It seems like everyone is on birth control these days. But it turns out it’s changing more than your ability to get pregnant. Let’s discuss some lesser-known side effects of the birth control pill.
My husband asked me to restart my birth control, and my stomach dropped. I didn’t realize it before he brought it up, but I did not want to go back on the pill.
As I started thinking about it more, I realized I don’t like how I feel on the pill. I get anxious. I am tired. And I actually enjoy feeling some natural hormone-induced desire during ovulation!
Is there more to birth control than everyone says? It seems like EVERYONE is on birth control. Is it affecting us in ways we don’t even realize?
Hormones in a Typical Cycle
In a typical cycle, estrogen steadily increases until ovulation. Once the egg is released, progesterone takes over. The critical piece to remember is we have higher estrogen in the first half of our cycle and higher progesterone in the second half. Hormone levels change steadily over the cycle, so our bodies don’t notice the change in hormone levels.
Right before we get our period, our hormone levels will drop suddenly. You know the feeling. You’re going about your day, and suddenly you assume your son may fall off of his bike, jump 10 feet in the air, and fall over the bridge you’re on into the traffic underneath. Or your husband asks what’s for dinner, and you holler back, “I’M ALREADY MAKING CHILI!” The day or two before our period is when over half of women get specific PMS symptoms, especially mood changes. It’s the one time in the cycle when hormone levels plummet instead of decreasing slowly, and our bodies can react.
Hormones on Birth Control
On birth control, our hormone levels spike when we take the pill and quickly decrease the rest of the day. We no longer produce hormones to keep levels steady, so every day the levels will drop as we use the hormones. It’s similar to the last day of our natural cycle, but every day! If you find you experience anxiety before your period, the same may happen every day while on the pill because the effect is similar.
Birth control pills introduce higher levels of hormones than we produce on our own. Each brand has different levels and types of progestin, so it’s pill dependent. In general, there is about 3 to 5 times more estrogen introduced with the birth control pill, and about 1 to 2 times more progestin introduced with the birth control pill than our body would produce naturally.
Birth Control Mimics the Luteal Phase
Birth control pills have higher levels of progestin than estrogen. This ratio mimics the luteal phase. In the luteal phase, we have lower energy, we do not feel particularly creative, and our body reacts poorly to stress. Cycle syncing suggests workouts such as pilates, yoga, and strength training, not high-intensity training.
The research about women on birth control agrees. Being on the pill increases our core body temperature, similar to the luteal phase. It’s easier to overheat during exercise when your temperature increases and working out becomes more challenging.
It’s also shown that our bodies need more oxygen while on birth control. We’re more likely to become out of breath while working out both while on birth control and during the luteal phase.
Birth Control Affects More Than We Think
Let’s summarize. Birth control can cause the following symptoms:
- Increases our core body temperature, making it more difficult to workout
- It forces us to use more oxygen
But that’s not all. Research shows the hippocampus shrinks while on birth control, so we become less able to learn. And there is no evidence that it will come back to the previous size after stopping the pill.
There is also a correlation between birth control use and depression. It’s interesting people talk about weight gain, but not these startling medical side effects.
Birth Control and Health Issues
When women use birth control to solve specific symptoms, the underlying issue is usually not resolved until getting off birth control. Maybe you went on birth control to control symptoms of PCOS, acne, or migraines. If we never addressed those issues’ underlying cause, they will likely come back when stopping the pill.
Covering up symptoms with birth control can make it more difficult to get pregnant later on. Thyroid hormone issues can cause symptoms that may improve with the pill. When we cover up the symptoms with the pill, we don’t realize there may be some underlying issues until we stop birth control and try to get pregnant. Unfortunately, thyroid dysfunction can make it more difficult to get pregnant, and it can take a while to trace the issue back to hormone health. If we instead improve the symptoms by finding the underlying cause, in this case, thyroid dysfunction, we can get healthy, and pregnant, more quickly.
Now my husband doesn’t even ask about birth control anymore. The way I feel on birth control is similar to the way I feel in the luteal phase. And the luteal phase is NOT my favorite phase! I’m a little sad I spent about ten years living in it while on birth control. Understanding our natural cycle can improve our energy and health, and we might be better off without birth control pills if we can avoid them.
If you have decided to stop the pill, download these cheat sheets to hack your cycle! They help you select the right food, workouts, and activities that optimize and energize your whole cycle.