In a world where birth control has given women unprecedented autonomy over their reproductive choices, we are now coming face-to-face with its intricate aftermath. Since the inception of the first oral contraceptive pill in the 1950s, women have celebrated a newfound freedom, but modern insights reveal that the journey doesn’t end once the pill is set aside.

Many women today grapple with the unintended repercussions of long-term contraceptive use—hormonal imbalances that manifest as irregular periods, unexplained weight gain, and troubling skin conditions, to name a few. But it’s not just about individual symptoms; it’s about a wider societal trend of estrogen dominance, a condition that doesn’t only affect women but has implications for men too.

As we delve deeper into the myriad ways estrogen enters our lives—from the natural physiological shifts of puberty, pregnancy, and menopause to external sources like personal care products, environmental exposures, and even certain foods—the picture becomes abundantly clear. Hormonal health is at the forefront of modern wellness discussions.

Whether you’re a woman contemplating a break from contraceptives or someone keen to understand the broader impacts of estrogen on holistic health, this article offers a comprehensive view. Together, let’s unravel the mysteries of our hormones and find paths to equilibrium and vitality.

Stay tuned for the next articles in this series:

  • Part 1: Balancing Hormones Post-Birth Control
  • Part 2: Natural Solutions for Preventing Pregnancy
  • Part 3: Holistically Healing from Endometriosis

The History of Birth Control

Prior to the invention of the birth control pill, various other methods of contraception were used throughout history, including barrier methods like condoms, diaphragms, and cervical caps, as well as natural methods based on tracking menstrual cycles. The use of herbs and other substances to prevent or terminate pregnancies also dates back thousands of years. However, this article is primarily focused on oral contraceptives and intrauterine devices called IUDs.

Credit: PexelsThe first oral contraceptive pill, commonly referred to as the birth control pill, was developed in the 1950s. The key figures in its development were Dr. Gregory Pincus, Dr. John Rock, and Margaret Sanger, a prominent birth control activist (Please note, Sanger is a controversial figure for The Negro Project which you can read about here). The birth control pill was made possible due to the synthesis of the hormones progesterone and estrogen. The FDA approved the first oral contraceptive, Enovid, in 1957 for menstrual disorders and in 1960 for contraceptive use. This marked a significant turning point in reproductive health, giving women unprecedented control over their fertility.

While it seemed like a “win” for women at the time, what we are now learning is that the side effects of birth control are still largely misunderstood and, in some cases, can result in debilitating effects for the female who has allowed these substances to alter her natural cycle. As a result, experiencing abnormal periods, suffering from the consequences of hormonal imbalances (stubborn weight gain and acne, for example), and being concerned about future fertility have become far too common in our modern society

This article is intended to address the very real and common effects that may occur because of being on birth control for an extended period of time, as well as provide recommendations to help women restore hormonal health and prepare for the return of their period. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Birth Control and the Rise of Estrogen Dominance

As an RHN, I’ve always found it odd that estrogen is a primary ingredient in most hormonal contraceptive options (along with progestin, a synthetic form of progesterone). Why? Because estrogen dominance has become very common and the effects (which affect both biological women and men) can result in a variety of persistent maladies. As humans continue to live unhealthy lifestyles, their adrenals, kidneys, and liver continue to suffer – and that affects the body’s ability to eliminate excess estrogen and sustain healthy, balanced hormones.

Beyond the body’s endogenous production of estrogen, there are several external sources and pathways through which people can be exposed to estrogens or estrogen-like compounds. Here are some ways people are exposed:

  1. Natural Physiological Changes:

    • Puberty: Estrogen levels naturally rise in girls during puberty.
    • Menstrual Cycle: Levels fluctuate during the menstrual cycle.
    • Pregnancy: Estrogen levels increase significantly during pregnancy.
    • Menopause: While estrogen levels drop significantly during menopause, the body still produces small amounts.
  2. Medical Treatments:

    • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): Used to treat symptoms of menopause.
    • Oral Contraceptives: Many birth control pills contain ethinyl estradiol, a synthetic form of estrogen.
    • Estrogen Creams and Patches: Used for various medical conditions and symptoms.
    • Fertility Treatments: Some treatments involve the use of estrogen and other hormones.
  3. Food:

    • Phytoestrogens: Found in certain plants, these compounds have estrogen-like effects. Soy products, for instance, contain isoflavones which are a type of phytoestrogen.
    • Meat and Dairy: Estrogens are naturally present in meat and dairy products. There has been some concern about increased levels in these foods due to the use of hormones in animal agriculture, although many countries have regulations in place to limit such practices.

