Birth Control: A Cover Up

This isn’t an easy post to write. But I think it’s about time that we had this discussion.

For so many reasons, birth control is intimately linked to women’s rights, women’s liberation and women’s advocacy. Birth control has given many women freedom, flexibility and choice. In many ways, birth control has been an enabler of women’s forward progress.

And for that, I hold reverence.

But, as with all light, there is inevitably also a dark side. In the case of birth control, we need to start discussing the underbelly of this powerful tool.

As with ANY medication, there are side effects. Until recently, no one really cared about or talked about the side effects of hormonal birth control (e.g., pill, ring, shot, hormonal IUD). The benefits outweighed the costs...but now we have more data on the costs, so it might be time for a re-evaluation.

Importantly for us here at Xandara, some of these side effects may be playing a role in fertility challenges. So, let’s dive into them:

  • It depletes the body of key nutrients; many of these nutrients (e.g., B vitamins, vitamin E, zinc, coenzyme Q10) are critical for initiating and maintaining pregnancy.

  • It can alter the gut microbiome. An altered microbiome can be responsible for a number of symptoms, including headaches, yeast infections, lowered immunity and even mood disorders. A dysbiotic gut can also be transferred to your baby, predisposing them to things like asthma and allergies.

  • It can impair detoxification, allowing a toxic hormonal soup to build up in your body. Excess estrogen, for example, is linked to fibroids, endometriosis and even some cancers. Moreover, any time that hormones are imbalanced (too much, too little), fertility problems ensue.

  • It can mask underlying hormonal imbalances. With hormonal birth control, you do not actually get a period each month; rather, it’s a chemically induced “withdrawal bleed”. Practically speaking, this means that your hormones don’t fluctuate normally and naturally; therefore, your body does not produce many of the signs of hormonal dysfunction (e.g., acne, spotting, absent periods) that it otherwise would. Basically, your body’s symptom cascade is “silenced”.

The biggest issue for fertility is the last one. Many women don’t realize that they have hormonal problems until they try to get pregnant. Hormonal birth control covers them up. Sometimes, these underlying hormonal issues have been festering for years; in many cases, they were the initial reason that someone went on birth control (e.g., acne, heavy periods). The thing is: birth control didn’t solve the underlying problem (which was an imbalance of hormones); it only masked the problem by quieting the symptoms. So, when you come off of birth control, you are still left with that underlying problem, which definitely didn’t get resolved and may have even progressed.

This isn’t about birth control being good or bad. As with any medication, it’s about weighing the benefits and risks. And it’s about your unique situation and priorities. It’s just important to be an informed consumer...and you can’t be informed if no one gives you all of the facts.

The big takeaway here is this:

Birth control can mask underlying hormonal imbalances while you are on it. Even once you’re off of it, the effects of hormonal birth control can increase barriers and therefore time to getting pregnant (e.g., through nutrient deficiencies, altered microbiome function and impaired detox). Given this, you may want to give yourself some time to transition off of birth control and ensure that your hormonal system is in good shape before trying to conceive.