How To Upgrade Your Birth Control

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The FDA approved the first oral contraceptives in 1960, and since then women have had their pick of more than a dozen different hormonal birth control options. That reversed the Comstock Law of 1873, which made it a crime to distribute information or materials related to contraception [1]. We’ve certainly come a long way since then, but at what cost to your health? Hormonal birth control often has unwanted side effects and can affect a lot more than fertility. That’s not Bulletproof, and it begs the question: can you upgrade your birth control? Yes, you certainly can. Let’s talk about the pitfalls of hormonal birth control and what you can do to avoid them.

 

Menstrual suppression and withdrawal bleeding

Oral contraceptives use varying doses of synthetic estrogen and progesterone to interfere with your natural hormone cycles and “trick” your body into thinking it’s constantly pregnant.

When your body thinks it’s constantly pregnant it suspends your normal ovulatory cycle, making it nearly impossible to get pregnant. Unfortunately, it also introduces something called withdrawal bleeding [2]. If you get a “period” while you’re on birth control, don’t be fooled. It’s not actually a period – it’s a slight softening in the uterine lining one week per month– just enough to cause some light bleeding.

You see, when you override your natural cycle with hormonal birth control, there’s no biological reason for you to bleed. But when the creators of the pill were designing its use, they decided that the drug would be more widely accepted if women continued to experience a monthly flow. That was the 1960s. Today, more women are choosing to forgo periods altogether by skipping the placebo pills in their pack, a practice called menstrual suppression.

Either way, menstruation hasn’t been studied long enough for us to know the long-term implications of things like menstrual suppression [3]. Some scientists hypothesize that menstruation may have other purposes, like defending against sperm-borne pathogens or other immunological functions, as well as keeping iron levels balanced. [4] Others suggest that ovulation and menstruation support heart, bone, and breast health. A regular monthly cycle is also an indicator of overall health and hormone balance. In fact, irregular periods can be the first sign of chronic stress, disease, hormone imbalance, and infertility.

 

Hormonal contraceptives increase oxidative stress, too

Oral contraceptives diminish vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant stores while simultaneously promoting oxidative stress [5,6]. This destructive metabolic cocktail can leave women nutrient depleted and at risk for inflammatory conditions like heart disease and cancer [7].

Synthetic hormones in oral contraceptives also have been shown to increase sex hormone binding globulin (SHGB), a hormone transport protein that makes sex hormones available throughout the body [8]. A rise in SHGB often decreases your available testosterone and thyroid hormones, which can diminish energy, mood, digestive function, and a healthy sex drive [9]. Altered SHGB, testosterone, and thyroid hormones could be one reason why women on hormonal birth control report significantly higher rates of depression than those who aren’t taking the pill [10].

Studies have also found that the pill impairs glucose tolerance and increase systemic inflammation, which can lead to unwanted weight gain and depression [11].

TL;DR: you probably don’t want this stuff messing with your hormones.

 

Upgrade your birth control

Making a decision about birth control is tricky. Ideally it’s realistic, convenient, affordable, and good for your body. Here are a few safe alternatives to the pill and other synthetic hormonal options out there. There’s a method and a science behind the body’s ability to make babies, and with some badass tools and a little work, you can hack the process.

  • Fertility Awareness Method (FAM): Also called the “rhythm method” or natural family planning, FAM is based on tracking your ovulation to figure out when you’re fertile. Avoid sex on and around ovulation days or make sure to use a condom to prevent pregnancy. This one isn’t as foolproof as some other methods, so treat it with care.
  • Fertility Calculators: Fertility calculators or monitors learn and track your cycle for you, usually according to your temperature, to plan or prevent pregnancy. This is along the same lines as FAM.
  • Male/female condoms: Creating a physical barrier during sex to prohibit pregnancy and STIs may be hundreds, even thousands of years old. Early condoms were made from things like fish bladders and animal intestines. Today you can find a wide variety of condoms. Latex is the most effective option. Avoid sheepskin condoms; they’re porous enough that some STIs can still get through.

How to rebalance your hormones

Hormonal birth control can have long reaching affects, taking months, or even years to re-regulate. Add these tools to your hormone hacking arsenal to get back to your flourishing self.

