How to transition off the oral contraceptive pill with ease

Are you ready to transition off the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) AKA birth control, but you’ve heard scary stories about what happens to your body when you do?

Maybe you’re part of the almost 60 percent of women who take the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) for reasons other than pregnancy prevention. Are you ready to stop hormonal birth control to address the symptoms that drove you to take the pill in the first place?

Should you simply accept acne, irregular periods, no period, crazy mood swings or heavy, painful periods as a consequence of stopping the pill? Possibly you did stop taking the pill and experienced these symptoms, so you started again. I don’t blame you.

The process of coming off hormonal birth control can be confronting. In my women’s health clinic I’ve met many women who have been on and off the oral contraceptive pill since they were a teenager. They often try to figure out what is going on with their body by themselves and whether the unpleasant symptoms they experience once they stop are their only option.

However, the truth is: without a proactive framework and sound roadmap in place, you can easily experience a resurgence in your pre-pill hormonal or period related symptoms or develop new symptoms. It can quickly become an unpleasant mess.

This is why I’m sharing the most important steps to successfully transition off hormonal contraceptives (aka “The pill”) with ease. But first up what happens to your body and hormones when you take the pill?

How the pill works: what happens to your body and hormones when you take the Oral Contraceptive Pill:

There are two types of oral contraceptives: “the combined pill” and the “mini pill”. The combined oral contraceptive (COC) pill, contains a fixed dose of synthetic oestrogen and synthetic progesterone from day one to 21. It is taken for 21 days followed by a 7 day rest. It works mainly through the suppression of the hypothalamus pituitary axis, which results in prevention of ovulation. The synthetic oestrogen suppresses the secretion of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). This results in prevention of follicle development and the rise of plasma oestradiol (an oestrogen). The synthetic progesterone compound mainly acts by preventing the pre-ovulatory rise of luteinising hormone (LH).

The “mini pill” is a progestogen-only oral contraceptive pill (POPs). It contains a progestin, a synthetic form of progesterone, and is taken continuously. It alters your cervical mucus, which stops sperm penetration. This results in marked suppression of ovulation. It also causes changes to occur in the endometrium, which prevents the implantation of a fertilised egg.

What Are The Side-effects From Taking the Oral Contraceptive pill?

Did you know when you take the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) you can experience hormonal disruption, weight gain, depression/mood changes, increased anxiety, bloating, headaches and migraines, bladder infections, abnormal PAP smears, poor libido, breast-tenderness, break-through bleeding, acne, nausea, gall-bladder and liver problems?

Oral contraceptives may also impair glucose and lipid metabolism, and promote insulin resistance and inflammation.There is also an increased risk of breast cancer, thrombosis and cardiovascular disease, cervical dysplasia and hypertension (high blood presssure).

Nutrients depleted from the oral contraceptive pill include:

  • Vitamin B1,Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin E, good bacteria (probiotics).

The oral contraceptive pill may also impair methylation via disrupting folate metabolism – if you have a MTHFR gene variant you are at risk.

Coming off the pill: post birth-control syndrome

When you come off the pill you may experience a return of the imbalanced hormone symptoms that drove you to take the pill in the first place. When you stop the pill you may also experience some “bonuses” too. Side effects from coming off the pill can include: a loss of a period altogether or first-time adult acne. Post-birth control syndrome is a term that refers to the collection of signs and symptoms you can develop once you stop the oral contraceptive pill.

Common symptoms of post birth control syndrome include:

  • Post-pill amenorrhoea – your period has gone missing. It is important to remember that your pill bleed is not a real period, but a withdrawal bleed. It is important to establish a healthy menstrual cycle, which includes ovulation.
  • Post-pill acne – the combined oral contraceptive pill reduces androgen production. When you stop the pill (COC) you can experience a temporary surge in androgens. High levels of androgens cause an increase in sebum production, which can block pores and cause acne.
  • Other symptoms include a heavy, painful period, headaches, depression and anxiety.

How to Fix or Prevent Post-Pill Problems?

As a women’s health naturopath with a clinical focus on hormonal health and fertility, I am passionate about supporting my clients to take proactive steps when it comes to transitioning off the pill.

Here is an overview of the holistic framework I tend to use to prevent or fix post-birth control symptoms, customised for each individual. The expected timeline when transitioning off the pill is between 3 and 6 months.

1. How to Transition Off The Pill: Support Your Detoxification Pathways

Your liver, kidneys and gut are responsible for your body’s natural detoxification processes. They neutralise, package and excrete hormones your body no longer needs, including those from the pill, BPAs and xenobiotics. It is crucial these processes are working optimally. Phase II (glucoronidation) requires vitamin B6, B12, magnesium and folate, which are all depleted by the pill. This is why you may need to provide these pathways with extra support with key nutrients and herbs, depending on your symptom picture.

2. How to Transition Off The Pill: Correct Nutrient Deficiencies Caused By The Pill

It is essential to replenish nutrients depleted by the pill in order to support hormone production. You may also need to address other nutrient deficiencies such as iron or vitamin D.

3. How to Transition Off The Pill: Heal and restore your microbiome

Research has shown that the oral contraceptive pill alters your microbiome and reduces its integrity. A gut repair program designed for you to address the imbalance to the microbiome caused by the pill may be necessary.

4. How to Transition Off The Pill: Identify and Address Any Underlying Hormonal Imbalances

This may involve addressing insulin resistance, blood sugar levels, progesterone, testosterone, oestrogen or thyroid support with specific herbs, nutrients and a wholefood based diet tailored to your individual symptom picture and lifestyle.

5. How to Transition Off The Pill: Support your stress response and establish a healthy menstrual cycle

Your menstrual cycle is your fifth vital sign, and it can tell you a lot about your health, which is why we want a healthy menstrual cycle. Stress also impacts the reproductive system and contributes to dysfunction. Remember, when stressed, your body requires more B vitamins, which unfortunately the pill depletes.

Where to next?

Don’t go it alone. For 1:1 support and a clear pathway to smooth your transition off the pill I’m here to help. Book a 15 minute complimentary appointment here. I’d be honoured to work with you.

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