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Can the birth control pill fix my period?

October 29, 2018
birth control fix period, naturopathic doctor toronto, toronto naturopath

Short answer: No. 

You can’t fix your period with birth control because birth control doesn’t ‘improve’ your hormones. The birth control pill actually shuts off your period. 

How does the pill work?

The pill stops your natural menstrual cycle. More specifically, it prevents follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and lutenizing hormone (LH) from being produced. This prevents follicles from maturing and releasing estrogen, and it prevents ovulation from happening, which produces progesterone. Because LH is not being produced, this causes cervical mucus to thicken affecting sperm movement and endometrial development (this is the lining that’s shed during your period). 

The birth control pill does have its own hormones: estrogen and progestin. These are not the same hormones that our body produces, but mimic them. 

If you are using a 28-day packet, 21 pills will contain the synthetic hormones and 7 will be placebo. When you take placebos, your body will experience a withdrawal bleed (often mistaken as a period). 

6 ways that these hormones are different

1. They enter your body differently

The hormones from the pill enter your bloodstream through your GI tract and portal vein (an important vein in your liver). Your ovarian hormones enter your circulation through veins in the ovary and the inferior vena cava. 

2. They have different concentrations

When you take the pill everyday, the hormones enter your body in a single, large dose. Your body’s hormones are always being produced based on where you’re at in your cycle. 

3. They have constant levels

Once you take the pill, those hormone levels don’t change. Your body’s hormones levels may change based on what’s going on with your hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. 

4. They stay in your body longer

Because the pill’s hormones are synthetic, they are designed to be more resistant to metabolism (aka. they don’t break down as easily). Therefore, they stay active in the body longer than your body’s natural hormones. It’s been thought that they can remain inside your body for at least 6 months after discontinuation. 

5. Progestin is not progesterone

Progestin is similar to progesterone, but they’re not the same molecule. Some progestins like levonorgestrel may cause hair loss because they are testosterone-like (and have a high androgen index). Progestins may also cause acne, as they suppress sebum production. 

Some progestins may have a low androgen index, and while may not cause hair loss while on the pill, they may cause hair loss after the pill is stopped because the body’s androgen levels increase. 

6. They have different actions

The hormones from the pill have a different action on hormonal receptors inside the body, compared to our hormones. This is because the structure, type, and concentration of pill hormones are different than your actual hormones. 

Then why use the pill?

The pill is the first line treatment option for many common conditions like PMS, PCOS and endometriosis. And it’s often given with the reasoning that it will regulate your period and stop the problem. But when you stop taking the pill, your problems will likely come back. 

There are times when the pill should be considered. For example, women taking accutane (which is a category X drug) should not be conceiving while on the drug. Or for women who have endometriosis, taking the pill may make the biggest difference for their pain and quality of life. 

How do I fix my period?

Ultimately, it’s important that you understand your symptoms so you can support your body. Especially if you’re using the pill to ‘fix’ the problems. You may want to figure out why these symptoms are happening, and see which dietary and lifestyle changes you can implement to support your longterm health. 

How do I start?

  • Review my articles about PMS, PCOS, and endometriosis

  • Track your symptoms, diet and your period

  • Get some blood work done (if applicable)

  • Find a Naturopathic Doctor to work with (feel free to contact me to find someone in your area)

  • Implement key dietary and lifestyle changes

  • Give your body time to adjust to your treatment plan

When I work with period problems, I figure out why they’re happening. I use information that you give me (diet/symptom/period trackers, blood work, your personal story) to determine the root cause and create a plan from that info. 

It’s not always a quick fix, but change takes time!

If you found this information helpful, check out my handy chart of the nutritional deficiencies caused by the pill!

References

Sims, S. and Heather, A. (2018). Myths and Methodologies: Reducing scientific design ambiguity in studies comparing sexes and/or menstrual cycle phases. Experimental Physiology, 103(10), pp.1309-1317.

What are Fertility Awareness Methods

fertility awareness methods, toronto naturopath

Fertility awareness methods allow the opportunity for people to track their cycle, with the goal of knowing when ovulation occurs. There are a variety of methods (as listed below) and are about 76-88% effective, with a possible increase in effectiveness if you use multiple methods together. 

With most of these methods, it’s wise to track your period and these particular signs for at least 3 months (6 months for calendar methods) to get an idea of your body’s rhythms before you use any of the methods for contraception. 

The Temperature Method

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember a blog post discussing basal body temperature and fertility.

A quick recap: body temperature changes throughout the menstrual cycle. It’s lower in the follicular phase and slightly higher in the luteal phase. This slight rise in temperature occurs after ovulation, and happens after the formation of the corpus luteum which releases progesterone (the hormone responsible for the temperature change). 