  • Heal your gut. Cut out processed foods, added sugars, and potentially harmful toxins to promote gut health. High fiber foods, fermented vegetables, bone broth, and added digestive enzymes all help to heal and seal the lining of the gut so it can do its job – break down and absorb nutrients.
  • Boost your nutrient stores. Nutrients like B vitamins, zinc, selenium, phosphorus, and magnesium are all compromised after OC use. Consider supplementation on top of a nutrient-dense diet to maximize nutrient stores. Taking antioxidants like vitamins E, C, and glutathione also can help battle the oxidative stress associated with oral contraceptive use.[12]
  • Support your liver. The liver helps you to detoxify excess hormones and other toxins from the body and can become overwhelmed with the continuous use of birth control. Food like wild fish and avocado provide hormone balancing protein and fats, not to mention oxidative stress-battling omega-3 fatty acids and glutathione.[13,14] Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, and cabbage promote enzyme production in the liver, which aids in detoxification.[15]
  • Rebuild flora. Birth control may change the makeup of the microbiome, leading to changes in bacteria of the vagina as well, which can lead to chronic yeast infections. A good probiotic supplement will help to support the proliferation of healthy flora throughout the body.
  • Use herbal support. Herbs like vitex and maca root support your body’s hormonal feedback loop. Vitex has been shown to help regulate ovulation and support both the luteal and the follicular phases of menses.[16] Maca supports the endocrine system to encourage overall hormone balance, especially during times of stress.[17]
  • Reduce stress. Adopting stress reduction practices like exercise, meditation, or play will improve sleep quality and help to balance hormones by supporting the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

Talk to your doctor about ditching the pill to support overall performance. Keep in mind that it can take up to a year to correct some of the damage done by the pill, including regaining your sex drive! Be patient and treat your body well. Thanks for reading, and subscribe below if you want more info on how to hack your diet, hormones, mental clarity, energy, and performance. Have a great week!

 

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By Bulletproof Staff

  • River Quane

    I know it’s still a hormone, but what are your thoughts on the Skyla, which is a levonorgestrel IUD? I have PCOS which both disqualifies me from having the copper IUD, and requires that I have hormone birth control to manage symptoms.

  • id_say

    Both of my daughters inherited tortuous menstruation, with painful cramps and heavy bleeding. They would miss school, and be balled up crying every month. Therefore, our naturopathic doctor prescribed the pill for both at about 17 yrs old.
    I tried advising them in dangers you write about, bout VITEX and Slo Flow etc but they wouldn’t take it regularly enough.
    They just liked the instant fix unfortunately, and I caved and let them start the pill but I’m just very worried about future result.

  • Shae Lynn Zastrow

    I don’t know that it’s fair to equate the fertility awareness method with the rhythm method. FAM requires being deeply connected with the various symptoms of hormonal change (cervical mucous, temperature, mood, etc) and making day-to-day decisions based on it. The rhythm method involves looking at the calendar from one period to the next and guessing when you’re fertile. One works a lot better than the other, obviously, and for someone looking for an alternative to the pill, it might not be clear that these are drastically different practices.

  • Louise Brandt Overgaard

    This is such an important message to get out there. More and more of my female friends are getting off the pill, but they never considered the consequenses they are facing now – hot flashes, infertility etc. and neither did I, when I was younger, but my body told me something else, so I ditched the pill when I was 17, after only using it for about 6 months and I never reconsidered hormonal options – I’m 30 today.

    I got off it so quickly after starting on it because I got depressed, gained weight, lost any feeling of lust and felt miserable overall – and the only thing I had changed in that period of time, was using birthcontrol!

    Today my partner and I are practising a FAM + condom combination and this works for us. Keep in mind though, that you have to pay attention to the signals and signs from your body – but it feels so much more natural – and it feels great to be in contact with your self and to adjust to your body.

    I think many women are concerned about being more PMS after ditching the pill. I definately know when I’m close to my cycle. But I try to handle it with bio-hacking by drinking green tea instead of coffee or just cutting the daily coffee intake down to 1 cup the second half of my cycle. I stay away from sugar and soy products (in general) and go for more fatty foods like avocado, fish and nuts. I’m testing Dong Quai (female ginseng) right now, to see if that might help balancing my hormones along with daily supplements like rose root, krill oil etc.

    Thanks for getting the message out there.

  • Evelyn

    What are your thoughts on ormeloxifene? I’ve been ordering it online and using it for years. It’s very cheap, taken once a week (after about three months of taking it twice/wk), and is nonhormonal. Thanks!

