"I haven’t had my period in nearly three months, I’m snapping at my receptionist more often, and my acne hasn’t been this bad since I went to junior prom," my 34-year-old patient Jenna admitted during our first consultation a few months ago. "Just talking about it gives me a headache," she added, reaching for an Advil. As a doctor who helps women reverse autoimmune disease and balance their hormones, I frequently see frustrated patients like Jenna struggling with the miserable aftermath of going off birth control pills. And while a few do begin cycling regularly again and have minimal symptoms—most women aren’t so lucky.
Here's what you need to know about post-birth control syndrome.
In my practice, women who go off the pill frequently suffer hormonal imbalances, menstrual irregularities, and symptoms like acne and mood swings. If their periods return, they often become painful or heavy. We call this problem post-birth control syndrome (PBCS), and it typically occurs within four to six months after discontinuing the pill. Among its symptoms include:
- Menstrual irregularities including loss of menstruation, heavy menstruation, painful periods, and short cycles (less than 24 days).
- Hormonal changes like infertility, hypothyroidism, hair loss, breast tenderness, acne, and adrenal dysfunction.
- Migraines and headaches.
- Changes in body composition like breast size, weight gain, or difficulty losing weight.
- Mood disorders including anxiety and depression.
- Digestive symptoms including bowel changes, digestive upset, gas, or bloating.
- Inflammation and other immune imbalances.
You can restore hormone balance after the pill.
Because its symptoms are so diverse, treating PBCS doesn’t happen overnight and often requires addressing multiple factors including gut health, detoxifying, nutrients, and balancing hormones. If you suffer from PBCS, please find a functional practitioner who can address these and other underlying problems. For many patients, attempting everything at once or going it alone can feel like a herculean challenge. But don’t give up hope: You can restore hormonal balance and cultivate overall health. In my practice, I’ve found these five strategies help women who struggle with PBCS:
1. Leverage your labs.
Among the tests I use to evaluate hormones include comprehensive thyroid testing (TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, Anti-TPO, and Anti-Thyroglobulin), sex hormones, as well as adrenal testing. A functional practitioner can implement these and other tests to restore hormonal balance.
2. Love your liver.
Because of the burden those synthetic hormones created, your liver needs some major post-pill TLC. Along with liver-supporting foods like beets, burdock root, dandelion root tea, garlic, and cruciferous vegetables, I had Jenna do a 21-day detox with professional-grade supplements.
3. Realign your gut.
Once your liver packages those synthetic hormones, your gut moves them out. Or it should, anyway. Like many former pill users, Jenna’s gut was inflamed, triggering leaky gut and disrupting her microbiome. Among the foods that helped restore her gut balance were fermented foods like kombucha and sauerkraut plus fiber-rich foods like flaxseeds. Altogether we needed about three months to heal Jenna’s leaky gut, restore microbiome balance, and clear any underlying infections.
4. Restart your hormones.
Like Jenna, many patients experience menstrual-cycle changes and other hormonal irregularities once they discontinue the pill. Like exes who no longer speak, the pill shut downs the conversation between your ovaries and your brain. To re-establish that connection, we implemented a high-quality multivitamin plus nutrient-dense foods including quality fats like coconut oil and avocado to build healthy hormones.
5. Dial down stress.
Mood swings and other symptoms spiked Jenna’s already-through-the-roof stress levels. Among its many miseries, chronic stress directly affects your body’s ability to make sex hormones, exacerbates symptoms like headaches, and depletes nutrients like vitamin B6. I help patients look for ways to find bliss and dial down stress. For Jenna, that included deep breathing, going for a walk during lunch, and yin yoga.