Supporting your body after hormonal birth control
Birth Control and Your symptoms
Oh, birth control pills. They’re great at preventing pregnancy and that’s about it. Unfortunately, that little pill (or ring, patch, or shot, etc.) may be doing more harm than you realize. But we won’t get into that here.
What I do want to discuss is how to support your body AFTER hormonal birth control.
The truth is for many people, coming off the pill sends your body into a little bit of a tailspin as it learns to find its rhythm without synthetic hormones. This can be especially difficult for those women who have been on it for an extended period of time.
In my first year off birth control I dealt with irregular and painful periods, acne, weight gain, mood swings, and hormonal imbalances. It took me close to a year to fully recover and feel back to “normal”.
These symptoms are all very real and very common and can be referred to as post-birth control syndrome. But it doesn’t have to be that way! And it certainly won’t be that way forever.
There are ways to support your body through the healing and detoxing process. Here are five of my go-to steps to supporting your body and balancing your hormones post-birth control.
Naturally support your female body when going off birth control
1. Remove Xenoestrogens and Endocrine Disrupting Products
An important, and often overlooked, piece of the puzzle when you’re trying to balance your hormones is to remove xenoestrogens and other endocrine disrupting chemicals from your environment.
Why? These products mimic estrogen in our body and contribute to an imbalance in hormones, specifically with estrogen and progesterone. Our hormones should perform a balanced dance, working together with no one being too high or too low. The excess estrogen in our body from the xenoestrogens seriously disrupts this balance.
While you may be getting rid of one big hormone disruptor by quitting the pill, you’ll have a hard time healing if you’re still covering yourself in toxic products.
Examples of xenoestrogens include plastic products such as food storage containers and water bottles (even the BPA free ones), conventional cleaning products, makeup, skincare, hair products, and other personal care products. Even unfiltered tap water can contain xenoestrogens and hormone disrupting chemicals.
The solution? Use glass or stainless-steel food storage containers and water bottles, drink filtered water, and switch to safer skincare, makeup, and personal care products. EWG.org is a great resource to look up all your products and see how they rank.
2. Eat More Healthy Fats (And Don’t Fear Carbs!)
Fats are a very important part of hormone health, which makes them a priority when you’re coming off the pill. There are a few main reasons why we need to increase our intake of health fats when we’re healing from birth control. For starters, our sex hormones are made from cholesterol and fatty acids, which are derived from adequate dietary fat. Point being, we simply can’t make healthy hormones without eating fat!
Low-fat and no-fat diet crazes need to come to an end for many reasons, but in the case for hormone health, we really have to kiss them goodbye for good. If you want to make healthy hormones, you must eat fat. Period.
Having a proper balance of healthy fats will also help manage inflammation. Since the pill can be inflammatory, we will want to support the anti-inflammatory healing pathways as much as we can.
Keep in mind all fats are not created equal. There are some sources of fat we want to prioritize, and others we want to avoid.
For example, we do not want to include inflammatory fats such as hydrogenated and highly processed vegetable oils including canola, soybean, corn, cottonseed, safflower, and rapeseed oils. These oils are highly processed and unnatural, making them toxic and inflammatory.
Instead, include plenty of coconut products, grass-fed/pasture raised and organic animal products like beef, eggs, and butter (these are significantly higher in anti-inflammatory omega-3’s than their grain-fed counterparts), wild caught seafood, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. You may even consider adding an omega-3 fish oil supplement. Just be sure it’s of high quality and has been responsibly sourced. I like this brand.
I want to stress that eating more fats does not mean we need to fear carbohydrates. In fact, carbs are also important when we’re trying to make healthy hormones. When we go too low carb, especially if you’re an active person or are exercising, we signal a stress response in our bodies. Hormones and stress do not mix well!
Carbohydrates are a great source of energy and fiber and help our bodies feel safe, especially in times of stress and increased activity. Choose real-food carbs like potatoes, fruit, and veggies and pair it with some fat for sustained energy.
3. Increase B-Vitamins, Magnesium, and Zinc
The pill has been proven to deplete several key nutrients including folate, vitamins B2, B6, B12, C, and E, and the minerals magnesium, selenium, and zinc (1). This is something we need to address post-pill because these vitamins and minerals serve so many functions in our body.
For example, the liver needs nutrients like folate, B6, B12, and zinc to support the metabolism of estrogen, which is critical as we transition off the pill. Folate is also critical in the development of a fetal brain and spinal cord. With so many people quitting birth control and trying to conceive right away, this is a definite nutrient of concern. When it comes to B vitamins, it’s also worth noting that vitamin B6 is required in higher doses when there are increased levels of estrogen in the body, as is common in women recently coming off the pill (2). Vitamin B6 is important for our central nervous system, especially as it relates to anxiety and depression. It supports GABA production, which is an amino acid that helps us feel safe and calm, as well as the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin (3).
