DO YOU TAKE THE BIRTH CONTROL PILL?
For decades holistic practitioners and functional medicine practitioners, have been sounding the alarm about the risks of synthetic birth control pills, especially the regular, higher doses of synthetic estradiol and progesterone. These have been dolled out to women for decades under the guise of a safe option for preventing pregnancy. Unfortunately conventional medicine does not usually get to the root cause of disorders like polycystic ovarian syndrome, PMS, acne or menopause, instead birth control pills are often prescribed to keep the symptoms at bay. But, at what cost? Long term use of these pills has proven controversial. Studies have already shown risks for thromboembolism, heart disease, strokes, and gallstones. In my practice alone, I see birth control pills or a rampant estrogen dominance both leading to cholecystectomies, or removal of the gallbladder due to stones, quite often. It even happened to me! Stressed out and teetering on the brink of adrenal fatigue in residency, I suffered debilitating gallbladder attacks while on the pill for years. I was lucky enough to save my gallbladder from impending surgery with diet changes, stress management and stopping the pill.
And not just that, but I often see patients with the dreaded triad of low thyroid, estrogen dominance, and adrenal fatigue. Nearly all of these women have had hormonal issues that prompted their physician to put them on the birth control pill. Birth control pills increase thyroid and sex hormone binding globulin which effectively lower the amount of “free” or bioavailable circulating thyroid and sex hormones. This leaves us feeling drained, fatigued, with zero sex drive, thinning hair and aging skin. Yikes.
I want to stress….the birth control pill will NOT fix your hormonal issues. It is only masking them. I, along with many other practitioners, was hopeful that low dose birth control pills, including IUDs, would be a safer option for women. Now a new study confirms the risk of ANY sort of synthetic supplementation that interferes with our natural hormonal balance.
IS THERE AN INCREASE IN CANCER IF I TAKE THE BIRTH CONTROL PILL?
On December 6th, 2017, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study showing a 20% increase in breast cancer for women who take low dose pills. The study, which used all of Denmark as its sample, followed nearly 1.8 million women of childbearing age for over a decade on average, drawing data from national prescription and cancer registries. During that time period, 11,517 cases of breast cancer were identified. The researchers concluded that hormone users over all experienced a 20 percent increase in the relative risk of breast cancer compared to nonusers, although the risk increased with age and varied by formulation.
The study, which is the largest of its kind, upends widely held assumptions about modern contraceptives for younger generations of women. Many of us have felt low libidos, less excitement about life and more irritable on synthetic hormones. It is now time to listen to our bodies.
The new paper estimated that for every 100,000 women, hormone contraceptive use causes an additional 13 breast cancer cases a year. That is, for every 100,000 women using hormonal birth control, there are 68 cases of breast cancer annually, compared with 55 cases a year among nonusers. It is a small, but statistically significant risk.
We have associated the pill with an increase in breast cancer before, however this study is the first and largest of its kind to explore the risks of different formulations and deliveries of the hormones (the Mirena IUD, for example). The Mirena, as well as some implants, use low dose progestin, a synthetic progesterone that is released slowly into the uterus. This is thought to shut down the body’s own natural progesterone production, leading to a relative estrogen dominance upon removal of the device. Now this newest study links progestin to an increase in breast cancer.
“This is an important study because we had no idea how the modern day pills compared to the old-fashioned pills in terms of breast cancer risk, and we didn’t know anything about I.U.D.’s,” said Dr. Marisa Weiss, an oncologist who founded the website breastcancer.org. “Gynecologists just assumed that a lower dose of hormone meant a lower risk of cancer. But the same elevated risk is there.”
And the risk increased the longer you use the pill or the longer the IUD is in place. The relationship is very causal. All of this makes me happy that I removed my Mirena IUD after only one year. I never felt like getting dressed up to go out, was effectively a hermit, and all the while I watched my skin age in front of my eyes. (I have a YouTube video all about why you should not get the Mirena IUD on Doctor Jess MD)
SO WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
Even if the relative risk increases 20%, it remains less than one-tenth of 1%. But by the time a woman reaches 40, her probability of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years is 1.45 percent. That is approximately one in 69 women. A 20% increase would raise her risk to 1.74%, or 1 in 57.
Women who stayed on hormones for 10 or more years (sadly this is many women, including myself) experienced a 38% increase in their relative risk of developing breast cancer, compared with nonusers.
Basically the risk increases with longer usage and with increasing age.
ARE THERE OTHER RISKS? WHAT THE STUDIES SHOW:
- Oral contraceptives deplete vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants as measured by activity of Coenzyme Q10 and vitamin E. They are also known to deplete Vitamin B6, or pyroxidine, which aids in preventing fatigue. B6 is also a precursor to making the neurotransmitters, GABA and serotonin, the “happy” neurotransmitters. Birth control pills are also linked to depleting levels of important minerals like zinc, selenium, phosphorus, and magnesium demonstrated by this cross-sectional, randomized study. Interestingly, birth control use was associated with elevated levels of copper, which is linked to increasing estrogen and xenoestrogen levels.
- Oral contraceptives can create oxidative stress within the body. Sex hormones are intimately connected to immune cells, sleep hormones, gut bacteria and mood. If we are skweing our normal levels with synthetic hormones, all of these areas will be affected. Oxidative stress cannot fully be avoided but is tempered by antioxidants in the body. One measure of oxidative stress is lipid peroxidation and was found to be higher in women who are on the pill. It decreased to near baseline levels once the pill was weaned off. These oxidative stress markers were also lowered with vitamin E and C, both potent antioxidants.
- Besides being linked to poor thyroid function, the pill is also now linked to depression and mood disorders. Just last year, a study published in the esteemed Journal of American Medical Association Psychiatry linked birth control pills to a higher rate of depression. You can find the study here: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2552796 These women were more likely to be prescribed an antidepressant, like Prozac.
I personally use the Daysy fertility monitor which you can find here- https://usa.daysy.me
It is a German computer that is 99.3% effective in preventing pregnancy by tracking core body temperature! It does not mess with your hormones and leaves you accountable for preventing pregnancy by checking your temperature every morning before getting out of bed.
The copper IUD and condoms are also safer alternatives.
No matter what you decide is right for you, please do your own research. We live in times where corporations and mainstream media often cannot be trusted. You are your own best health advocate. Knowledge is power.
Dr. Jess (MD)
Dr. Jess (Dr. Jessica Peatross) is a western trained medical doctor who began her journey into healing in 2009.
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