      Credit: Pexels

  4. Environmental Exposure:

    • Endocrine Disruptors: These are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse effects. Examples include bisphenol A (BPA), found in some plastics, and certain pesticides.
    • Personal Care Products: Parabens, which are used as preservatives in some cosmetics and personal care products, have weak estrogen-like activity.
    • Pharmaceuticals in Water: Residues of pharmaceuticals, including birth control pills, can sometimes be found in waterways, potentially exposing people to small amounts of estrogenic compounds.
  5. Occupational Exposure:

    • Some jobs might expose individuals to estrogen or estrogen-like compounds. For example, workers in the pharmaceutical or personal care product industries might be exposed to these substances.
  6. Herbal Supplements:

    • Some herbs, like black cohosh or red clover, contain compounds with estrogenic activity.
  7. Xenoestrogens:

    • These are industrial compounds known to affect estrogen activity. Examples include phthalates and PCBs.

When estrogen levels are excessively high relative to other hormones (particularly progesterone), it can lead to a condition known as “estrogen dominance.” This imbalance can result in a range of symptoms:

  1. Irregular Menstrual Periods: This can include shorter or longer cycles, heavier or lighter periods, or skipped periods.
  2. Bloating: Fluid retention, especially in the abdominal area.
  3. Breast Tenderness or Swelling: Breasts may feel lumpy or painful.
  4. Mood Swings and Emotional Symptoms: This can include irritability, anxiety, depression, and mood fluctuations.
  5. Headaches or Migraines: Especially if they tend to occur in the latter half of the menstrual cycle.
  6. Weight Gain: Particularly around the midsection.
  7. Swollen or Tender Hands and Feet: Due to fluid retention.
  8. Hair Loss: Some women may experience thinning hair.
  9. Cold Hands and Feet: Symptoms of poor circulation.
  10. Trouble Sleeping: This can include insomnia or frequent waking during the night.
  11. Low Libido: Decreased interest in sexual activity.
  12. Memory Issues: Some women report foggy thinking or forgetfulness.
  13. Fatigue: Feeling persistently tired, despite adequate sleep.
  14. Uterine Fibroids: Noncancerous growths of the uterus.
  15. Endometriosis or Endometrial Hyperplasia: Overgrowth of the lining of the uterus.
  16. Gallbladder Problems: Estrogen dominance can contribute to gallstone formation.
  17. Thyroid Dysfunction: Symptoms of hypothyroidism can be exacerbated by high estrogen levels.

Do any of these sound familiar? If you suspect you have high estrogen levels, my advice is to consult with a health practitioner and get your estrogen levels tested.

Overcome Estrogen Dominance and Balance Your Hormones

The good news is that your body wants to heal. To enable this, you need to first focus on balancing your hormones. It might not be easy but take it one step at a time and you will likely notice a difference before too long. Even if you don’t suffer from estrogen dominance (and instead maybe your body is just operating in flight or fight mode or isn’t running as optimally as possible), the following advice is general guidance to help you balance your hormones. Please note, it is always advised to consult with a functional medicine practitioner or naturopathic practitioner before making changes to your diet and lifestyle particularly if you are on medication.

Dietary Recommendations

Ditch the Junk Food

Doritos, McDonalds and Cheetos might taste good but they are wrecking your hormonal health. Here’s how:

  1. Insulin Resistance:

    • Description: High sugar content in junk food can lead to increased blood sugar levels. Chronic consumption can lead to insulin resistance, a condition in which cells do not respond to insulin as they should, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
    • Citation: Basu, S., Yoffe, P., Hills, N., & Lustig, R. H. (2013). The relationship of sugar to population-level diabetes prevalence: an econometric analysis of repeated cross-sectional data. PloS one, 8(2), e57873.
  2. Impact on Reproductive Hormones:

