“There’s never been a more important time to be clued up on hormonal birth control” says Nat Kringoudis, our resident JSHealth Expert on all things fertility and women’s hormones. Today on the blog, Nat shares a bunch of natural contraceptive options that don’t involve synthetic hormones (like the pill). Take it away Nat!
We’ve been using the pill and other synthetic hormone contraceptives for quite some time and only now are we beginning to see the long-term side effects. You don’t have to search too hard to find unnerving information relating to health complications these contraceptives are being linked to, including anxiety, depression, infertility and more. It leaves many of us questioning if it’s worth it. For some, the pill has been a godsend, others a nightmare. Given we aren’t all built of the same genes, we can easily conclude that what works for one, doesn’t necessarily work for the next. But when it comes to all synthetic hormone contraceptives, the information is clear for all to see – it’s causing some serious issues for many.
Perhaps this is all news to you or perhaps until now, you really didn’t want to know because ignorance is bliss right? Here’s a quick rundown:
- Synthetic hormones may disrupt normal hormone function long term (1)
- They don’t provide a solution for hormone imbalance like PCOS, Endometriosis, oestrogen dominance, ovulation pain, acne, PMS… because solutions fix problems. The pill can’t and doesn’t do this. It does however offer temporary relief for many.
- The pill, like all medications, robs the body of essential vitamins and minerals.
- All medications, including synthetic hormone contraception’s upset healthy gut flora leading to a host of issues including poor immunity and compromised digestive function. If you can’t digest well, your whole body suffers including your hormones.
- Side effects are wide and varied including nausea, depression, anxiety, weight gain, breast pain, low libido (totally ironic if you’re using the pill for contraception, if you can’t entertain the thought of jumping your lover and getting between the sheets – kind of counterproductive!)
- The pill is said to alter our senses and skews our lover radar. That’s right, research suggests that it may mess with our sense to attract a suitable (or should I say, compatible baby making) partner. (2)
I could keep going… but we’re here to talk about what to do if you don’t want to take the synthetic hormones any longer, not what the pill and it’s sisters like implants and mirena’s can do.
I will say this however – all forms of hormone contraception must be taken with great care and caution. Sadly, we’re not necessarily told this when it’s prescribed. That might leave you asking – should you take the pill? It would be careless of me to say you shouldn’t and you should always consult your health care professional. In this vein, this information is not about what is right or wrong, but to help you feel educated around your lady parts!
There are very few cases of women who actually must be on the pill – most of the reasons a woman may take it aside from contraception, are treatable. Now, you might still be saying to yourself, “I get that the pill is trouble, but if I’m not taking the pill – and I’m not ready for kids yet, then what?” I say hear, hear! We’re on the same page. There are a few things you need to consider and a few solutions.
Natural Fertility Awareness
Hands down, one of the most important things you can do is learn to read your own body’s signals – we’ve lost touch with this because we don’t get a look in whilst we are using synthetic hormones to control the show. This is where Fertility Awareness or FAM comes in. Forget the Billings method, that’s not too further from a stab in the dark WITH a blindfold on, especially for those with an irregular cycle. Understanding your body and it’s own ebbs and flows is the only true way to really know what’s going on. And it works. It’s said to be approx. 98.9% effective when practiced correctly – there are many people out there teaching it (me included).
Downside: It can take a little time to get to know your body rhythms but once you know them, you’re good for life!
Now, if you had to twist my arm and hold a gun to my head and ask what’s the best form of ‘implant’ or IUD, I would reluctantly say the copper IUD. It could be worse – at least it doesn’t contain synthetic hormones.
The copper IUD works as it makes your body secrete fluid that prevents pregnancy. This fluid has repellant powers, much like ‘the force’ from your favorite Star Wars movie. The copper ions inhibit the ability of the sperm to move meaning you’re going to need to take a Jedi Knight to get through. It’s also considered to be 99% effective.
Downside: It needs to be fitted by a doctor. But more so, I hear a lot of IUD’s migrate to other areas of the body and can require surgery to be removed. Periods are often heavier and cramps are worse for many with and IUD. Excess copper also severely depletes zinc, so it is beneficial to ensure you are supporting your body in the right way if you choose the copper IUD as this can lead to other issues including problems with your thyroid.
This little silicone cap is inserted into the vagina, much like a diaphragm, and it sits over the cervix to prevent sperm from reaching the egg. Here’s why I like it:
- It can be inserted up to several hours prior to sex and must remain in for six hours after sex. It’s like nobody even knows it’s there!
- It’s reusable, can be used over and over again and lasts around 2 years.
- Easy to purchase.
- It’s around 94% effective.
The cervical cap is like a new version of the diaphragm. They both work in a very similar way.
Downside: It can take a little practice to make sure it’s inserted right and just like all forms of hormonal birth control it will not protect you from Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s). STD’s can cause all kinds of serious long-term issues, which is why I advocate for barrier methods as a first option.
Most of us are familiar with condoms. They provide a rubber barrier that the male places over the penis to prevent sperm travelling to the cervix. Here’s why we like them:
- They are inexpensive and readily available.
- They DO protect against STD’s and some people like to combine condoms with other methods mentioned above for extra precaution.
- They are considered 98% effective
- They are easy to use.
Downside: They can break occasionally, which is the biggest concern for many healthcare professionals. Some people can experience skin irritations or reactions to the materials (rubber/latex etc.), or the inconvenience of having to put a diaphragm in place or condom on.
These methods provide excellent alternatives to preventing pregnancy especially when used in conjunction with FAM and can provide real options in all situations.
For me and my patients, the number one priority is learning about your own body and its daily communications to you. This will tell you so much about yourself which allows you to then go and treat according to your own body’s needs.
If you are using a form of synthetic contraception, I’m certainly not here to say you shouldn’t. It’s important we have all the information we deserve to make sound choices about what’s best for us each individually. Many women are finding that hormonal birth control isn’t a useful option and are keen to look at the options available.
(1)Michael Richard et al., ‘Volatile fatty acids, “couplins”, in human vaginal secretions’ , Psychoneuroendocrinology, 1:153 – 63 AND J.N. Lundstrom et al., ‘Effects of reproductive state on olfactory sensitivity suggest odour specificity’, Biological Psychology, 2005.
(2) M. Hassan and S. Killick, ‘Is previous use of hormonal contraception associated with a detrimental effect on subsequent fertility?’, Human Reproduction, 19 (2): 344-51, 2004.
Nat Kringoudis is our resident JSHealth expert on all things natural fertility, women’s hormones and their capacity to influence overall health and wellbeing. To find out more, visit her website or follow her on Facebook!
All views expressed are the author’s own and do not represent the views of JSHealth Pty. Ltd., Jessica Sepel or any other related party.