Mandatory Reading: Hormonal Birth Control 101
Birth control, you wonderful thing. You prevent pregnancy and let us women live our lives to the fullest. But you can also take a toll on our bodies. (Headaches, weight gain, and increased risk of certain cancers? No thanks). If you’re just starting, the pill can be somewhat of a mystery. So what exactly does birth control do to your body? Here are some things to expect.
First, how does birth control work?
Okay, so what does birth control actually do within your body? First, we need to break down the two types of the birth control pill: the combination pill and the progestin-only pill aka the minipill.
The combination pill contains synthetic estrogen and progesterone that work to prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation. Usually, your brain and your ovaries are in communication, one tells the other to release an egg. When that egg is released, estrogen levels go down and progesterone levels go up, which prepares your uterus for pregnancy. If the egg doesn’t get fertilized after ovulation, progesterone levels dip down, sending a signal that it’s time to move on to the next phase of the menstrual cycle. When you’re on hormonal birth control, your brain and uterus receive a signal that stops your body from trying to grow that egg, making your pituitary gland think you’ve already ovulated.
Unlike the combo pill, progestin-only birth control doesn’t stop ovulation, instead it focuses on thickening the mucus around the cervix. The thickened mucus makes your uterus hell for sperm and deters them from finding the egg. Downside? You have to take the minipill at the same time every day. Notice the emphasis on same time. If you take your pill more than three hours before or after your usual time slot, your mucus will thin, and those little spermies can roll right through.
But, how can birth control affect my body?
Birth control doesn’t just affect your reproductive system, it can affect many facets of your life. Let’s go through some of them.
The pill affects how you feel.
It’s no lie, the first couple of months on the pill can be a little bit funky.
You feel sick. Feeling queasy now that you’re on the pill? You’re not the only one. Nausea is one of the most common side effects of hormonal birth control. If you’ve just started the pill, and it feels like you’re on a sinking ship, don’t give up hope just yet; the nausea should subside. In the meantime, try taking your pill after eating or before you go to bed. Taking your birth control at night can help make your tummy feel okay by morning. Plus, it can fit nicely into your bedtime routine, making it easier to remember to take the pill every day.
Your head hurts. If you’re brain feels like its been bulldozed by a tractor trailer, it may just be a side effect of your birth control. While your body adjusts to the new hormones, you can be plagued by the occasional headache.
Headaches usually happen when your estrogen levels dip, so when your hormones fluctuate, hello, brain pain! After your body gets used to the pill, these brain busters will likely subside. In fact, those already prone to headaches and migraines may even feel a reduction in headaches. If you’re experiencing or have experienced migraines with aura, talk to your doctor stat.
You feel bloated. Feeling like a balloon? Your hormones are fluctuating, and when your estrogen levels increase, your kidneys increase water retention, especially in your hips and breasts. When you’re bloated, the whole world can suck. You don’t feel or look your best, and it can be hard to get out the house when your pants don’t fit just right.
The pill affects how you look.
Now, don’t fear, but the pill can affect your appearance, in ways both big and small.
Your skin. Birth control can make or break the appearance of your skin. Seriously. Some science first. Studies show that estrogen pumps up the production of a protein called sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) which decreases the amount of testosterone in your system. Testosterone creates this oily stuff called sebum that clogs your pores and creates zits.
Less sebum = fewer pimples. Easy. So easy in fact that the FDA approved certain brands of the pill to treat acne. But, for some women, birth control actually makes them break out, especially if they use a progestin-only method. So, what’s the verdict? You may have to go through some trial and error until you find a pill that works for you–and your skin.
Your weight. Noticing the number on that scale inching up? Most of the weight you’re putting on? It’s just water. Like we mentioned earlier, high doses of estrogen can cause your kidneys to increase water retention. The water holds in your breasts and hips, making your jeans feel just a teensy bit tighter. Luckily, water weight isn’t permanent. Another player: your appetite. Progesterone can spike your appetite, so when its levels elevate during fluctuation, so does your need for chocolate. Though you may crave comfort foods, if you’re worried about your weight, put down the ice cream and reach for your nearest green juice.