  • ENOUGH with putting FAM and the “rhythm method” under the same definition. They are NOT. The rhythm method is a guessing game. “Hmm, I probably ovulate on Day 14, because… Doesn’t everyone? I guess I can have unprotected sex on Day 15!” Tons of unwanted pregnancies happen that way, left to the hands of period trackers and ovulation “guessers”. Fertility Awareness Method is fully understanding when you ovulate by tracking (diligently and carefully) your basal temperature and cervical fluid EVERY DAY and making informed decisions about protected/unprotected sex with that data.

    This was a well-researched and thorough article, so I was disappointed and surprised to see that it has that fact wrong. Telling women that the rhythm method is a successful way to avoid unwanted pregnancy is not just incorrect – it’s dangerously misinformative.

  • D_Westy1

    This is a well done article. I need some advice from you ladies. My wife is currently on the pill as she had heavy periods that made her feel miserable for a week. I’d like her to go off, but wondered how to make her periods a bit more bearable.

    • setath

      Does she eat BP? Going BP reduces inflammation and I went from painful call-out-of-work periods, to periods so painless and lighter, I honestly forget I’m on my period.

    • Skye Van Munster

      As well as eating clean to reduce inflammation I recommend she see’s a Chinese Medicine Doctor to get acupuncture and Chinese Herbs.

  • Mary

    I’m finding this to be true! I’ve had the copper IUD one year now and have gained 10 pounds. No mention from the doctor about zinc deficiency! I’m now finally taking zinc in addition to the other balancing vitamins Dave mentioned above. Hopefully this will help the body come back into balance and not seem so inflamed due to this little foreign device. Seriously, doctors could do so much more in educating us on things, but they don’t.

  • Kimberlyn Dryden

    None of those options are good enough for me. My natural menstrual cramps are unbearable and totally knock me out for two days every month. On top of that, my husband’s job has him traveling a lot. He’s home only sporadically, and we need to be able to have safe sex whenever he is. The pill has not only allowed us to do that, but has also made my cramps tolerable enough for me to still live my life, and the ones that I’m on have had no noticeable bad side effects. Mood and personality are fine, libido is healthy, no weight gain, etc. I recognize that there may be a chance of fertility issues down the road, but I haven’t seen enough evidence for that to really worry about it. From what I understand, the concerns are more fear-based than science-based because there hasn’t been much research done on the topic. The pill has improved my quality of life significantly, and it’s right for some women. The way I see it, if you try it and it works for you, that’s great. I do, however, take preventive measures to hopefully counteract any *possible* issues. Basically eating well (lots of healthy fats and veggies) and exercising/meditating. I feel great, and no babies yet.

  • Anne Altman

    I don’t see the word IUD anywhere in this article. I don’t think it is being recommended at all.

  • samantha.redmond

    One year ago I decided to abandon my previous job and that decision was a life changer for me… I started doing a job from my house, for a company I found on-line, few hrs every day, and I profit now much more than i did on my last work… My payment for last month was for 9000 bucks… Superb thing about this work is that now i have more time with my kids… CHILP.IT/728813e

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  • Sandpiperr

    The rhythm method is a pretty underwhelming a hack considering it requires abstaining during the time that, for many women, is the point in their cycle their sex drive is at its highest.

    • john

      It sounds like it’s really the best “hack” available. Oral contraceptives have a huge range of issues, and condoms are at the least very annoying. The problem is that a healthy body is fertile, and is the optimal person for continued species existence. So I’m not surprised that it would be easier for bulletproof people to have kids.

  • Carolyn

    Dave, you are getting somewhere with your paragraph on FAM, but the rhythm method is not a real FAM. There are a couple very scientific and effective fertility awareness methods out there that when used properly are just as effective as the pill in avoiding pregnancy, as well as achieving pregnancy. Are you familiar with the Creighton model? Or NaPro Technology? I’d love to talk to you about them. Definitely something you want to know about as a biohacker.

  • Bre

    I am way more emotional and irritable 48 hours prior to my period and the first 12 hours of my period I feel like laying curled up in a ball, not to mention the bloating and food cravings. Is there a bulletproof way to beat all that?

  • john

    What about if you are finished having children, what are your thoughts on permanent birth control?