially if we address the root cause. Are our bodies so flawed that we need ongoing medication to manage monthly symptoms? Hell no.
What I learned first from my mother and from my education is that our bodies are extremely intelligent. I love working with women in clinic. So much about their overall health is gleaned just from the specifics of our cycles. This is true even if a woman is no longer menstruating.
Symptoms associated with PMS include: irritability, depression/anxiety, headaches, mood fluctuations, fluid retention, bloating, breast tenderness, sugar cravings,and insomnia.
The number one cause of PMS is excess estrogens being recycled through the body because the liver is overloaded by stressors and the gut is not able to help in eliminating these properly so they recirculate. A diet that includes industrial raised meats and dairy contributes. Environmental toxins also play a major role.
“Isn’t this just part of being a woman?”
No its not and you shouldn’t have to suffer. What big pharma wants you to do is use birth control pills, antidepressants & NSAIDs like Advil. If you are diagnosed with PMDD you may be prescribed Danazol. Sounds like it comes with sparkles, doesn’t it? What it actually does is suppress ovulation. I personally enjoy ovulation and wouldn’t want that to be taken from me. It also increases facial hair, acne, and can deepen your voice.
An expensive drug that affects gonadatropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is emerging. It changes brain chemistry to turn off the ovaries’ production of estrogen and progesterone. Osteoporosis is a side effect. Diuretics are used to treat fluid retention. A drug called Bromocriptine is used to stop prolactin production and is used to treat breast tenderness. Seriously? In one cycle we can resolve breast tenderness easily without a drug that inhibits an important hormone.
Dr. Mark Hyman highlights that PMDD was created at the same time that the patent on Prozac was running out. Prozac is now called Sarafem (really?! Sara Fem?) and has a new indication. That’s right folks. Prozac has a new name and is being used to treat the new disease PMDD.
I’ve worked with patients who have declined the oral birth control pill and antidepressant offered to them by their doctor. Instead we make a few changes and symptoms resolve usually within a couple of cycles.
What Can You Do?
Move your body. This includes anything you feel better during and afterwards. Consensual sex is highly indicated along with dancing, trail walks, cycling, swimming or any sport you enjoy. Strength training gives you the most bang for your buck when it comes to hormone health.
Love your liver with a diet rich in colourful vegetables. Grow your own or have your local farmer do it for you. Eat grass-fed and nose to tail as this balances the amino acids that support both phases of liver detoxification. Reduce caffeine as this does the opposite.
Eliminate excess estrogens from your diet and environment. Clean out your bathroom and kitchen! This is where we have power to create change. The largest unregulated source of pollutants is right in your home. If you can’t read the label and wouldn’t eat most of what you can read, don’t use it.
Do less, say no & other stress management tools that induce a sense of relaxation. Meditation is profoundly helpful and is supported in the medical literature as being a key factor in health. Do what you love. Love who you love & give to what is creating positive change in this beautiful world.
Eat for your gut health and especially support your colon so your liver doesn’t have to work as hard. If you need help then reach out. Functional medicine testing helps pinpoint gut infections and imbalances so you can feel better.
I don’t recommend taking a bunch of supplements without testing or working with a licensed practitioner. However there are a few that are safe and worth integrating into your diet. Of course, eliminating refined foods and those with poor nutrients density is important.
Phytoestrogens block the receptor sites for the unhealthy estrogens so they can’t accumulate. Ground flax seeds support your colon and are a phytoestrogen! I love the dual action.
Magnesium in the glycinate form helps with muscle relaxation. The uterus has a lot of muscle tissue. Keep in mind that the heart does too and these two organs are intimately related. Care for both.
Healthy fats especially omega 3’s from diet and supplemental evening primrose oil for its gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Omega 3’s are found in grass fed meats and wild fish. These are both naturally anti-inflammatory.
First things first: Birth control is NOT the only solution for heavy cycles! In fact, when it comes right down to it, birth control is more of a band-aid than a solution. Are you someone who wants to understand what actually going on? Underneath there are several possible imbalances at play and we always want to know which it is.
