Many doctors still believe the benefits of the birth control pill outweigh the risks. I’m not one of them. Not only is the pill associated with the likelihood of developing serious diseases, like breast cancer, but it also creates massive hormonal shifts that can lead to a variety of unpleasant effects. In essence, the pill suppresses natural hormone production, making it behave as if it is already in menopause. When you consider the symptoms common to women in menopause and women taking the pill—depression, anxiety, brain fog, weight gain, insomnia, loss of libido—it all makes sense.
I wasn’t always such a vocal opponent of the pill. In the earlier part of my career, I prescribed the pill routinely to my patients, and as a young woman, I used it myself. But two things inspired me to rethink my position: First, I started helping my menopausal clients restore their hormonal balance with bioidentical hormone replacement and nutrition and lifestyle improvements. This was when I decided it was time to take a closer look at hormone levels in my younger birth control clients as well. And second, these same young women were coming in with all the symptoms noted above, unaware that the pill could be the culprit. Indeed, blood analysis almost always reveals that these clients had hormone levels that matched those of their menopausal counterparts.
Consider 23-year-old Nicole, a patient whose journey is chronicled in my new book, Radiant Again & Forever. She presented with constant depression, low energy, and general "crankiness." She thought this was normal since it was all she had known for years. I took her off oral contraceptives, and after just one week, she reported having much greater mental clarity, feeling more levelheaded, cheerful, energetic, and happier. Hormones are our body’s software, and when software doesn’t work properly, there’s always a chain of negative consequences. Here’s why I advocate for nonhormonal methods of birth control:
1. Body changes.
While a number of professionals believe that patients on the birth control pill do not gain weight, most pill users I see would beg to differ. And it makes sense. By lowering estrogen levels, the pill raises blood sugar as well as cortisol levels, resulting in the same kind of weight gain that is a struggle for perimenopausal and menopausal women.
2. Brain fog, mood, memory, and depression.
Estrogen is essential to the healthy functioning of the female brain and acts as a kind of a bridge between neurons, resulting in improved memory and prevention of dementia. Mood and energy, as we saw in Nicole’s case, depend on estrogen. It also stimulates the production of serotonin, which is one of the brain’s "feel-good" hormones. When estrogen is low, serotonin levels decrease, which can also result in conditions even more concerning than Nicole’s—severe depression, OCD, paranoia, and ADD. So, sadly, some women taking the pill end up with a prescription for antidepressants, which is completely unnecessary when we have natural ways to treat the root causes of this and other symptoms.
3. Skin quality.
Low estrogen and hormonal imbalances also affect the skin, causing wrinkles and sagging to occur at an accelerated rate.
4. Disease risks.
In my 30 years of experience with the birth control pill, I have seen a marked increase in diabetes, heart disease, and thyroid problems.
5. Breast cancer susceptibility.
One in every eight women currently develops breast cancer at some point in their lives. Research from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center reveals that 90 percent of all cancers are due to inflammation. Low estrogen states—whether created by menopause or the birth control pill—have been associated with an increase in inflammation, and therefore, we must consider the risk of cancer that this suggests.
By putting your body into hormonal menopause with all of its symptoms, the birth control pill is clearly at odds with the goals of health and beauty. Should we knowingly damage our bodies this way? Putting it another way, the pill causes premature aging, and I don’t think any of us would actively choose that. Let’s allow our body’s software, its own hormones, and bioidentical hormone replacements to keep us disease-free and radiantly young for as long as possible.