Panacea: The pill can't regulate your cycle.
In the last few decades the pill has transitioned from being a contraceptive option to a panacea - a cure-all for every menstrual complaint.
From acne and cramps to irregular cycles and pms.
According the the Guttmacher Institute:
In the USA 14% of pill users—1.5 million women—rely on the pill exclusively for non-contraceptive purposes.
Their research also found that more than half of all pill users rely on the method, for purposes other than pregnancy prevention—meaning that only 42% use the pill exclusively for contraceptive reasons. (1).
That's a lot of folks using the pill for reasons other than contraception - or for both contraception and symptom relief or cycle regulation.
The pill shuts down hormones.
Your ovaries communicate with your brain in a feedback loop called your 'Hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis' or HPO.
Which basically means your brain and ovaries are constantly texting about when to make estrogen, the relationship status of your egg and what time progesterone shows up at the party.
When you go on the pill - this conversation is on mute.
Now you're on the pill 'hormone-like-drugs' (posers - if you like) have stolen your phone and start texting your brain and ovaries: 'don't ovulate, don't ovulate, don't ovulate.'
Without ovulation it's not possible to get pregnant.
Without ovulation you don't experience the highs and lows of estrogen and progesterone.
And none of the hormonally related effects that go along with it.
On the pill you don't experience the same shifts in energy, mood, hunger, creativity, libido and emotions that you do when you're off it, because these changes are linked to your naturally occurring hormones.
This change in body chemistry can have a massive impact on mental health and sense of well-being.
But what about lighter, more regular periods?
It's true that the pill you might experience lighter or more regular bleeding - but these aren't real periods because you did not ovulate.
You're only experiencing a 'withdrawal bleed' made to appear like your cycle is regular.
When the truth is, you aren't cycling at all.
And then... it all returns.
When you decide to come off the pill, all the symptoms you had before you went on the pill come back. Acne, mood swings, bloating, painful periods, irregular cycles.
And you’re like - what the heck!
The pill doesn’t address the underlying causes of cycle irregularity or painful periods - because it can’t.
It just turns the system off, and lets your body run on a mix of synthetic hormones that prevent ovulation.
And that's a problem cause ovulation is important for your long term health.
Ovulation is good for you!
Your body needs to have a base-line level of wellness to ovulate regularly.
Regular exposure to estrogen and progesterone are crucial for your current and future bone, heart and breast health, as well as supporting current fertility.
Healthy hormonal cycles are linked with thyroid and skin health, as well as reductions in osteoporosis, heart disease and breast cancer.(2)
Problematic periods tell you something's out of balance in your body.
Experiencing erratic cycles, hormonal acne or digestive bloating tell you something’s not right and asks you to dig a little deeper to find out what it is.
That's why your period is called your monthly report card.
When your period arrives ask yourself - what symptoms am I experiencing? What symptoms did I experience this month?
These are the clues that can help you find your way back to health.
If you're considering the pill because you struggle with acne, bloating or PMS, remember that nutritional imbalance, excess caffeine, sugar, gluten, dairy, sluggish or weak digestion and high stress all impact PMS symptoms.
If your cycle is irregular check in with root causes that affect ovulation, like - low body weight, high stress, high insulin and low nutrition.
Keep in mind heavy, painful and irregular periods are also symptoms of serious diseases like Endometriosis, PCOS and fibroids.
Going on the pill can't heal any of these issues - it's just a band-aid that covers them up.
To heal your cycle you need to know what’s causing the imbalance.
When deciding what your contraceptive method is best for you - ask lots of questions.
Informed consent means we understand how a drug / device / procedure affects our bodies and all the potential side effects.
If you are thinking of going on the pill for reasons other than contraception - record your symptoms and track your cycle, all of that data helps you get to the bottom of your root causes and arms you with insight in the doctors office.
Finally keep in mind that menstrual cycles and period problems respond really well to diet, herbs and lifestyle shifts - your herbalist, nutritionist or naturopath can help you find support that's right for your body.
To learn more about the pill and contraceptive options that don't impact your hormones check out:
Body Basics is running this April, reconnect with your body, manage your fertility naturally and feel empowered by your cycle.
For effective natural contraceptive options check out these articles and this one.
If you want to learn how to track, or understand more about how your cycle works have a look right here:
To learn more about how hormonal birth control affects your brain, body and partner selection(!) Check out Sarah Hills - Your Brain on Birth Control.
Holly Grigg-Spalls - Sweetening the pill looks at how we 'got hooked on the pill'.
Preventative powers of ovulation - Centre for Menstrual Cycle Research
American Women use the pill for non-contraceptive reasons. Guttmacher Institute.
The pill is linked to depression. Guardian News.