Post birth control syndrome is real. So you “quit” hormonal birth control to optimize your health…however, now you feel worse, not better.
Read on to find out all about the common side effects of post birth control syndrome, why they happen, and 7 hacks to heal your body from post birth control syndrome naturally.
Post Birth Control Syndrome 101
The post birth control syndrome struggle is real.
Weight gain, acne, anxiety, irregular menstrual cycles, headaches, bloating and constipation? You are not alone.
In order to understand why the symptoms of post birth control syndrome happen, it’s important to first understand how birth control works in your body in the first place.
How Birth Control Works in Your Body
While in 3 women of menstruating age are currently on the pill or a hormonal IUD, the pill or using a hormonal IUD is not necessarily normal for the female body.
Unfortunately, very few women are educated on this little fact, along with the side effects that can occur with long term usage of hormonal birth control—both estrogen or progestin (a form of progesterone) versions alike.
Hormonal Birth Control Fundamentals
The female reproductive system is controlled by a set of tightly regulated hormones. Birth control pills and hormonal IUDs essentially work by disrupting this intricate balance of hormones in the body.
The two hormones found in hormonal birth control options are estrogen and progestin. Estrogen is normally produced in females, as is progesterone, which is a less concentrated natural form of progestin.
Estrogen normally helps in the release of eggs from the ovary in females. This allows the egg to travel further through the reproductive tract, where it may eventually intercept a sperm.
Progresterone is responsible for facilitating (or in the case of birth control de-faciliating) implantation of sperm and signaling ovulation—the process when a mature egg is released from the ovary and moves down the fallopian tube where it can be fertilized.
Hormonal birth control with estrogen and/or combined with progestin specifically suppresses hypothalamic gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) and pituitary gonadotropin secretion—parts of your brain that control hormone production. The suppression of these two hormones then suppresses LH (luteinizing hormone) suppression and without LH your ovaries are not told to ovulate. No ovulation? No egg released!
When using birth control, progestin-only formula works a bit differently—it causes the mucus in the cervix to thicken, making it difficult for sperm to enter the uterus and fertilize an egg, as well makes the endometrium (lining of the uterus) less favorable for an embryo to implant and suppresses ovulation (but not completely).
Basically: birth control makes it more challenging for natural fertility to occur!
All that said, like any medication and prescription drug, no form of prescription birth control (oral or IUD) are without side effects.
Common Side Effects Hormonal Birth Control
Common side effects of hormonal birth control—especially during post birth control use—may include:
- Gut dysbiosis and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
- Constipation and bloating
- Hormone imbalances and skin issues (that were only ‘masked’ while on the pill)
- Mood swings
- Increased anxiety
- Irregular periods (or lost period)
- Headaches—worse or better
- Weight gain or weight loss resistance
- Depleted nutrients (B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, selenium, Vitamin C, Vitamin E)
- Decreased or altered libido
- Acne and skin breakouts
- Unwanted hair growth or hair reductions
- Liver and gallbladder congestion (the pill is a “xenoestrogen”—a toxin that mimics estrogen in the body)
- PCOS (high testosterone, low estrogen, blood sugar imbalances, facial hair, acne)
Often times, many women feel perfectly fine while taking birth control, and it’s not until AFTER they go off the pill that these side effects really come to life.
Although you can also experience positive symptoms—like weight loss, improved energy, beautiful hair and skin, less yeast infections, improved libido and better moods—this may also depend on both your underlying health conditions and the length of time you were on the pill or IUD as well.
Why Post-Birth Control Side Effects Happen
So why do post-birth control side effects happen in the first place?
Unfortunately, there are very few (if any) studies about these side effects commonly seen in clinical practice, which makes understanding the biochemistry of how hormones work in your body even more critical. Hormonal birth control pill in particular can disturb the balance in your gut, liver, HPA Axis and natural hormone production.
The Gut-Birth Control Connection
Your gut is the largest endocrine organ in your body (also known as the “estrobolome”). Your gut bacteria are greatly responsible for producing and metabolizing estrogens in your body. It is the bacteria in the gut, and the estrobolome, that ultimately (naturally) affects estrogen levels.