    • Description: High intake of trans fats, commonly found in junk food, can lead to an altered lipid profile and may affect the production of reproductive hormones. This can impact menstrual cycles and overall reproductive health.
    • Citation: Mumford, S. L., Chavarro, J. E., Zhang, C., Perkins, N. J., Sjaarda, L. A., Pollack, A. Z., … & Schisterman, E. F. (2016). Dietary fat intake and reproductive hormone concentrations and ovulation in regularly menstruating women. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 103(3), 868-877.
  3. Inflammation and Cortisol:

    • Description: Junk food can trigger inflammation. Chronic inflammation might lead to increased cortisol levels, affecting sleep, metabolism, and immune response.
    • Citation: Calder, P. C., Ahluwalia, N., Brouns, F., Buetler, T., Clement, K., Cunningham, K., … & Nordmann, H. (2011). Dietary factors and low-grade inflammation in relation to overweight and obesity. British Journal of Nutrition, 106(S3), S5-S78.
  4. Thyroid Function:

    • Description: Excessive consumption of processed and unhealthy foods can potentially disrupt the functions of the thyroid gland, leading to imbalances in thyroid hormones.
    • Citation: Pearce, E. N. (2012). Thyroid hormone and obesity. Current opinion in endocrinology, diabetes, and obesity, 19(5), 408.
  5. Endocrine Disruptors:

    • Description: Some junk foods may contain chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors, potentially interfering with the body’s hormonal balance. For example, phthalates, which can leach into food from packaging, can interfere with the endocrine system.
    • Citation: Sharpe, R. M. (2010). Is it time to end concerns over the estrogenic effects of bisphenol A?. Toxicological Sciences, 114(1), 1-4.
  6. Obesity and Leptin Resistance:

    • Description: Overconsumption of junk food can lead to weight gain and obesity. Obesity is linked with alterations in the hormone leptin, which regulates appetite. Chronically high levels of leptin can lead to leptin resistance, making it harder for individuals to recognize when they’re full.
    • Citation: Myers, M. G., Leibel, R. L., Seeley, R. J., & Schwartz, M. W. (2010). Obesity and leptin resistance: distinguishing cause from effect. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, 21(11), 643-651.

If you’re struggling to give up your McFlurry and takeout, I urge you to consult with an experienced nutritionist to identify the root of your health concerns, cravings, and to develop a customized plan that will help you address the emotional side of your eating habits and help you adhere to a nutritious way of eating.

Credit: Pexels

Other dietary and lifestyle recommendations include:

  1. Healthy Diet:

    • Eat a balanced diet rich in whole foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
    • Avoid excessive sugar and refined carbohydrates which can spike blood sugar and insulin levels.
    • Citation: Farvid, M. S., Eliassen, A. H., Cho, E., Liao, X., Chen, W. Y., & Willett, W. C. (2020). Dietary fiber intake in young adults and breast cancer risk. Pediatrics, 137(3).
  2. Regular Exercise:

    • Engage in both aerobic (like walking, jogging, swimming) and anaerobic (like weight lifting, resistance training) exercises.
    • Exercise can help in managing insulin levels, improving mood, and supporting overall hormone health.
    • Citation: Hackney, A. C. (2008). Stress and the neuroendocrine system: the role of exercise as a stressor and modifier of stress. Expert review of endocrinology & metabolism, 3(6), 783-792.
  3. Manage Stress:

    • Chronic stress can elevate cortisol levels, which in turn can disrupt other hormones.
    • Mindfulness practices, yoga, meditation, and deep-breathing exercises can be effective.
    • Citation: Matousek, R. H., Dobkin, P. L., & Pruessner, J. (2010). Cortisol as a marker for improvement in mindfulness-based stress reduction. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 16(1), 13-19.
  4. Sleep Hygiene:

    • Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night.
    • Keeping a consistent sleep-wake schedule and creating a bedtime routine can support healthy melatonin and cortisol rhythms.
    • Citation: Leproult, R., & Van Cauter, E. (2010). Role of sleep and sleep loss in hormonal release and metabolism. Endocrine development, 17, 11-21.
  5. Limit Toxins:

