When I started birth control I went into it thinking it would be a short term thing. Breast cancer runs in my family and estrogen based birth control increases that risk big time, so I was very aware of the need for this to be a temporary solution. What I didn't know at that time though was that my health would continue to decline and I would need the stability of birth control long term. That's exactly how I got to the place where 11 years later I was still on the patch. I always had so many chaotic things going on with my health that I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water. I wasn't prepared then to go through the transition off of birth control (more on that later), and I definitely wasn't prepared physically to go back to those old torturous periods of years past.
So, what changed? Well, throughout the years I was in my many situations with Doctors who told me that many of my problems wouldn't be able to be fixed until I'm off of birth control. And that's because birth control does so much more to the body than women are led to believe. For starters, a lot of people don't realize that birth control works by tricking your body into thinking it's pregnant. Now imagine that you are on it for years, that's years that your body is stuck thinking it's pregnant. Why is that a problem? Because when the body thinks it is pregnant it uses up and depletes certain minerals, vitamins and nutrients to critical levels. Think about prenatal vitamins and why they are important for women to take during pregnancy. Furthermore, the body is not made to be stuck in a state of false pregnancy, and thats where you run into issues with something called Estrogen Dominance. This happens when the hormonal ratio of Estrogen is off balance in proportion to Progesterone, and it comes with a whole slew of health problems. You already know that birth control comes with the inherent risk of breast cancer due to the large amounts of estrogen it puts into the body; but when it's done long term it can create complete havoc. Not to mention, estrogen is hard to detox from the body and gets stored in fat. So the excess of it doesn't just get magically removed from your body each month. It builds up.
Here's a sampling of symptoms/issues that Estrogen Dominance causes:
- Uterine Fibroids
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Breast cancer
- Uterine cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Cervical Dysplasia
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Ovarian cysts
- Autoimmune Disorders
- Increased blood clotting
- Acceleration of aging
So, as you can see, not a great list. Estrogen Dominance was just one of the issues I was dealing with due to long term birth control. On top of that I had a lot of really troublesome thyroid issues that were unable to be resolved, and I talk more in depth about it here. Tied into that were vitamin deficiencies that I could not fix no matter how much I tried to supplement. I was dangerously low in zinc, ferritin, magnesium and some B-vitamins, and all of those get robbed by birth control. Therefore no matter how much I was trying to replenish my body with those nutrients they got used up instantaneously and I stayed stuck in the red. Ferritin and zinc are also critical nutrients for the thyroid to function properly so it was a vicious cycle. I tried to fix my thyroid in so many other ways, but nothing ever worked and I was being thrown back and forth between Hypothyroid and Hyperthyroid symptoms. It became abundantly obvious that if I didn't get off of birth control I would never be able to properly fix my chronically low Ferritin, Zinc, B-vitamins, magnesium and more. I saw chronically low because these levels have been rock bottom for years.
As if that wasn't enough I also learned a really sobering statistic about birth control while reading a study. It has a high correlation for causing Crohn's disease. You know, the fun disease I was diagnosed with a little over 2 years ago... neat. The study says, "Estrogen based contraceptives have been associated with an increased risk of Crohn's disease since the 1970's." No one knows exactly why contraceptives trigger IBD's but researchers think its due to an out of whack immune system, increased leaky gut, and imbalanced gut bacteria, all of which happen because of birth control. That would have been fantastic information to have had before I was put on birth control, but these are the pieces of information that women aren't being given. Progesterone only birth control does not have the same risk of causing Crohn's disease, nor does it come with the risks of deep vein thrombosis or increased breast cancer. Yet, this was never presented to me as an option. There is a culture of just throwing birth control at women for every single ailment without looking into if its a good fit or what kind of long term problems it can cause.
Circling back to some points I made above, I mentioned that birth control completely wreaks havoc on gut bacteria and leads to leaky gut. On top of that it can also cause SIBO, and chronic Candida problems. That's all because birth control inherently messes with gut bacteria, and gut bacteria not being in check is the root cause of all the other issues listed above. Several studies discuss this, and they have found that for whatever reason hormonal birth control just naturally depletes the good bacteria needed to have balanced homeostasis. This also would have been fantastic information to have before starting birth control considering I have had chronic stomach problems even prior to developing Crohn's disease. Many women battle candida that is persistent and resistant to treatment, or long standing SIBO and leaky gut that won't resolve properly only to later find out it was all tied to their birth control. It's unavoidable that birth control will affect your gut health, and it played a role fro me in years and years of trying and failing to properly solve a lot of my G.I issues.