Microbes in the estrobolome produce beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme that jumpstarts estrogens into their active forms. In general, the more imbalanced your gut bacteria…the more beta-glucuronidase they produce…and consequently, the more estrogen remains within the body—all to be recirculated and cause estrogen-imbalance symptoms (like weight gain, acne, bloating, etc.).
It’s a vicious cycle. Gut problems cause hormone problems. Just like hormone problems (and excess estrogens) can further perpetuate gut problems and more hormone problems.
Altered estrogen levels in the body can alter the gut bacteria—particularly if there are excess estrogens (too much for the body and gut to handle).
In the case of hormonal birth control—even low doses—the gut is forced to work harder to metabolize (break down), activate and utilize the additional estrogen hormones in addition to your natural hormones and other excess hormones (“xenoestrogens”) from outside sources (like beauty and skincare products, plastic water bottles, pesticides in foods).
As a result if the gut gets overloaded…Houston, we have a problem.
The Liver-Birth Control Connection
Like the gut bacteria, the liver plays a huge role in keeping hormones balanced naturally. The liver is responsible for filtering, breaking down and detoxing excess toxins and hormones in the body.
EVERY single food we eat, air we breathe, pill we take, water we drink and hormone (natural and unnatural) has to pass through the liver for clearance out or permission to stay in the body.
Once again, if and when the liver is inundated with excess toxins or hormones, congestion and sluggishness can happen. The liver, unable to clear out excess hormone fast enough, then baton tosses the hormones to the small intestine (going back to the gut point). In addition, an increase in estrogens and progesterones backed up in the liver can signal a bump to the production of cortisol to try to counterbalance it all.
As a result, excess stress hormones also accumulate—explaining the increase in hormone imbalance symptoms (like skin breakouts, water retention, mood swings—basically inflammation and stress).
Another vicious cycle that began with liver “backup.”
The HPA Axis-Birth Control Connection
Oh yes, stress, our favorite word in the health word—the root cause of all imbalance. When the body is physically under stress (hormone imbalances, excess estrogens and cortisol), the HPA Axis (your stress management mothership) shouts “May Day, May Day!” Your body and brain stay in a continual state of inflammation and stress—increasingly sensitive to even the littlest things (like sleeping 6 hours instead of your usual 7; or a rude comment from someone you barely know on Instagram). Your HPA Axis Dysregulation leads to an all around feeling of imbalance and unwellness.
The Hormone Production-Birth Control Connection
Last but not least for “underlying mechanisms” at play in the side effects of post birth control syndrome is altered natural hormone production by the ovaries.
Hormonal birth control acts like a replacement for your natural hormones while you’re on it. By adding an excess amount of estrogen and progesterone in the body, birth control pills activate the negative-feedback loop and prevent the body from secreting estrogen and progesterone. Basically, your natural hormone production gets told to “take a break” and work less.
Lack of natural estrogen production prevents the release of an egg from the ovary, and lack of progesterone causes the lining of the uterus to become thin and unsuitable for pregnancy.
As a result, when you go off the pill or hormonal IUD, your body also has some readjusting to do (like dusting off the training wheels).
The Moral of the Story
Hormonal birth control goes far beyond just taking a pill and not getting pregnant.
The good news? There are several things you can do to take your health back into your own hands to recover from post birth control syndrome.
7 Hacks to Heal from Post Birth Control Syndrome
#1. Fuel Your Hormones
Birth control pills can rob your body of nutrients—especially these ones. Get your mojo back with superfoods that meet your nutrient needs.
B Vitamins: Organic meat and poultry, organ meats, wild caught fish/sardines, pastured eggs, organic mushrooms, fish roe, dark leafy greens, cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower)
Selenium: 2 Brazil nuts daily, wild caught fish (halibut, cod), organic meats
Magnesium: Avocado, dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate/cacao, sunflower seeds, spirulina, banana, mung beans, figs (dried), almonds/almond butter
Zinc: Organic proteins, organ meats, gluten free oats, sunflower seed butter, pumpkin seeds, white beans
Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, berries, dark leafy greens, broccoli, red peppers, sweet potatoes, winter squash, tomatoes
#2. Love Your Gut
Add in simple Gut Love Habits each day for gut health optimization:
- Drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water
- Apple Cider Vinegar. Add 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar to 2-4 oz. of water with meals
- Probiotic & Prebiotic. Take a daily soil-based probiotic and prebiotic fiber
- Eat variety and lots of color (even on a limited diet, don’t eat the same things every day)
- Soothe the Gut. Sip a daily cup of herbal tea—like Ginger or Smooth Move for motility, and drink 1-2 cups of bone broth. Bonus: Add in a gut-lining and repair support, such as bovine immunoglobulins (IgG), bovine colostrum or collagen.
