February 12, 2015

The Pill Pt. 2

A picture of autumn leaves with overlaid text reading What Could The Pill Be Covering Up

Something that's been playing on my mind is the claim that the pill regulates periods. When women who have issues with their period - whether that's heavy, irregular, painful periods or more serious conditions such as PCOS or Endometriosis - say their GP recommended the pill to relieve these issues, I want to scream!

It doesn't regulate periods because it forces periods to stop by preventing ovulation (where an egg is released, usually mid-cycle). It shuts your cycle down, maintaining very low levels of sex hormones. The 7 day pill-free break where you bleed is just withdrawal bleeding. If you don't ovulate, you can't have a period. It's simple biology.

I understand why anybody would seek relief in any form from what can be hugely debilitating conditions (my own mum had Endometriosis which caused her a lot of pain and heartache, eventually leading to a hysterectomy when she was 27), but my recent reading/research and own experience only tells me that using the pill in that way is the same as sticking a plaster (band-aid to you, Americans) over something. The pill doesn't treat the root cause of whatever is causing your PCOS, extreme pain, acne or long cycle. It's a short-term and temporary measure. This is an awesome article by Rachel Friedman, first published in Bust magazine in 2012 - I recommend you give it a read.

We all have individual and specific needs. Hormonal issues are not a quick fix, there's no 'one size fits all' here. When making the decision to step away from pharmaceuticals/hormonal contraceptives, it often takes time and a combination of different changes; lifestyle, diet, exercise, plus herbal and other remedies, to find your own personal management plan. It is possible to heal yourself and there is support out there, other than the usual Western GP sending you out with yet another prescription. Like Rachel mentions in the article above, we don't always jump for a pill to treat things such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, we often make diet aslifestyle changes first.

Looking for a Naturopath in your city is a good place to start your pill-free journey. I'm seeing one for the first time next week (regarding my hormonal acne which isn't calming down) and will report back. I'm also going for Acupuncture at some point soon. I've mentioned her before, but the Australian fertility expert Nat Kringroudis is an encyclopaedia on the subject of hormones and there's a lot of accessible resources via her website and blog. The comment section under each post is also helfpul for reading real experiences. Success stories can really give us the kick we need to make that change.

I am slowly realising the effects the pill had on me for 10 years, notably;

Stomach upsets/pain/bloating - to the point I was hospitalised at one point as IBD was suspected
Regular bouts of thrush and UTI's
Erratic mood swings
Severe depression 
Chronic fatigue
Lack of sex drive 
Anything from 8-10 days of bleeding
Weepiness - I can count on one hand how many times I've cried since stopping 6 months ago and in that time I've gone through my dad having an affair and moving 300 miles away while my mum was having treatment for lung cancer. Ahem. Point is, I used to cry A LOT.

I think I'm going to notice much more as time goes on. The pill I took for 8 years was Yasmin, or Yaz, and I took Dianette before that for 2 years. The pill is linked to a range of serious side-effects; migraines, stroke, DVT, depression, etc. Yasmin contains drospirenone and oral contraceptives containing drospirenone increase the risk of blood clots significantly - 50-70% - in comparison with pills containing other types of progestins (Griggs-Spall, H., 2013)

I am personally concerned with the cancer risks associated with taking the pill as I have a high family history of cancer, including breast and cervical. The World Health Organisation ranks hormonal contraceptives as class one carcinogens which is the same as tobacco and asbestos - had I known that 10 years ago there is absolutely no way I would have started taking it because both of those things have led to cancers that have killed family members. The pill is no less risky. Further to that, the claim that hormonal contraceptives protect against ovarian cancer (which is actually the rarest from of female cancer and generally affects women over 70) doesn't amount to much. Pregnancy and breastfeeding have the same protective effect on ALL forms of cancer due to the high levels of progesterone/lower levels of estrogen over an extended period of time, an effect which lasts for decades after the pregnancy (Griggs-Spall, H., 2013). This so-called benefit of the pill really isn't all it's cracked up to be and when we add in the factor that the pill significantly increases the risk of women developing breast, cervical and liver cancers - that's a lot to weigh up safety wise. (Note: please try and get your hands on a copy of Holly Grigg-Spall's book, the link is at the end of this post!)

It sounds tough to take a holistic approach to managing your symptoms when you're so used to taking birth control to do so. It is tough and it takes dedication and a lot of effort to overhaul our habits. It's all well and good thinking, "why should I change all that, when I can just take the pill?" Well, here's a thought - what happens when you can't take the pill anymore? It's inevitable that one day you're going to have to get to the bottom of whatever's causing your cycle/hormones to be so hellish. Remember, it's really not the norm to have out of balance hormones and is a sign that something is amiss. Don't settle and don't think that you have to live this way. Be proactive in looking after yourself.

I'm not an expert and I'm not in a position to explain how best to treat such issues, I can only offer my personal insight and try and point you in the direction of resources that have helped me. I also understand not everybody takes oral contraceptives solely to help with issues, often it is for its intended use - contraception. I'm not a doctor and I appreciate any constructive comments or pointers. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email if you have any questions. Also, there's some recommended reading below, so check those out! xo

Further reading:






  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. PART 2

    4. “The pill is linked to a range of serious side-effects; migraines, stroke, DVT, depression.” It would be useful if you could cite some scientific studies on these topics, as the literature is not as clear cut as your writing suggests. Whilst the pill has consistently been linked to side-effects such as blood clots, studies which have found these effects also agree that the benefits they confer outweigh the harms (e.g. Bousser, 2000). The evidence of an association between other symptoms such as reduced sexual drive and depression/mood disorders it less clear. For example, some studies have found no link between oral contraceptives and mental health (e.g. Redmond et al., 1999; Toffol et al., 2012), whilst others have found small increases in the likelihood of a current mood disorder (but only for progestin-only, not combined oral contraceptives; Svendal et al., 2012). Similarly, studies examining the effect of oral contraceptive use on sexual drive have produced mixed results: for a small number of women it appears to reduce sexual drive, for other women it seems to increase sexual drive, but most women are actually unaffected (e.g. Burrows et al., 2012). Regarding migraines, studies have found no difference in rates of migraine suffering between women using oral contraceptives and those given a placebo (e.g. Redmond et al., 1999; Coney et al., 2001; O’Connell et al., 2007).

    5. I appreciate that you advocate a more holistic approach to your personal healthcare, and so seeing a Naturopath might be beneficial for people who do take that stance. However, serious concerns have been raised about Naturopathy and other alternative medical treatments (e.g. Lee & Kemper, 2000; Atwood, 2003), and so I think it might be beneficial to talk about both the pros and cons so your readers are fully aware of all the issues. For instance, there are no laws currently in the UK which regulate it (very dangerous), and for all intents and purposes it is seen as a pseudoscience by the scientific community and is not evidence-based. It is noteworthy that publicly-funded universities in the UK have now dropped all alternative medical programmes.

    Anyway, I hoped this has helped! I hope you don’t feel that I have just come here to slate your blog for no good reason, please believe when I say that is not the case – I’ve just got a passion for science so wanted to give my two cents on that aspect of your writing. Again, kudos for talking about such a personal topic – it has got a lot of people talking about it and sharing their own experiences, which can only ever be a good thing!


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