Coincidentally, many women report depression and anxiety as a side effect when they’re using the Pill.
Best sources of B6 include organ meats, whole grains, wild caught fish, and walnuts. Vegetables can also be a good source, though cooking can deplete the amount of B6 available to eat. Consider supplementing with a quality B-complex to help restore the nutrients.
Zinc is worth calling out for its skin benefits. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for women to come off the Pill and experience a sudden increase in acne. Zinc helps kill bacteria, reduces inflammation, and lowers androgens, all of which contribute to post-pill acne (4).
Zinc is abundant in animal foods like beef, pork, and egg yolks. You can also consider supplementing with 30mg of zinc. Be sure to take with food as it can cause nausea if taken on an empty stomach.
Got period cramps? Let magnesium help you out. Magnesium helps our muscles relax, which is exactly what you need when you’re dealing with intense period cramps that can surface after quitting the pill.
Most people benefit from 200-400mg daily from magnesium glycinate. I like to take magnesium at night as it has a calming effect and can help promote relaxation for sleep. Though I will take it at other times of day when I’m dealing with period cramps.
4. Show Your Liver Some Love
The liver is truly an amazing organ that does so much for us – over 500 functions to be exact! It may be best known for its detoxifying properties, which will be important when it comes to life post-pill, but the liver also plays a key role in balancing our hormones. The liver deactivates and helps rid the body of hormones once they’ve been “used up” and are ready to be cycled out of the body. It also plays a huge role in detoxing medications, like oral contraceptives, in addition to all the other chemicals and medications we may encounter daily.
When our liver is overburdened with things like environmental toxins, chronic and prolonged exposure to sugar and refined carbohydrates, medications, etc., it can impair proper function. This has a domino effect on the body’s ability to properly deactivate and eliminate hormones, which then continue to recirculate in the body and can lead to imbalances.
There are plenty of ways we can support our liver so that it can function its best. Removing toxic products from your environment and increasing the amount of health fats you eat, as suggested in steps #1 and #2, will go a long way. You can also bring in some mild, targeted support from food and herbs to support your liver. Eat plenty of bitter greens like arugula and dandelion greens and get a healthy serving of beets as often as you can.
In addition, you can support your detoxification pathways by sipping dandelion root tea or taking milk thistle, sweating (infrared saunas are a great tool for this), drinking plenty of filtered water, and eating a nutrient dense, whole foods diet. For a more intensive liver detoxifying protocol, I would suggest working with a qualified functional or holistic health practitioner. They can suggest herbs and supplements that cleanse the liver and work best for your body, while monitoring progress and ensuring your detoxification pathways are open.
5. Eat Cruciferous Vegetables
One of the most common hormone imbalances in women coming off the pill is estrogen dominance, which means estrogen is too high in relation to progesterone. While this can happen with both low estrogen AND high estrogen (because it’s more about the relationship with progesterone that makes it “dominant”), it’s more common for women to have high levels of estrogen post-birth control. We want to support the metabolism of estrogen when we come off the pill to reduce the likelihood of this happening.
Cruciferous veggies are great at moving estrogen out of the body and are also supportive of liver health, as discussed above. This includes things like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussel sprouts, and cabbage. Cruciferous veggies are all delicious when roasted, but you can prepare them however you like. Don’t forget to add healthy fats for bonus healing points!
When in doubt, ask for help
If you prefer more individual guidance and recommendations, it can be helpful to work one-on-one with a practitioner such as an NTP like myself, a functional medicine practitioner, or a naturopathic doctor.
As an NTP, I like to take a bio-individual approach and look at what support your body needs specifically. We will target lifestyle, nutrition, and supplement protocols to help heal your body and balance your hormones.
1. Palmery M, e. (2013). Oral contraceptives and changes in nutritional requirements. - PubMed - NCBI. [online] PubMed. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23852908 [Accessed 30 Oct. 2018].
2. Haas, E. (2006). The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts, pp.122.
3. Haas, E. (2006). The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts, pp.121.
4. Briden, L. (2017). Period Repair Manual. 2nd ed. p.196.
Guest Post by:
Vicki Richards is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who helps women balance their hormones and nourish their body and mind, so they can live the vibrant life they deserve. She loves cooking, long walks in nature, pajamas, and bad reality TV shows.