By following this method, you would measure your basal body temperature everyday and chart it (on an app or on paper).  

Days are considered safe once 3 days has passed since the initial rise of temperature, as well as a drop in temperature before the onset of the next menstrual cycle. This is an opportune time to have unprotected vaginal sex (with or without ejaculation). 

During your fertile days, you can avoid sex or use another birth control method. 

The Cervical Fluid Method (The Billings Method)

This method is based on cervical fluid changes, another topic I covered a while back. 

A quick recap: During the follicular phase, increasing estrogen levels will lead to the production of cervical fluid. Cervical fluid will change in colour, texture, and amount during the period, and is considered especially fertile around ovulation. 

Similar to the Temperature Method, cervical fluid needs to be charted everyday, starting from the end of the menstrual cycle. The changes that you may see will give you an idea of when ovulation may occur – which is great if you are hoping for pregnancy (unlike temperature, where it tells you that ovulation has passed).  Record everything daily: your period days, dry days, wet days, sticky days, cloudy days, and slippery days.

There are 3 ways to check your cervical fluid: (1) Before urination, wipe the opening of your vagina with white toilet paper or tissue. Observe the colour and feel of the fluid. (2) Look at your underwear for any discharge – note the colour and texture. (3) Insert your clean fingers into your vagina, and note the colour and texture of cervical fluid on your fingers. The best way to feel the consistency of your fluid is to rub it and stretch it between your thumb and index finger.

This fertility awareness method may not be best for people who don’t generally produce any cervical fluid. 

Source https://pregprep.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/131107_pregprep_chart1.jpg

The Symptothermal Method

This method combines cervical fluid, cervix changes, basal body temperature, and calculation to determine the beginning and the end of the fertile period. At the very least, you should be tracking cervical fluid and basal body temperature to determine when to avoid or engage in sex (depending on your goals, obviously). 

The Calendar Method (The Rhythm Method)

This is one of the methods that need at least 6 months of charting your period. 

Mark the first day of your cycle on an app or on a calendar. Remember, the first day is when you notice significant bleeding – not spotting. Mark the first day of your next cycle. Count the number of days in between your period. You’ll find the fertile part of your cycle, once you subtract 18-21 days from the shortest cycle (of the 6 cycles that you have tracked). You would find the end of the fertile part of your cycle by subtracting 9-11 days from your longest menstrual cycle. 

A real life example:

Dec – Jan = 30 days
Jan – Feb = 33 days
Feb – Mar = 28 days
Mar – April = 26 days
April – May = 32 days
May – June = 27 days

My shortest cycle was 26 days 
My longest cycle was 33 days

Start of my fertile phase is (26 days – 21 days) and (26 days – 18 days) = Days 5 to 8
End of my fertile phase is (33 days – 11 days) and (33 days – 9 days) = Days 22 to 24

Therefore, I would be considered fertile between days 5 to 24 of my period. Many couples may find this way a bit constricting, and may need to have another means of contraception if they still want to engage in vaginal sex. 

This method may be unreliable if you experience irregular menstrual cycles. 

The Standard Days Method

This fertility awareness method identifies a standard window in which someone may be fertile. You can only use this method if your cycle is really regular and is never shorter than 26 days and never longer than 32 days. You must also be cool with not having vaginal sex or using another contraceptive method between days 8 and 19 of your cycle – as they are considered the most fertile. 

Final Thoughts

There are at least 5 ways of practicing fertility awareness. Your best bet is paying attention to your basal body temperature and cervical mucus, and doing so for at least 3 cycles if you’re choosing this as your primary method of birth control. Speak to your Naturopathic or Medical Doctor to determine if these methods are right for you.

Birth Control and Depression

birth control and depression, toronto naturopath, naturopathic doctor toronto

Over the last couple of years birth control and it’s affect on mood, most commonly depression, has been in the news. Many are left wondering if birth control is safe for women. I’ve assessed a couple of studies, looking at various groups of women to get a better idea of what the research is saying. 

What is depression?

Like most conditions, a person must experience a certain number of symptoms to be diagnosed with a major depressive episode. 

 Five or more of the following symptoms must be present on most days for at least 2 weeks

  • Depressed mood*

  • Diminished interest or pleasure*

  • Significant weight loss or weight gain

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia

  • Psychomotor agitation or impairment

  • Fatigue or loss of energy

  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt

  • Decreased ability to think, concentrate, or ability to be decisive

  • Recurrent thoughts of death/suicide, or a suicide attempt

*One of these symptoms MUST be present

Select Populations & Birth Control

Adult Women 

A study conducted in Sweden (Zethraeus, 2017), looked at the effects of a combined pill (150 mg of levonorgestrel and 30 mg of ethinylestradiol) on general well being and depression in women aged 18-35. Compared to the placebo group, there was no difference in anxiety, depressed mood, general health. However, there WAS a significant reduction in in general well-being in women who used a levonorgestrel-containing OC, compared to women taking the placebo. 