Technically the medical term used to describe heavy cycles is menorrhagia. It’s not a disease but it sure sounds like one. The problem is that it can be very depleting and generally difficult to live with each month. A cycle that lasts more than 7 days or a blood loss around 80 ml is considered heavy. A tampon or pad can hold about 5 ml. If you use a Diva cup you can calculate this accordingly. In comparison a normal cycle is 35 ml or less per month and lasts between 3-7 days.
Every woman is different so determining your own normal is key. Track your cycle to see how many days and ml yours is. If you are soaking around 16 pads or tampons in one cycle it’s definitely heavy.
A Few More Guidelines
Take note if it comes in less than 25 days or more than 35 days
Changing your pad/tampon or emptying your diva cup every 2 hours
Your ability to work, exercise or engage in other activities due to fear of leakage
Having to get up in the night to change
A diagnosis of anemia
Feeling fatigued, short of breath or depressed
What’s Happening to Cause this?
Heavy cycles happen when estrogen is higher in relation to progesterone. This commonly occurs at the beginning or ending of reproductive age. Teens and peri-menopausal women are affected the most. This is because the part of the endocrine system that communicates with the ovaries is either revving up or slowing down. It’s the hypothalamus that triggers ovulation and progesterone production follows ovulation.
Keep in mind that estrogen has many positive effects in the body. It’s anti-inflammatory, and supports the immune system. Its also anti-oxidant and regulates enzymes, gene expression and metabolic function. Estrogen is critical to brain development and decreases the incidence of strokes. Women may live longer than men due to estrogen. It is also protective. For example estrogens support gut health. It also reduces the incidence of prostate and breast cancer.
Related Patterns of Hormone Imbalance
Heavy clots indicate more estrogen in relation to progesterone. Estrogen causes proliferation so more uterine lining, swollen breasts, weight gain, skin issues, PMS and headaches can involve a pattern called Estrogen Dominance.
Poor thyroid function is another major factor. Subclinical hypothyroid is more common than we think and is poorly diagnosed. It causes poor clearance of estrogen from the body as well as limits the amount of progesterone produced.
Fibroids are also caused by a e-dominant pattern. One type of fibroids can actually cause heavy bleeding but this is not common.
Post pregnancy including miscarriage, abortion or full-term birth. Blood loss of this variety is due to deficiency.
Birth control like the copper IUD and depo provera shot can cause heavy cycles.
A bleeding disorder known as coagulopathy affects 20% of teenagers with heavy cycles.
Inflammatory disease of the pelvis, liver or kidney
Steps You Can Take
Rule out anything serious by getting your routine pelvic exam. Request an ultrasound to check for fibroids and to see the thickness of your endometrial lining.
Blood work needs to include a full thyroid panel and a complete blood count to check for anemia. Regular STI checks and pap smears are also important.
Birth control is commonly prescribed for heavy cycles especially the oral birth control pill and the Mirena IUD. D & C ‘s are used to remove uterine lining temporarily or an endometrial ablation or hysterectomy are permanent interventions.
A Functional Medicine Approach
I focus on nutrient intake first. Vitamin A from cod liver oil has been shown to reduce heavy cycles significantly. B vitamins can reduce excess estrogens by supporting liver function and therefore estrogen metabolism. With b vitamins quality and bioavailability is important. I use Seeking Health because of this. Buffered Vitamin C at doses around 3000mg per day has been shown to reduce heavy bleeding and improve the absorption of iron. There is a cycle of blood loss, anemia and fatigue that requires some lifestyle adaptations as well as diet changes.
Real rest and meditation help cortisol regulation. Cortisol is upstream of all sex hormones and usually plays a significant role in hormone imbalance. I do thorough testing to see what is actually going on prior to treatment that includes free and total cortisol, its daily rhythm and all of the sex hormones plus their metabolites.
Every Woman is Unique
No two bodies are the same so getting to know yours is the most powerful step in this journey. We are always changing so this is a process we do again and again. Send me your questions. This post came out of multiple patients asking what caused their cycles to change and what could be done other than birth control.