Congratulations! You’ve decided to stop using artificial hormones. Coming off these drugs is a huge step in the right direction for your health. Now what? What might you expect to see happen with your body as you make the switch? How can you support it with healthy food choices to bring back balance to your body?
Most drugs interact with and deplete one or more useful nutrients in the body. With so many drugs on the market, I hesitate to say all, but my two-inch-thick quick reference Drug-Nutrient Interaction handbook allows me to confidently say most. Oral contraceptives are no different.
If you are coming off the pill, understanding something of how drugs can affect your body may lead you to wonder how you can help your body return back to normal, natural reproductive cycles sooner and with fewer complications.
When stopping hormonal birth control, most women see the reversal of some of the many side effects they may have suffered. They may see an improvement in their libido and more stable moods. Missed periods and inter-menstrual bleeding may persist temporarily or change to heavy bleeding for a short time. Vaginal discharge or cervical mucus may continue to be sparse, though, if you’re paying attention to that marker of reproductive health.
An annoying but perhaps the most manageable effect of coming off the pill is weight gain. Not all women experience that change though: some actually find their weight stabilizing or even drop a few pounds of water weight if the artificial hormones were causing fluid retention, which happens.
Being on the birth control pill may alter the way your body processes sugars, aka the carbohydrate metabolism, particularly if a synthetic estrogen is the dominant ingredient. Estrogen increases blood levels of our stress hormone, cortisol, which research dating back to the 70s confirms. We’ve also known for some time now that cortisol and insulin talk to each other. Insulin, of course, is a key player in the development of glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes. Bad cortisol, and bad estrogens for jacking up cortisol. Again, kudos if you’ve ditched the Pill.
Knowing that pills containing estrogen in varying forms muck with how well we use carbs, I would definitely advise those on the pill and those coming off it to choose low glycemic carbs almost exclusively. They will help your body bounce back. Low glycemic carbs include:
- beans and legumes like peas, lentils, and edamame
- root vegetables like carrots, beets, sweet potatoes and parsnips
- ancient grains like quinoa, amaranth, and spelt
- seeds, especially flaxseed, which can help pull excess estrogens out of the body
- higher fiber foods like raspberries, blackberries, kiwi, figs, persimmons and guava if you’re lucky enough to access them
Oral contraceptives are also known to boost heart disease risk, hence why smoking and being on the pill is a big no-no. As your body works to eliminate the artificial hormones from your system, do your heart a favor and skip the trans fatty acids. Yes, you know which foods I mean: margarine and all those processed baked goods with hydrogenated weirdness. You just need a sprinkle of organic cold-pressed olive oil on your salad, a smidgeon of coconut oil in your pan or a handful of nuts here and there.
That would be the broad-sweeping macronutrient recommendations: avoid bad fats and go low glycemic index to avoid the frustrations of skinny jeans that won’t do up. Getting some extra exercise won’t hurt either.
Research shows that oral contraceptives decrease levels of vitamin B12, vitamin E and beta-carotene. All of these nutrients are important for heart health. Additionally, vitamin B12 is very important for proper nervous system functioning and metabolism, while vitamin E and beta-carotene help keep your skin looking good. It makes you wonder why some docs prescribe birth control pills for acne, no?
To boost your levels of these nutrients eat whole foods first before turning to supplements. We’re trying to go more natural, right? B12 is found in animal foods aka meat, with spirulina and Brewer’s yeast being the vegetarian options. Vitamin E – avocados, anyone? My fav. And beta-carotene is easy: any orange or dark green vegetable.
The pill increases levels of vitamin A and D, two fat-soluble vitamins that can build up to toxic levels if present in enough excess. Levels do go down upon stopping the pill, which has led British oral contraceptive researcher, Dr. Ellen Grant, to recommend cod liver oil to the post-pill lady. Cod liver oil has both A and D, and a hefty dose of omega-3 EPA for your heart. Incidentally, Dr. Grant, a physician who used to prescribe birth control, now deems oral contraceptives unsafe after years of research and observing her own “hormonized” patients.
If these recommendations seem overwhelming – like, “What? I can’t eat cream cheese bagels anymore?” – pick something small that you know you can change right away.
Bottom line: You’ve made a great choice to go au naturel and drop the artificial hormones. Keep the ball rolling with natural, nutrient-focused food choices that help your body bounce back from its hormones being overridden.