Postpartum Women

A study by Horibe analyzed the connection between postpartum depression, drugs, and reported adverse events. They found that levonorgestrel was the top drug reported in connection with postpartum depression. This was followed by other progestins: etonogrestrol and drospirenone (further down in the list). The authors concluded that contraceptives or intrauterine devices with progestin might convey risk for postpartum depression.

With this in mind, I believe that postpartum women should be aware of the risk of depression with many of the pharmaceuticals they may taking during that first postpartum year. Moreover, it’s important to have these conversations with their doctors of what may happen, and what the next steps would be. Currently progestin-only contraception is considered first-line therapy for breastfeeding women. Estrogen-containing contraceptives are not started until breastfeeding is stopped as it may decrease milk supply. 

Adolescents

A groundbreaking study (looking at over a million women!) in 2016 by Skovlund, looked to investigate if hormonal contraception is associated with antidepressant use and a depression diagnosis. They ended up finding that adolescents (15 to 19 years) using hormonal contraception are more sensitive than older women (20 to 34 years old). when it came to getting a diagnosis of depression or using antidepressants. This effect was seen in both the combination pill as well as progestin-only pills (which was more predominant). The study also indicated that the incidence of depression and use of antidepressants decreased with age. 

For teens considering taking birth control, I would ask yourself why this might be. What is the outcome you are hoping to achieve? There are two conditions in which girls are given birth control as a treatment: endometriosis and acne (usually resulting from PCOS).

If you are experiencing heavy and painful periods (where you are unable on some days to go to school), talk to your medical doctor about endometriosis and if it’s a possibility. If you are experiencing acne, hair growth in places usually seen in males, and even irregular periods, talk to your doctor about PCOS as a possible explanation.  

Women with Bipolar Disorder and Depression

The study by Pagano aimed to look at the safety of contraception in women with depression and/or bipolar disorder. This was a meta analysis which looked at 6 studies that met their specific inclusion criteria. They found that oral contraception, levonorgestrel-releasing IUD and the depo shot, were not associated with worse clinical outcomes of depression or bipolar disorder in women who already had this condition. 

A couple things to note about this review: there was no 
standard definition or assessment of depressive and bipolar disorders or symptoms across studies, and the use of depression medication was unknown in three of the six studies. 

Final Thoughts on Birth Control and Depression

Overall, while there’s no clear cut answer on whether birth control causes depression – these studies still give you an idea of what the risk might be. Here are a couple of questions to think about if you’re considering taking birth control:

  • Why do you want to take birth control?

  • Are you considering birth control because of painful periods or ‘regulating’ your cycle?

  • Are you considering birth control because you want to prevent a pregnancy?

  • Are you willing to live with side effects (ie. a decreased quality of life)?

  • Are you an adolescent?

  • Have you given birth within the past year? 

While there isn’t a naturopathic alternative to birth control (I’m talking about supplements, not the fertility awareness method), it’s necessary to dive deeper into why you may be considering this option. This may also have you wondering what’s going on in your body and if you can help support it in other ways – perhaps with the assistance of Naturopathic Doctor as well!

If you found this information helpful, check out my handy chart of the nutritional deficiencies caused by the pill!

References

Zethraeus N, Dreber A, Ranehill E et al. A first-choice combined oral contraceptive influences general well-being in healthy women: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Fertil Steril. 2017;107(5):1238-1245. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2017.02.120.

Horibe M, Hane Y, Abe J et al. Contraceptives as possible risk factors for postpartum depression: A retrospective study of the food and drug administration adverse event reporting system, 2004-2015. Nurs Open. 2018;5(2):131-138. doi:10.1002/nop2.121.

Pagano H, Zapata L, Berry-Bibee E, Nanda K, Curtis K. Safety of hormonal contraception and intrauterine devices among women with depressive and bipolar disorders: a systematic review. Contraception. 2016;94(6):641-649. doi:10.1016/j.contraception.2016.06.012.

Worly B, Gur T, Schaffir J. The relationship between progestin hormonal contraception and depression: a systematic review. Contraception. 2018. doi:10.1016/j.contraception.2018.01.010.

Skovlund C, Mørch L, Kessing L, Lidegaard Ø. Association of Hormonal Contraception With Depression. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(11):1154. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.2387.