#3. Re-Balance Your Hormones
Stress is the #1 driver of all hormone imbalances. Optimize and balance your hormones by mitigating stress as much as possible. Consider stress-busting practices to be like the “bumper lanes” for keeping your hormones in check:
- Deep Breathing Practice.
Several times per day, pause to take 5-7 deep breaths. Inhale through your nose for 10 seconds and exhale through your mouth for 10 seconds. Set a reminder on your phone in case you need.
Set Phone Boundaries.
Check your email at certain times per day. Turn your phone on airplane mode at night time while you sleep. Unfollow triggering social media accounts (comparison!).
- Cut the (Excess) Coffee.
Stick to one cup of quality coffee (or less) per day. Extra caffeine in our system can spike cortisol levels (yes even from “de-caf” coffee—just like artificial sweeteners can signal a blood sugar response similar to sugar in the body). Balance is king here.
- Optimize Sleep.
Sleep is a nutrient—right up there with water and eating green things. In fact, sleep deprivation is one of the most hormone-altering practices you can do. Fight for your 7-9 hours of sleep each day with these tactics:
- Sleep in a cooled room
68 degrees or below
- Make it pitch dark in the room
No electronic blinking lights or anything (or wear a sleep mask)
- Sleep with your phone in “airplane mode”
Sip a cup of herbal tea or bone broth or paleo protein powder
Before bed (especially if you wake up in the middle of the night)
- Turn off the bright overhead lights in the house
In the evening and wear blue blocker glasses in the evening
- Create a bedtime routine for yourself
Example: Hot shower or bath, read or journal, prayers/meditation, yoga, bedtime tea, etc
#4. Support Your Liver
We live in a toxic world—home to over 80,000 unregulated chemicals and toxins in our food supply, home furnishings, clothing, beauty and cleaning products, supplements, medications and beyond. Hence “daily detox” is a non-negotiable essential in our modern world. Choose at least one (or many) daily detox practices to incorporate:
- Drink a daily green juice or celery juice, along with a big glass of clean filtered water on an empty stomach
- Drink adequate native, non-treated Spring Water; add lots of Himalayan sea salt
- Buy organic and shop local as much as possible
- Ditch the plastics (water bottles, tupperware)
- Replace conventional beauty and cleaning products with vetted organic products (check out ThinkDirty)
- Avoid fragrances at all cost (air fresheners, perfumes, added to soaps, etc.)
- Sweat daily (infrared sauna, detox baths, hot-cold therapy, warmed yoga)
- Get fresh air and sunshine daily
- Dry brushing
- Take a daily binder for daily liver detox (Biotoxin Binder at com and use code PJ03HABY to order OR Chlorella tablets by Biopure), 1 dose with or without food
- Include fresh and tincture based cilantro into the mix
- Support Liver & NRF2 with Turmeric, Kimchi and cruciferous foods (e.g. cabbage, broccoli, cruciferous veggies)
- Eat Liver, Kidney, Bone Marrow & consume more methylation support (i.e. pastured, organic egg yolks, creatine, sprouted chickpeas)
- Turn Off Wifi as much as possible and consider EMF-blocking products for your devices/bedroom to mitigate “some” of the harmful effects Of EMFs
- Do more “earthing” (ie. Barefoot on the earth)
- Intermittent fast overnight (12-14 hours—from dinner to breakfast)
#5. Supplement Smart
You can find all practitioner grade supplement supports in the FullScript portal, unless otherwise linked and noted. You now have access to thousands of supplements shipped right to your door. Consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements.
