Is the Pill wrecking your gut?

posted on April 22, 2016 by Emily Kennedy Emily Kennedy

Antibiotics get a lot of attention as a disruptor of the diverse ecosystem of bacteria, yeast and other microorganisms that serve incredibly important functions in our bodies, aka our very important but rather delicate gut microbiome. Recent studies have found that even “short courses of antibiotics can leave normal gut bacteria harbouring antibiotic resistance genes for up to two years after treatment.” Two years! Jeepers! That sounds a little counterproductive, doesn’t it?

Despite their long-lasting effects on our gut bacteria, antibiotics are still seen as a necessary evil. We need them sometimes to combat the really bad, pathogenic bacteria that make us miserable and put us at risk for more serious conditions. They are meant to treat a disease, fix a problem, prevent bigger problems.

Pic courtesy of James Palisad http://bit.ly/1SEyrul

Pic courtesy of James Palisad http://bit.ly/1SEyrul

Now, what if I told you that birth control pills are just as bad as antibiotics for your gut?  Well, they are.

These estrogen-digesting bacteria, affectionately called the “estrobolome,” are just starting to be studied in greater detail. However, many health experts are already attributing conditions of hormonal imbalance like PMS, PCOS, heavy bleeding, and even infertility to a disruption in how our gut processes hormones at the microbial level.

The Pill disrupts your estrobolome.

An end-point manifestation of this hormonal-bacterial disruption is Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory condition that affects the colon and large and small intestines. In a landmark study out of Harvard University, Dr. Hamed Khalili linked use of oral contraceptives to a 300% increase in risk of Crohn’s disease.

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For some reason, Crohn’s disease is more prevalent in women, while men with an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) usually develop colitis. The above-mentioned study may have uncovered why—and Dr. Khalili is not the first person to look into it.

From a 1999 article in Gut, the monthly peer-reviewed medical journal of the British Society of Gastroenterology:

Patients with active inflammatory bowel disease are at increased risk of developing thromboembolic disease and there are also theoretical reasons to suppose that the pill might precipitate or exacerbate Crohn’s disease. High dose oral contraceptives, containing more than 50 μg ethyloestradiol, may induce prothrombotic changes in both coagulation and fibrinolytic enzyme systems, thereby predisposing to the formation of microthrombi. This would fit with the microvascular hypothesis of the pathogenesis of Crohn’s disease. Early reports that the withdrawal of oral contraception was associated with long term remission in patients with Crohn’s colitis could be used to support this hypothesis. 

In plain English, if you have IBD, use of high-dose synthetic estrogen for birth control will likely make your condition worse by increasing your risk of forming tiny clots in your gut’s network of blood vessels.

Blood clots? Hey, wait – we already know that the Pill is a potentially fatal risk factor for blood clots in other areas of the body. Go figure that it seems to be a systemic effect.

Quit the Pill and your gut problems have a strong chance of improving, the article indicates.

Use the Pill and triple your risk of wrecking your gut.

Triple your risk of having bowels that are angry and either imploding or exploding (yes, I’ve had clients describe their IBD to me)—on top of the risk of “cardiovascular accidents” (blood clots leading to stroke, heart attack, etc.), certain hormone-dependent cancers (breast, cervical), weight gain and conditions associated with excess weight.

Click here for the comprehensive “Risks video.”

I am all for responsible parenthood and deciding if we want to make another baby tonight but I would not consciously ingest something that compromises my health just to ensure that we don’t add on to our family.  It just doesn’t seem worth it – especially because there are better ways to plan parenthood.

Our guts are essential to our health. There’s no doubt about it; all of modern medicine seems to be headed in the direction of the gut, its bacteria and its bacteria’s genome.

In the future maybe antibiotics will be replaced with something that works with the body’s natural defenses. Luckily, with Pill alternatives we don’t have to wait.  Many effective alternatives are already available. And, unlike antibiotics, the Pill is not essential to curing any disease, so why not go for it?

 

Posted by Emily Kennedy Emily Kennedy
Emily Kennedy, MSc is a nutritionist health coach and fertility educator in Raleigh, NC. She loves all things natural and evidence-based, especially if it leads to something good to eat.

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