Birth control pills and other forms of hormonal birth control such as patches, shots, IUDs and implants, can prevent unwanted pregnancies, but make no mistake, they do so by flooding your body with chemicals that change the way your brain communicates with your ovaries and reproductive system in order to either stop ovulation (progestin-estrogen pills) or thicken cervical mucus so much as to make it difficult for sperm to enter (progestin only), where they could fertilize an egg and make you pregnant.
However, birth control pills, especially the combination progestin-estrogen pill, have a bevy of side effects on the body and place you at risk for certain kinds of cancers, especially hormonal cancers like breast cancer, which can be triggered by excess estrogens in the body. Other health risks include vitamin and mineral deficiencies, blood clots, stroke, and an increased risk of osteoporosis. Less serious side effects include weight gain, water retention, nausea, migraines and headaches, increased risk of depression and other mood changes, and eye changes such as a thickening of the cornea of the eyes which may make your contact lenses suddenly hard to get into your eyes anymore. Doctors have also found that birth control pills and other hormonal forms of birth control can cause leaky gut syndrome, and believe this is caused by inflammation the pill causes.
One serious but not widely known side effect that doesn’t occur until after stopping the pill is post-birth control syndrome.
The After Effects of the Pill: Post-Birth Control Syndrome
Post-birth control syndrome arises when women decide to go off the pill and includes a long list of symptoms that arise typically within 4 to 6 months of stopping.
Symptoms of Post-Birth Control Syndrome
- Amenorrhea: complete loss of periods or just mild spotting instead of a full period. In fact, for some 3 to 6% of women, their period never returns.
- Irregular/Unpredictable periods: heavy bleeding, short cycles, or very painful periods with severe cramping.
- Hormone disorders: thyroid disorders such as hypothyroidism, infertility, and breast tenderness.
- Hair loss: birth control pills cause the hair to move out of the growing phase and into the resting phase too quickly, which is called telogen effluvium.
- Acne: many women go on the pill to heal acne, only to find going off the pill causes worse symptoms than before.
- Mood swings and disorders: Anxiety, increased episodes of crying, and depression are just a few side effects of hormonal changes caused by going off hormonal birth control.
- Hormonal changes. These can include infertility, hypothyroidism, HPA-axis dysfunction, and other changes you may not have experienced while on the pill.
- Weight gain/difficulty losing weight. Weight gain is common with the pill/hormonal birth control and can make losing weight quite difficult even once one goes off the pill (until you fully detoxify the body).
- Digestive issues such as bloating, gas, or diarrhea.
The Real Issue at Hand: Estrogen Dominance
Too much estrogen in the body: NOT a good thing. Today, many girls are starting to develop breasts and menstruate as early as ages 9 and 10, and it is theorized that this is due to exposure to chemicals in our food and environment that mimic the action of estrogen hormone. Many researchers also believe that accelerated maturation rates in girls could be due to excess estrogens in the environment and medications that reenter the water supply when they are eliminated as waste or disposed of in toilets.
Estrogen dominance doesn’t only affect females. Male frogs are being turned female by the estrogens in pesticides, a process known as “chemical castration.”
Men’s fertility is impacted by exposure to excess estrogens and estrogen-like chemicals in the environment such as BPA.
The symptoms of estrogen dominance are remarkably like those of post-birth control syndrome (hmmm, right?) and include all those symptoms and then some:
Post Birth Control Syndrome: Symptoms of Estrogen Dominance in Women
In women, estrogen dominance presents with:
- fibrocystic breasts (lumpy, bumpy)
- swollen or tender breasts
- anxiety and depression
- irregular periods
- fibroids (heavy periods, pain)
- polycystic ovarian syndrome
- low sex drive/libido
- migraines and headaches
- brain fog
- thyroid nodules
- endometriosis (abnormal uterine growth)
- cancers: breast, uterine
Obesity and Estrogen Dominance
Oh yes—importantly, one other cause of excess estrogens,besides hormone replacement therapy and hormonal birth control is obesity. Being overweight produces excess estrogens, which are stored in our body fat.
On the flip side, excess estrogens also make you obese. Researchers studying the effects of BPA in mice found that when exposed to BPA in the womb, mice were more likely to develop insulin resistance and become obese.
So, no matter how you look at it: excess estrogens leads to obesity and obesity leads to excess estrogens. Losing weight, if you are overweight, can help you clear excess estrogen from your body (and your fat tissue) more expeditiously.
Where do Environmental Estrogens Come From?