    • Reduce exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) like BPA, phthalates, and pesticides, which can interfere with hormone production and function.
    • Citation: Gore, A. C., Chappell, V. A., Fenton, S. E., Flaws, J. A., Nadal, A., Prins, G. S., … & Zoeller, R. T. (2015). EDC-2: The Endocrine Society’s second scientific statement on endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Endocrine reviews, 36(6), E1-E150.
  6. Limit Caffeine:

    • High caffeine consumption can disrupt hormone balance in some women.
    • Citation: Mumford, S. L., Weck, J., Kannan, K., & Louis, G. M. B. (2015). Urinary bisphenol A concentrations and early reproductive health outcomes among women undergoing IVF. Human Reproduction, 27(12), 3583-3592.
  7. Maintain a Healthy Weight:

    • Being either underweight or overweight can impact menstrual cycles and hormone levels.
    • Citation: Rich-Edwards, J. W., Goldman, M. B., Willett, W. C., Hunter, D. J., Stampfer, M. J., Colditz, G. A., & Manson, J. E. (1994). Adolescent body mass index and infertility caused by ovulatory disorder. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 171(1), 171-177.
  8. Limit Alcohol:

    • Alcohol can affect estrogen levels and metabolism.
    • Citation: Ginsburg, E. S. (1999). Alcohol and reproductive function: a review. Obstetrical & gynecological survey, 54(4), 240-244.
  9. Stay Hydrated:

    • Proper hydration supports all bodily functions, including hormone production and function.
    • Citation: Armstrong, L. E., Pumerantz, A. C., Fiala, K. A., Roti, M. W., Kavouras, S. A., Casa, D. J., & Maresh, C. M. (2010). Human hydration indices: acute and longitudinal reference values. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 20(2), 145-153.
  10. Avoid Over-restriction:

  • Extreme dieting or excessive calorie restriction can impact hormonal balance and reproductive health.
  • Citation: Zinchenko, A., & Henselmans, M. (2019). Metabolic damage: do negative metabolic adaptations during underfeeding persist after refeeding in non-obese populations?. Medical research archives, 7(5).

Credit: Pexels

Supplemental Recommendations

Here are some supplements and natural compounds that have been discussed or studied in relation to balancing female hormones, particularly in the context of estrogen dominance:

  1. Vitex (Chasteberry):

    • Usage: Vitex agnus-castus, commonly known as chasteberry, has traditionally been used to support menstrual regularity and fertility.
    • Citation: Van Die, M. D., Burger, H. G., Teede, H. J., & Bone, K. M. (2013). Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste-Tree/Berry) in the treatment of menopause-related complaints. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(8), 853-862.
  2. DIM (Diindolylmethane):

    • Usage: Found in cruciferous vegetables, DIM has been studied for its ability to promote healthy estrogen metabolism.
    • Citation: Rajoria, S., Suriano, R., Shanmugam, A., Wilson, Y. L., Schantz, S. P., Geliebter, J., … & Tiwari, R. K. (2011). Metastatic phenotype is regulated by estrogen in thyroid cells. Thyroid, 21(2), 177-185.
  3. Calcium D-Glucarate:

    • Usage: This supplement may help support the detoxification of excess estrogens from the body.
    • Citation: Walaszek, Z., Hanausek-Walaszek, M., & Webb, T. E. (1986). Dietary glucarate-mediated reduction of sensitivity of murine strains to chemical carcinogenesis. Cancer letters, 33(1), 25-32.
  4. B Vitamins:

    • Usage: B vitamins, particularly B6, can support liver detoxification and may be beneficial for estrogen metabolism.
    • Citation: Lamers, Y. (2016). Indicators and methods of assessment for folate and vitamin B12 status in population-based nutrition surveys and interventions. Sight and Life, 30(2), 72-82.
  5. Probiotics:

    • Usage: Gut health is essential for hormone metabolism. A balanced gut microbiome can assist in the proper breakdown and elimination of excess hormones.
    • Citation: Plottel, C. S., & Blaser, M. J. (2011). Microbiome and malignancy. Cell host & microbe, 10(4), 324-335.
  6. Magnesium:

    • Usage: Magnesium can support the phase II detoxification of estrogens and also has a role in muscle relaxation and bone health.
    • Citation: de Baaij, J. H., Hoenderop, J. G., & Bindels, R. J. (2015). Magnesium in man: implications for health and disease. Physiological reviews, 95(1), 1-46.
  7. Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

    • Usage: These can have an anti-inflammatory effect and might help reduce the symptoms associated with estrogen dominance.
    • Citation: Calder, P. C. (2017). Omega‐3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: from molecules to man. Biochemical Society Transactions, 45(5), 1105-1115.