Your breasts. Again, this has a lot to do with water. When your estrogen levels go up, your body retains more water, and where does this water go? Your hips and your breasts. Your boob size may soar when you first start hormonal birth control. Whether you’re celebrating or in pain, odds are you may have to take a visit to the lingerie store.
How the pill affects your mind.
I’ll let you in on a well-known secret: your birth control can control your mind. Okay, so not really. But it can change the way you think and feel.
You’re having mood swings. You’re up, you’re down, you’re all around. You know how your emotions go totally haywire when you’re PMS-ing? Well, things aren’t so different when you start the pill. Your hormone levels are fluctuating, and this can cause definite mood swings. When your estrogen levels dip, your body actually produces less serotonin. (You’ve heard of it before, it’s your main “feel good” brain neurotransmitters). With less serotonin, there is less happy hormone floating around, which can get you feeling blue.
You don’t want to have sex. This can be a real bummer. So, you go on the pill to unleash your inner sex goddess, but then once you start it, you find you don’t really care anymore. Hormonal birth control can really suck the life out of your libido. Remember the SHBG that estrogen releases to help clear your skin?
Well, those same little buggers can also kill your sex drive. See, testerone fuels our desire, and because SHBG lowers this hormone level, sex becomes about the furthest thing from your mind.
Your picker is off. Science tells us that women are more typically attracted to men whose immune systems are different from theirs. It’s an evolutionary thing. What’s more weird? When women go on the pill, their attraction changes. Yep, when you’re on the pill, you’re more likely to veer in the other direction, going for guys who are more similar to you than different. So what’s the problem? Imagine you’ve been in a long term relationship, you go on the pill, your attraction changes, and suddenly your bf becomes totally repulsive. That’s an exaggeration, but you get the idea.
PLUS, new science suggests that men are more into fertile women, and when you’re on the pill, you’re definitely not flaunting your fertility. Argh. Hormones!
The pill affects your overall health.
Many studies have been done to test the side effects of birth control, and it’s been found that the pill can affect your health in both positive and negative ways. For example, while it decreases some risks of cancer, it also increases others. So, what are the studies actually showing us?
Your bones. In 2010, studies found that women on low-dose estrogen pills had 6% lower bone density in their spines than women not on birth control. Yikes. High estrogen levels can stimulate bone growth, but because birth control works to keep those level steady, that stimulation isn’t happening. So can your birth control cause osteoporosis? Though it may negatively affect your bones, there’s not enough evidence to prove that the pill can cause osteoporosis.
Your risk of blood clots. It’s true, hormonal birth control can increase your risk of blood clots, and your increased risk can vary depending on what kind of birth control you take. Women who take birth control pills that contain the artificial progesterone known as drospirenone are 3x more likely to develop blood clots in their legs than women whose pills use the levonorgestrel kind of progesterone. But even still, drospirenone or not, the chance of of developing blood clots due to the pill is 3 in 10,000. Do you know what that means? It means blood clots are rare. Of course, if you have a family history of blood clots, you’re more at risk, so you should check your family tree before taking oral contraceptives. Also more at risk? Smokers. So, please, for the benefit of us all, put that cigarette down.
Your risk of breast cancer. The story between breast cancer and the pill is twofold: birth control can increase the risk of some cancers while reducing the risk of others. Some studies show that women who take the pill have a 65% higher risk of developing estrogen-negative breast cancer than those not taking it. Wow, that statistic sounds scary, doesn’t it? Birth control pills also increase the risk of cervical cancer. There are cancers that the pill can actually help prevent. For example, if you take the pill, your risk of ovarian cancer decreases by 50%. Not only that, but the pill can also reduce the risk for endometrial cancer by more than 40%. It’s a real give and take. One thing we can tell you, if you have a history of breast cancer in your family, you may want to think twice before going on hormonal birth control.
When you first start oral contraceptives, your hormones become imbalanced and this can lead to many changes in your body. These fluctuations can cause many of the more short-term side effects of birth control. The Top Up Tonic enables women to be proactive about their health by helping to replenish them with all of the essential nutrients that the the birth control pill is known to strip away - putting that pep back in your step! Want to learn more about how to feel like yourself again?