So, to recap: I was on birth control for 11 years, I had many nutritional deficiencies because of it, I had serious thyroid trouble that was not resolving because of it, it contributed to my long term G.I issues, and I had developed estrogen dominance which was causing a whole host of symptoms and imbalances in my body. Oh, and it may have led to developing Crohn's disease.
What now? Well, most of you would say, "Why don't you just stop it then?" The thing is, I had been trying to come off of my birth control for almost a year before I finally stopped, and I was discussing stopping it at least 2 years before that. The reason I couldn't do it sooner, even when I desperately wanted to, is because stopping long term birth control is a struggle on the body. I don't just mean a minor inconvenience either, I mean it causes full on chaos. If you google "coming off of long term birth control" you will find article after article from otherwise healthy individuals describing what kind of hell they went through. The body suddenly has to fend for itself after having hormones regulated for years on end. This is called "Post Birth Control Syndrome" and it lasts 4-6 months. Here's a sampling of symptoms:
- Amenorrhea (loss of menstruation)
- Heavy, painful periods
- Acne, cystic acne, rosacea
- Hair loss
- Blood sugar dysregulation
- Mood Swings
- Leaky gut
- Gut dysbiosis
- Inflammation and other immune imbalances
- Hair Loss
- Nausea & vomiting
- Rebound symptoms
If you're wondering, yes, this is a case of "you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't." I'm well aware that those symptoms sound awfully similar to that of Estrogen Dominance. This is exactly why I am writing this blog, because very little information is given to women about what happens to their body when they are given birth control long term. And even less information is given about how hard it can be to then stop. I made the mistake of trying to prepare myself by reading blog posts and articles of what other women went through when they stopped their birth control. I read stories about women who had months of heavy bleeding and cramps that were so bad they missed weeks of work, or migraines that completely put them out of commission. Then in the end many of them couldn't take it any longer and they went back on birth control to make it stop. Mind you, these stories are coming from otherwise healthy women, not women who have an underlying chronic illness.
Because of my chronic illnesses my body already doesn't handle any kind of minor hormonal shifts well at all. My body is so unbelievably sensitive to hormonal changes that in the past if I changed my birth control patch even 12 hours late it would create hormonal problems most people wouldn't feel, but I would get days of migraines, severe nausea, loss of appetite and a mast cell flare up. Any kind of hormonal shift in my body would be so much more intense than a normal healthy person, and therefore I had the fear of God put into me after reading various blog posts.
This is why it took me so long to take the plunge. I needed to be stable enough to handle the 4-6 months of possible chaos that would come. In fact, I first tried a method where every 2-3 months I would cut off a small sliver of my patch in order to slowly wean me off. This was a horrible idea, and I do not recommend it. Every time I cut off a small piece the hormonal changes took me 2-3 months to adjust to, and each time it was awful. Also, once I got to about 60% of my patch being cut off I was creating more problems for myself with breakthrough bleeding, sore breasts, and non stop PMS symptoms. I finally got the courage to stop once and for all, and that was in early July of 2019.
In order to keep this post from being too long I'm going to end this here. In the next post (coming in a few days) I will detail in depth what happened when I stopped birth control cold turkey, and where I'm at now in November 2019. Don't worry it's won't be a terrifying post like the one I read prior. I learned a ton along the way, and I have a lot of tips to share on how to make the transition as smooth as possible.
As a closing thought I want to add that I understand why some women need to stay on birth control long term. Many women have endometriosis or PCOS that makes it imperative. Other women might be like me and are stuck on birth control because they aren't stable enough health wise to come off of it. There is 0 shame in that, and I'm not trying to change anyones mind about birth control in general. I just wanted to share the info that I was never given but wish I had. I want to share my story in case someone else is in the same boat and needs a life raft to safely get off. I've been through it, I understand, and I want to help.
Until next time,