These environmental estrogens that are causing estrogen dominance in both women and men are typically called “xenoestrogens” or “endocrine disruptors.” They are found everywhere but especially in:
- Plastics (even in the new BPS that was supposed to eliminate the risk of plastics containing xenoestrogens such as BPA)
- Food: Meats containing hormones and any food-retaining pesticide residue (because pesticides contain xenoestrogens)
- Cosmetics and creams containing parabens and stearalkonium chloride
- Nail polish and nail polish remover
- Chlorine and chlorine byproducts (so filter all water—even shower heads)
- Birth control pills are prescription synthetic xenoestrogens
- Perfumes and fragrance of ANY kind—from the fragrances in lavender-scented household cleansers to your favorite J-Lo scent
Furthermore, as researchers note, “even infinitesimally low levels of exposure [to endocrine disrupting chemicals]—indeed, any level of exposure at all—may cause endocrine or reproductive abnormalities, particularly if exposure occurs during a critical developmental window.”
So, for women who have been on the pill and not living the most fragrance and chemical-free lifestyle, then you might be especially estrogen dominant and at risk for a long list of symptoms as you try to detoxify your body. Plus, if you keep putting them back in the body, they will be impossible to flush from your system.
The problem with these excess estrogens is they act as endocrine disruptors. They block the synthesis, transport, binding action, or metabolism of natural blood-borne hormones. They trick our bodies into thinking they are real estrogens, preventing the healthier effects of our true hormones.
Also, endocrine disruptors act as estrogen mimickers, convincing the body there is too much true estrogen present and consequently, leading to the symptoms of estrogen dominance.
Certain lifestyle factors can exacerbate estrogen dominance, such as a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, drinking too much alcohol, eating meat treated with hormones or raised on lands treated with pesticides, foods with artificial/harmful colorings, additives, and preservatives, and a diet high in caffeine can all push aggravating estrogen dominance.
Also, liver function problems and poor sleep quality can affect the way we eliminate excess estrogens from the body. The liver is our main detoxifying organ, which means that a malfunctioning liver means less detoxing and a buildup up excess estrogens.
How to Detoxify Your Body from Excess Estrogen and Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals
Support Your Liver’s Detoxification Pathways
Your liver filters out all dead and excess hormones as long as it (a) possesses the minerals it needs to function normally (b) is healthy enough to do so.
What can we do to support a healthy liver function and eliminate and filter out excess estrogens from the body safely?
1. First, optimize stomach acids to ease the job on your liver of producing bile, leaving it more energy for detoxification and elimination. How to do this? Drink one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar a day, morning and night.
2. Fill your refrigerator with foods that naturally support a healthy liver, such as fresh vegetables and fruit. Ditch the processed food and give your body a diet full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Fiber helps you to eliminate excess estrogens from the body. So, stock up on local and organic cruciferous vegetables, greens like kale, cabbages like bok choy and red cabbage, and other fiber-rich foods such as fruits, beans, nuts and seeds.
3. Exercise. Exercise may help prevent conditions like breast cancer by helping your body metabolize estrogen in a healthy way, eliminating dangerous cancer-causing estrogen metabolites, protecting you from breast cancer and other hormonal cancers. Aerobic exercise, in studies, has been found to greatly improve estrogen elimination and metabolism.
4. Supplement with Estrogen-Eliminating Compounds. Some of the most potent and proven estrogen-eliminating supplements are the following:
Diindolylmethane or DIM is the plant-based, all-natural compound in cruciferous vegetables. It also helps to maintain a natural, normal level of estrogen in the body and a healthy ratio of good to bad estrogens. It may also be especially effective at preventing hormonal cancers such as breast and prostate cancer.
Resveratrol is the plant-based, all-natural compound found in 300 plants, particularly in grapes and berries. It is most widely known for its beneficial effects resulting from drinking red wine, which proves, in part, the “French paradox” (the comparatively low incidence of cardiovascular disease in the French population despite regular consumption of a high-fat diet, and may be responsible for many of the health benefits ascribed to red wine consumption. Resveratrol has beneficial effects on the liver, which helps remove bad estrogens from the body.
Milk thistle has been shown to decrease liver inflammation. A healthy liver is crucial for someone with estrogen dominance or post-birth control syndrome. In a recent study, supplementing with milk thistle proved to enhance estrogen metabolism and to speed up its clearance from the body. For this reason, study authors concluded that supplementing with milk thistle could reduce breast cancer risk.