It’s crucial to remember that supplements can interact with medications and have side effects. Therefore, a healthcare professional should be consulted before starting any new supplementation. Moreover, addressing estrogen dominance often requires a holistic approach that includes diet, lifestyle changes, stress management, and possibly medical intervention.

Credit: Pexels

Psycho-Spiritual Recommendations

Louise Hay, in her book “You Can Heal Your Life,” proposed that physical ailments have psycho-spiritual origins, relating them to specific thought patterns and emotions. According to Hay’s interpretations:

  1. Loss of Period (Amenorrhea):

    • Probable Cause: Fear of no longer being a woman. Dislike of the self.
    • New Thought Pattern: “I rejoice in my femaleness. I love being a woman. I love my body.”
  2. Painful Period (Dysmenorrhea):

    • Probable Cause: Belief in pain and punishment. Rejection of one’s femininity. Guilt or feeling “dirty”.
    • New Thought Pattern: “I am a beautiful expression of life, flowing perfectly at all times.”
  3. Endometriosis:

    • Probable Cause: Insecurity, disappointment, and frustration. Replacing self-love with sugar. Blamers.
    • New Thought Pattern: “I am both powerful and desirable. It is wonderful to be a woman. I love myself and I am perfect just the way I am.”

Louise Hay’s interpretations are meant to be a form of spiritual self-help and are not intended to replace medical advice or treatment. If someone is experiencing any of the above conditions, it’s crucial to see a healthcare professional to get a proper diagnosis and treatment. However, some individuals find comfort or additional healing in addressing the emotional or spiritual aspects of their ailments alongside traditional medical treatments.

Additional Resources & Recommendations

Please learn more from these excellent resources and subscribe so that you are informed when the next part of this hormone-balancing series is published.

  1. “WomanCode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source” by Alisa Vitti

    • This is another groundbreaking book by Alisa Vitti, focusing on hormonal balance, fertility, and overall women’s health.
  2. “The Hormone Cure: Reclaim Balance, Sleep and Sex Drive; Lose Weight; Feel Focused, Vital, and Energized Naturally with the Gottfried Protocol” by Dr. Sara Gottfried

    • A Harvard-trained physician’s approach to naturally balancing hormones.
  3. “Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health” by Toni Weschler

    • This comprehensive guide discusses natural birth control, menstrual cycles, and holistic reproductive health.
  4. “The Period Repair Manual: Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods” by Lara Briden

    • This resource delves into natural treatments for menstrual issues and hormonal imbalances.
  5. “Beyond the Pill: A 30-Day Program to Balance Your Hormones, Reclaim Your Body, and Reverse the Dangerous Side Effects of the Birth Control Pill” by Dr. Jolene Brighten

    • A guide for women who’ve been on hormonal birth control and want to transition off while maintaining balanced hormones.
  6. “The Fifth Vital Sign: Master Your Cycles & Optimize Your Fertility” by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack

    • Focused on the menstrual cycle as a vital sign, this book dives deep into fertility awareness and holistic women’s health.
  7. “Hormonal: The Hidden Intelligence of Hormones – How They Drive Desire, Shape Relationships, Influence Our Choices, and Make Us Wiser” by Martie Haselton

    • A look into how hormones play a critical role in our choices, relationships, and understanding of the world.
  8. Websites and Online Platforms:

    • Dr. Aviva Romm: Integrative MD focusing on women’s hormones and health.
    • Dr. Jolene Brighten: A resource-rich website with a particular emphasis on post-birth control syndrome and holistic women’s health.
    • Lara Briden’s Blog: Naturopathic doctor Lara Briden writes extensively about women’s health, hormones, and natural treatments for menstrual problems.

What are your thoughts? Please comment below and share this article!