The pill was an important step in our struggle to legalize contraception. I celebrate that, of course. Hormonal birth control can also be medicine for debilitating conditions such as severe endometriosis and very heavy periods. I celebrate that.
What I don’t celebrate is the distorted message that hormonal birth control is the only birth control. And I don’t celebrate its widespread prescription as “hormone balance” for any hormonal symptom that might arise in women and teenage girls.
Hormonal birth control cannot balance hormones
To prescribe birth control for “hormone balance” is simply nonsensical. Birth control does not balance hormones; it switches them off.
By switching off ovulation, birth control switches off estrogen and progesterone and induces a state similar to temporary chemical menopause. In fact, if you test for hormones while on the pill, you will find very low “menopausal levels.”
The combined pill then adds back contraceptive drugs as a substandard type of “hormone replacement. Which might be okay if contraceptive drugs were as beneficial as our hormones, but they’re not. Contraceptive drugs are not even hormones.
Contraceptive drugs are not hormones
Real hormones are estradiol and progesterone. Contraceptive drugs are molecules like ethinylestradiol, levonorgestrel, and drospirenone.
Contraceptive drugs do not have the same molecular structure as real hormones and do not provide the same benefits. Here are a couple of examples.
- Estradiol improves insulin sensitivity. Its drug equivalent ethinylestradiol potentially causes insulin resistance. That insulin problem with ethinylestradiol makes the pill a particularly inappropriate treatment for PCOS, which can be driven by insulin resistance.
- Progesterone promotes hair growth. Its drug equivalent, levonorgestrel, causes hair loss. Levonorgestrel and other progestins can also cause depression, headaches, acne, and other side effects. Read The crucial difference between progesterone and progestins.
Of course, contraceptive drugs can have benefits. For example, they can relieve pain and heavy bleeding and improve acne. (Unfortunately, withdrawing from certain progestins can cause post-pill acne.)
Contraceptive drugs can never “regulate periods” because pill bleeds are drug-withdrawal bleeds, not real menstrual cycles.
Contraceptive drugs can also prevent pregnancy, but they’re not the only way to prevent pregnancy.
Contraceptive drugs are not the only birth control
It’s not unusual for me to have a conversation with a patient that goes something like this:
Me: “What do you do for birth control?”
My patient: “I don’t use birth control. I use condoms.”
The message seems to be: “Hormonal birth control or nothing.”
Yet there are plenty of other methods including condoms and the copper IUD. Read The 5 best types of natural birth control.
Would men put up with hormonal birth control?
Imagine a world where we routinely switch off the hormones of teenage boys and men.
“We will switch off your testosterone,” we would tell them, “And replace it with a synthetic pseudo-testosterone. It’s going to cause weight gain, depression, and loss of libido—but don’t worry! All the other boys take it.”
This is the world in which we currently live for teenage girls and women. It is time for a serious rethink.
If you need help coming off birth control, read my blog post How to come off hormonal birth control and my book Period Repair Manual: Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods.
And share your story!