Maca is a vegetable in the radish family and is one of the more hormone-regulating supplements known to mankind. It seems to have positive effects across the system for balancing hormones of all kinds by improving functioning of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. In fact, no matter what age woman you are, maca seems to help women find that perfect balance and to even improve sleep by regulating the pineal gland as well. Improved sleep means improved estrogen metabolism as well. In studies, maca proved to help balance estrogen, progesterone, luteinizing hormone, adrenal hormones, and in alleviating symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, depression, and interrupted sleep. As an added bonus, maca has been proven to increase sex drive in women
Hormonal birth control methods can cause deficiencies in B vitamins like B2, B6 and B12 and in folic acid as well. Supplementing with these important B vitamins, which are crucial for the liver detoxification pathways, will assure your liver has all the nutrition it needs to excrete these excess estrogens safely and completely.
Hormonal birth control can also cause deficiencies in the antioxidant vitamins C and E, which are crucial for healthy liver function and in keeping the body resilient in all kinds of ways.
Supplement with Minerals Magnesium, Selenium, and Zinc
In studies comparing blood vitamin and mineral levels of women taking birth control pills versus those who weren’t, women taking hormonal birth control pills showed deficiencies in magnesium, selenium, and zinc. Minerals are especially crucial for the liver’s detoxification pathways, as the liver combines minerals with dangerous compounds in order to make them safe to excrete by the kidneys.
Sulfur is essential for methylation which, in its simplest terms, helps the body to pull healthy hormones in and send unhealthy hormones out. Sulfur helps ensure a healthy liver and detoxification of estrogen by the liver. Sulfur is also called “the beauty mineral” for the glowing, clear skin it yields. So why not get more of it via supplement or through foods like citrus fruits, leafy greens, onions, and garlic. According to John D. Kirschmann in the “Nutrition Almanac,” sulfur is a part of glutathione, the primary antioxidant that maintains a healthy liver and it helps the liver to detoxify a wide range of toxins and pollutants.
What to Eliminate from Your Life to Eliminate Excess Estrogen and Get Rid of Post Birth Control Syndrome
Excessive alcohol consumption
Consuming alcohol regularly can raise estrogen levels as much as 22% in the body. Not only this, but consuming alcohol impacts liver function directly, meaning the liver is less able to detoxify the body of excess estrogens.
Non-organic, hormone-loaded meats
When trying to eliminate estrogen from the body, you don’t want to confuse the body by taking in super-doses of estrogen. Today, cattle in America are often given hormone patches to make them plumper and appear to have more meat. As Dan Thompson, MS, PhD, DVM and Jones Professor of Production Medicine and Epidemiology at Kansas State University says, “Beef cattle are treated with steroid implants. The steroids used are estrogen, progesterone and a testosterone analog called trenbolone acetate.”
Hormone-injected meats are the last thing someone with estrogen dominance needs to eat.
Clean up your beauty bin
Try to go pure and organic in your makeup, skincare, and bath products as well. As a first rule of thumb, eliminate anything with phthalates and fragrances. And on that note, eliminate perfumes and treat yourself to some 100% pure essential oils such as violet oil, pure rose essential oil (expensive, but heavenly!), or pure lavender essential oil. For help with this, consult the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database.
Ditto for household cleansers and laundry products
You’ll want to take a close look at your household cleaners and laundry products. Either buy form companies who readily disclose all ingredients, which are listed at the Safer Choice website. Or, instead of purchasing heavily fragranced, endocrine-disrupting cleaning products, why not create a “green cleaning bin” made up of hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, and essential oils to make everything smell lovely and even lemon-y if you choose.
Dangerous cooking pans/utensils
Avoid all kinds of toxic cookware. The most toxic, by far, is non-stick cookware. Close runners up are aluminum cookware or those speckled baking dishes. The more toxic your body overall, the less chance you have of eliminating specific toxins from the body, like estrogen.
Safe cookware equals stainless steel, cast iron, glass, ceramic, or copper—only.
Plastics and canned food (which are lined with BPA)
Both BPA and BPS mimic estrogen in the body, big time. You’ll want to use glass or ceramic water bottles, spray bottles, and food storage containers. Choose fresh or frozen food only. In fact, as researchers note, both BPS and BPA can alter hormones in surprisingly low doses: “People automatically think low doses do less than high doses,” explains University of Texas Biochemistry Prof Cheryl Watson… “But both natural hormones and unnatural ones like [BPS] can have effects at surprisingly low doses.
Getting rid of excess estrogen (and Post Birth Control Syndrome) in your life will help restore you and your body to complete harmony. It is a dual job of both avoiding what is negatively skewing your hormones into wrong levels and supplementing with liver-enhancing, estrogen-clearing compounds to help restore hormonal balance, especially after the pill
Good luck and all my best to you!
I’d love to hear your questions and comments below!
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