Women's Health | July 28, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
When the oral contraceptive pill was first released in the Australian market in 1961, it signified a momentous change in women’s lives. It gave them control over their reproductive future by avoiding unwanted pregnancies and as such allowed more women to enter the workforce. Although there are many benefits to the pill there are also side-effects. Women who take the pill for skin health and hormonal balancing may find alternatives in natural therapies safer, with less adverse reactions.
The pill is a colloquial term for the combined oral contraceptive (COCP) or birth control pill. It is a birth control method which includes a combination of synthetic oestrogen and progesterone. A pill is taken every day by mouth which includes 21 hormone active pills and inactive sugar pills. Another version, referred to as the mini pill is a progesterone-only pill. It is normally prescribed to women who are breastfeeding or can’t take the COCP due to other health-related reasons.
If used correctly oral hormonal contraception is more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy—making it a very popular choice.
The combination of synthetic oestrogen and progesterone stop ovulation—a process which involves the release of an egg from the ovaries each month. In addition to this, progesterone inhibits sperm penetration into the cervix by reducing the water content and thickening cervical mucous.
Different pills can have different side-effects and incidences. Some of the most common side-effects include nausea, vomiting, bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, fluid retention and mild weight changes. Vaginal bleeding in between periods (spotting) or missed/irregular periods can occur, especially when first taking the product.
The use of hormonal contraceptives has been associated with an increased risk of venous thromboembolism (including deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism) and high blood pressure.
It has also been shown to increase the risk of ischaemic stroke (stroke caused by a blocked artery) and myocardial infarction (a blockage of blood flow to the heart).
In women who smoke and who are over the age of 35, these risks increase substantially. However, it does depend on which pill you are taking and a pill lower in oestrogen does reduce this risk substantially.
Although still a controversial area, a systematic review conducted in 2010 found a slight increase in breast cancer among current users of COCP. This risk disappears 5-10 years after being discontinued.
Studies in this area have come back with conflicting information. What the evidence does show is that women who are taking the COCP are more likely to take anti-depressant medication, especially adolescents. Other studies have found that the use of the pill reduced a women’s overall general well-being and vitality.
A report by the World Health organisation (WHO) found that certain nutrients are depleted in women who take oral contraceptives compared to women who don’t. Some of the nutrients are key to good health and include folic acid, vitamins B2, B6, B12, vitamins C and E and the minerals magnesium, zinc and selenium. These nutrients are important for heart health, the production of neurotransmitters needed for healthy mood, thyroid heath and many, many other things. Perhaps if you are taking the pill, consider supplementing with these nutrients, the majority of which can be found in a good quality multivitamin.
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Improving skin can be as simple as improving diet, providing digestive support and increasing nutrients essential for skin health. Zinc, vitamin A and vitamin C are all nutrients important in reducing acne. They are important in reducing inflammation, fighting bacteria and healing the skin.
If acne is due to hormonal imbalances the herb Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste tree) could be used as a natural alternative. In one study, 12 weeks of treatment was significantly superior to placebo in improving the signs of acne. A low glycaemic index (GI) diet could also be helpful, as well as supporting the liver and colon with high fibre foods and consuming a wholefoods diet.
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Sometimes women are prescribed the pill because they are experiencing cysts on their ovaries due to a combination of higher levels of circulating androgens such as testosterone and insulin resistance (resulting in high blood sugars). Symptoms include increased facial hair, acne, menstrual irregularities and weight gain. Eating a low GI diet, supplementing with chromium, B vitamins and magnesium can help to reduce insulin resistance. Liquorice, peony, gymnema and cinnamon may provide further assistance, plus reduce levels of androgens.
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Although the pill has been found to be beneficial in reducing some of the symptoms of PMS, there are many natural alternatives that can aid in this area. B6, magnesium, calcium and vitex have all been clinically proven to reduce cravings, improve mood and sleep, relieve headaches and insomnia.
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Balancing hormonal levels can be achieved with vitex as it can help to regulate periods.If your periods are heavy and prolonged, additional help may be sought from your naturopath, especially if it is due to an underlying condition such as endometriosis or fibroids.
Stress is also known to influence the menstrual cycle so finding ways to reduce this may be helpful. This could include exercise, meditation, yoga, reading or journaling.
There are many contraceptive alternatives to the pill that are associated with less side effects. This includes barrier methods such as condoms and diaphragms. When choosing the right method for you, consider the products effectiveness, possible side-effects and costs. And remember, the best possible way to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections is through condoms.
Blanco-Molina A, Monreal M. Venous thromboembolism in women taking hormonal contraceptives. Expert Rev Cardiovasc Ther. 2010 Feb;8(2):211-5
Olatunji LA, et al. Combined oral contraceptive-induced hypertension is accompanied by endothelial dysfunction and upregulated intrarenal angiotensin II type 1 receptor gene expression. Naunyn Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol. 2016 Nov;389(11):1147-1157
Cibula D, et al. Hormonal contraception and risk of cancer. Hum Reprod Update. 2010 Nov-Dec;16(6):631-50
Skoylund CW, et al. Association of hormonal contraception with depression. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016 Nov 1;73(11):1154-1162
Palmery M, et al. Oral contraceptives and changes in nutrient requirements. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2013 Jul;17(13):1804-13
Hechtman L (2014). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Australia