Gut & Liver Health
Soluble Fiber (Fibromin by Apex Energetics), 1 capsule day
Liposomal Glutathione (Trizomal Glutathione by Apex Energetics), 1 tsp, 1-2x per day
Quality Probiotic (Seed Probiotic), 1 dose/day
Digestive Bitters (CarminaGest by Designs for Health), 2 capsules in the morning and evening
Adrenal Adaptogen (HPA Adapt by Integrative Therapeutics), 1 dose, 2x per day (1 in morning, 1 in evening)
Calcium-D-Glucarate (Designs for Health); 1 dose in the morning (helps with excess estrogen)
Nutrient Optimization Multi-vitamin (Even Multivitamin)
Vitamin D3 If deficient below 40-70 on bloodwork (Ultra D 5000 by Apex Energetics), 1 tsp/day
#6. Use Natural Birth Control Options
If you actually use birth control for “true” birth control, there are several natural alternatives to consider.
Birth Control Alternatives to Consider
Some potential considerations to explore if you’re looking for other options…
Option 1: Use the Natural Cycles App
Step 1: Download the app “Natural Cycles.”
Step 2: Get a thermometer.
Step 3: Take your basal temp around the same time every morning, enter it into the app and it tells you if you’re on a red day (fertile) or green day (not fertile). Bonus: Use condoms for the few days you’re fertile (if you don’t need to protect from STDs of course).
Option 2: Try Daysy Fertility Tracker
Simply get to know your cycle. Download the Daysy app to learn when you are fertile or not. There is a bit of an onboarding process here—to start, Daysy will need to learn your cycle.
Once there is enough data, however, Daysy will begin comparing your new cycle information to your previous cycles and get even more honed in on when you might be fertile, including the earliest day you could possibly become pregnant. Use the color codes to decide:
Green – Infertile days (think green light = go)
Yellow – Caution Days
Red – Fertile
Purple – Menstruation
Here are some fertility basics to keep in mind:
- Day 1 is the first day of your menses cycle.
- Ovulation typically occurs between day 12 and 14 but can vary for each woman.
- An LH surge (which can be detected with an ovulation prediction kit) triggers ovulation.
- Eggs live for no more than 24 hours.
- Sperm can live 5 to 6 days in the uterus.
Option 3: Try Smart Women’s Choice or Phexxi
A natural and safe hormone-free alternative for birth control that works to prevent fertilization. SWC works by an entirely different mechanism than other birth controls: it immobilizes the sperm in the vagina; therefore the sperm cannot make the journey from the vagina, where it is deposited during intercourse, to the Fallopian tubes, the only place where an egg can get fertilized. Without fertilization taking place, it is impossible to get pregnant. You can find it here. (Use code HYR512 on your order form!).
Phexxi is another similar “technology” that works to prevent pregnancy by altering the pH of your vagina, which is different from hormonal birth control.
Option 4: Use Condoms
When used correctly, only about 2% of women will become pregnant. That number spikes to 1 in 5 with imperfect use. The moral of the story: the user has a BIG influence on the outcome.
Option 5: Copper IUD
The copper IUD is a small T-shaped device that is placed in the uterus by a gyno, midwife, or family doctor. Although you may have heard the stories of scary infections or discomfort associated with the IUD, side effects are actually pretty uncommon, especially after the first 30 days of having it placed.
Some women have reported a reaction to excess copper with this form of non hormonal IUD. For this concern, copper levels can be monitored with a simple blood test.
The most common side effects I’ve witnessed with women using the copper IUD is increased flow and cramps during their period.
Option 6: Spermicide
Spermicide is a type of contraceptive that kills sperm or stops it from moving. You insert spermicide in the vagina before sex. The chemicals in the spermicide, such as nonoxynol-9, prevent sperm from entering the uterus.
Typically, you will use a small silicone device like a “diaphragm”, “sponge” or “cervical cap” that fits over the cervix and is reusable.
These methods have been shown to be less effective (about 1 in 10 women will become pregnant), but can be used in addition to other methods if you like for that extra sense of protection.
#7. Don’t Go it Alone
Looking for guidance in optimizing your hormones naturally? Don’t go it alone! There is strength in numbers. Reach out to our virtual clinic today o r support in your health journey.