Prolonged use of the birth control pill can rob the body of important nutrients and wreak havoc on hormonal health, but there are natural ways to nurture your body back to balance.
Available for over 50 years in Canada, oral contraceptives (“the pill”) are considered to be the most widely used method of contraception today. While the pill is fantastic for preventing pregnancy and, seemingly, helpful for managing other conditions, many women who come off the pill are faced with an array of unpleasant symptoms like irregular periods, mood swings, acne and weight gain. They are often also left with significant nutritional deficiencies. The good news is that good nutrition, supplementation and lifestyle habits will all help to support hormonal health after being on the pill.
Correcting Nutrient Deficiencies & Imbalances
Many pharmaceutical medications affect the body’s ability to absorb and utilize nutrients and the pill is no different! Chances are, if you’ve been ‘on the pill’ for any length of time, your body may have been robbed of B Vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and the minerals Magnesium, Selenium and Zinc. Studies have also shown that reduced levels of those minerals are directly proportional to the duration of use. Therefore, focusing on good nutrition after being on the pill is necessary to restore those lost nutrients. Here’s how:
- B Vitamins: The B Vitamins, including B2, B6, B12 and folate (aka ‘folic acid’) play essential roles in energy, mood regulation, red blood cell development, metabolism, as well as many other biological and neurological functions. Folate is particularly important for women who plan to become pregnant, as it has been shown to reduce neural tube defects. Foods such as grass-fed beef, salmon, poultry, legumes, eggs, potatoes, bananas and leafy green vegetables (which are loaded with folate) are all great additions to your post-pill lifestyle. It may be a good idea to try a good B-Complex supplement that includes folate as well.
- Vitamin C: The antioxidant Vitamin C is important for the growth and repair of tissues, cardiovascular health and immunity. Deficiencies may cause some women to heal more slowly or bruise more easily. A diet rich in a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables that are either raw or lightly cooked will ensure that you’re getting the most bioavailable form of Vitamin C. If supplementing, look for a good quality bioavailable form of Vitamin C that is free from artificial colours and fillers.
- Vitamin E: A potent antioxidant, fat-soluble Vitamin E plays a role in the functioning of many organs, including the brain and eyes, as well as many other biological and neurological functions. It also plays an important, hormone-balancing role within the endocrine system. Deficiencies may cause some women to experience muscle weakness, loss of coordination or even problems with vision. Including lots of plant-based foods that are high in good fats is a great delivery system for this fat-soluble vitamin. Try upping your intake of sunflower seeds, almonds and avocados.
- Magnesium: The mineral Magnesium is an important co-factor to more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body and many of us are already deficient in this multi-tasking mineral. Being on the pill just adds to the problem. Deficiencies may appear as muscle spasms, migraines, anxiety or other cardiovascular and musculoskeletal problems. Eating foods such as spinach, chard, cashews, pumpkin seeds and figs will help to restore those levels. Look for a supplement such as magnesium bisglycinate or try powdered magnesium in a cup of warm water before bed.
- Selenium: The antioxidant mineral Selenium plays important roles in thyroid and reproductive health; as well it supports the detoxification systems in the body. As such, a deficiency may increase the risk for various diseases and endocrine disorders. Eating foods such as Brazil nuts, salmon, turkey, sardines, eggs and mushrooms is a good place to start restoring this mineral.
- Zinc: The mineral Zinc is responsible for more than 100 biochemical reactions, including estrogen metabolism and detoxification. A deficiency may result in problems with immunity, sexual and reproductive function. Get more zinc from foods such as grass fed beef, poultry, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
- Probiotics: Oral contraceptives have also been linked to imbalances within the gut, possibly leading to other issues such as leaky gut and candida, which will create imbalances with hormonal health. Include more fermented/cultured foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and miso or try supplementing with a high quality, multi-strained probiotic.
What’s the liver got to do with it?
Liver health is critical for rebalancing hormones since it’s responsible for hormone metabolism and detoxification. The liver requires specialized nutrients to keep it healthy. These foods include: bitter greens (radicchio, arugula, rapini, dandelion greens), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower), beets, lemons, garlic and turmeric.
While we’re used to talking about internal hormones, we actually get a lot of hormones from outside as well. When coming off the pill, it’s important to reduce or remove as many excess sources of external estrogen (known as xenoestrogen) as possible. Xenoestrogens are found in plastics, pesticides and personal care products like lotions and cosmetics. Also, ensuring ample sleep and hydration, getting moderate exercise and effective stress management all play a key role in getting your post-pill hormonal health back on track!
Bio: Michelle Tirmandi, BA. B.Ed, CNP
Michelle Tirmandi is a Toronto-based, Holistic Nutritionist. She’s also a busy mama, wife, yogi, wellness industry consultant and founder of www.nourishandglow.ca, an online meal planning subscription that helps busy mamas with weekly food ideas and recipes. As the nutritionist for Toronto Yoga Mamas, Michelle’s passionate about working with pregnant women and new moms to help them eat healthy, simply. You can find Michelle on Instagram @michellenutrition @nourishandglow_ or you can book a free 20-minute consultation with Michelle @torontoyogamamas