Every week my inbox floods with women who’ve ditched their birth control pills, only to discover their period hasn’t come back. “Am I pregnant?” they ask. What’s going on?
Don’t stress just yet; it's extremely common for women getting off birth control pills to wind up with irregular or entirely absent menstrual cycles. Typical, yes, but normal? No!
Birth control pills suppress your natural hormonal cycle and ultimately halt ovulation all together. When it comes time to get off the faux hormones, your body doesn’t know what to do. It hasn’t had to produce its own hormones in years, and now it doesn’t remember how to! In essence, your body gets stuck.
In order to ovulate, your body needs to hit a certain estrogen threshold. Birth control pills provide you a steady dose of ethinyl estradiol, a synthetic version of estrogen four times higher than your body would naturally produce. Once you quit cold turkey, you are in a constant state of estrogen withdrawal and your ovaries have to remember how to secrete this beautiful hormone.
So how to get your periods back? Oh, I could write a book about it! For the sake of time (and your sanity), there are a few culprits that are great starting points. Let’s dive in!
Period Blocker Number 1: Low Estrogen
Among other things, you're most likely dealing with an underlying hormonal imbalance that needs to be resolved. For women whose periods turn up missing, increasing intake of phytoestrogens can work absolute wonders. And there are really only two that will give your body the boost it needs: flaxseed and tofu. If you go the tofu route, it's really important that you eat organic varieties only, otherwise you have a whole other set of problems on your hands.
I know what you’re thinking: Soy? But it’s soooo controversial! Yes it is, and there is a good reason for that! With such a high dose of phytoestrogens, women who have the opposite problem (too much estrogen) could really be hindered by upping their intake. As you can imagine, men probably wouldn’t benefit from an estrogen overload either. Thankfully, the food is a miracle worker for women lacking the estrogen needed to ovulate, and thus menstruate.
Period Blocker Number 2: Excess Androgens
A fancy word for too many hormones, there are a few ways to tell if you’re dealing with an androgen overload. Ailments of this variety usually come packaged with digestive problems, cystic acne and excess facial hair, the latter the result of too-high testosterone and sex hormones that are on the fritz.
In this scenario the first thing we need to fix is cortisol. You’ve probably heard quite a bit about cortisol lately, and I’ll tell you why it’s important: when it's out of line, the rest of your hormones are too! That means you need to de-stress. Seriously. Stop the excuses. If you can actually give yourself permission to put yourself first, miracles can happen.
Don’t let your body become a cortisol junkie, it’ll only keep the hormonal chaos going.
Period Blocker Number 3: Blocked Pathways of Elimination
If you're experiencing number 1, 2, or both, it’s highly likely that you're also experiencing some digestive turmoil or unruly skin. The reason for this is simple. When hormones are out of control, your body tries to get rid of them via one of three pathways: your intestines, your skin and your liver. Excess hormones need to exit the body somewhere, and with its current heavy load it can be very difficult to get rid of it all fast enough.
Once again, the flaxseed will help, as will upping your water intake, increasing fermented foods, and adding a magnesium supplement. But cortisol and insulin management are also key to reducing that hormonal load in the first place.
We’ve talked about stress reduction, but blood sugar management is just as vital when it comes to hormonal health. While excess cortisol is linked to mismanaged hormones, excess insulin is equally to blame. Eating low glycemic foods at relatively consistent intervals can have a huge effect on your blood sugar load, and thus the functioning of your sex hormones. Don’t forget to include fat or protein with every meal and snack and get adequate movement in your daily life in order to keep that state of homeostasis.
How long is too long?
My rule of thumb is three months. If your cycles return after three months post-pill, and regulate not too long after that, you're in the clear. If it’s been much longer, I recommend starting the healing process now. The longer women are on the pill, the longer a hormonal imbalance may have gone unnoticed and the more complicated it may be to heal. Healing your hormones now makes for better health and baby-making later!