How the Pill switches off Hormones and Why that Matters


by Lara Briden

Pill-switches-off-hormonesThe Pill was an important step in our struggle to legalize contraception. I celebrate that, of course.

The Pill is legitimate medicine for debilitating conditions like severe endometriosis and menstrual flooding. I celebrate that.

What I don’t celebrate is the distorted message that hormonal contraception is the only contraception.  What I don’t celebrate is the widespread prescribing of the Pill as ‘hormone balance’ for virtually any hormonal symptom that might arise in women and teenage girls. 

Not the only Contraception

How did  hormonal contraception come to be synonymous with contraception in general?  It’s not unusual for me to have a conversation with a patient that goes something like this:

I ask: “What do you do for contraception?”, and my patient responds: “I don’t use contraception. I use condoms.”

The message out there seems to be: “The Pill or nothing.” Yet the failure rate of condoms (2%) and Fertility Awareness Method (0.6%) are comparable to perfect use of the combined Pill (0.3%) [1]. It’s worth noting here that non-perfect-use of the Pill (a missed dose) has a rather worrying failure rate of 9%.  Some methods are completely off the radar of most patients, like the non-hormonal copper IUD, which has a very low failure rate of just 0.6%. Many young women that I speak to have never even heard of IUDs.

Not Effective for Hormone Balance

To prescribe the Pill for ‘hormone balance’ is simply nonsensical. The Pill does not balance hormones. It switches them off.

  The Pill does not balance hormones. It switches them off.

The Pill switches off hormones because it switches off ovulation, and ovulation is rather important to say the least. It’s not just about making babies. Ovulation is the key to hormonal vitality. As we saw in Ode to Ovulation, ovulation is the only way to make estradiol and progesterone, our wonderful hormones for mood, libido, and metabolism.

Not True Hormones

The Pill switches off estradiol and progesterone, and replaces them with the pseudo-hormones ethinylestradiol, levonorgestrel or drospirenone . Ethinylestradiol, levonorgestrel and drospirenone are steroid hormone-like drugs.  They do not have the same molecular structure as human hormones, and they do not have the same effects.

What are the differences? For one thing, progesterone promotes hair growth. Its drug-equivalent, levonorgestrel, causes hair loss. Progesterone is beneficial for cardiovascular health. Drospirenone (used in Yasmin Pills) is decidedly bad for cardiovascular health, and increases the risk for fatal blood clots by 700%. Progesterone improves brain health and cognition. Drospirenone causes depression. Estradiol improves insulin sensitivity, but ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel cause insulin resistance. The Pill’s insulin problem makes it a particularly inappropriate treatment for PCOS and acne – two conditions caused by insulin resistance. (I understand  that the Pill masks acne. Ethinylestradiol is  great at reducing skin oils, but the acne will return when Pill is stopped, often worse than it was before.)

As a doctor, what concerns me most about the Pill is not just the rare event of a fatal blood clot, but rather the soul-crushing day-to-day side effects that I see in clinic: Pill-induced hair loss, depression, and loss of libido. I witness women enduring these side effects, but rarely connecting them with the Pill. Instead, they blame themselves. They blame it on their own personal inadequacy.

Would Men Put up with it?

Imagine a world where we routinely switch off the hormones of teenage boys and men.

“We will switch off your testosterone,” we would tell them, “and substitute it with a synthetic pseudo-testosterone. It’s going to cause weight gain, and depression and loss of libido, but don’t worry! All the other boys take it.”

This is the world in which we currently live for teenage girls and women. It is time for a rethink.

Yours in Health, Lara Briden

About the Author

LaraBriden210-150x150Lara Briden, ND, before qualifying as a Naturopathic Doctor, studied evolutionary biology at University of Calgary.  She then went on to graduate from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM)  in 1997. Her love of science and the natural world has informed the way she practices medicine. Seeing the body as a pragmatic, regenerative system. The body wants to be healthy. So often, the best thing that we can do for health is to remove the obstacles that get in its way. In her 18 years as a Naturopathic Doctor, thousands of patients have entrusted her with their hormone stories. Every story was unique.  Here is what she has learned: Some things really work for hormone balance. The rest are just theories. With this blog, she strives to assemble some health truths, and to dispel some health myths. Some Truths: Coffee has merits; the Pill is chemical castration; and antibiotics are bad for hormones.  Another Truth:  Wheat, sugar and vegetable oil are not suitable food for humans (or for any creature). That is not new information, but it is a truth that has recently been made sexy by the Paleo hipsters. Follow her on her blog and on Facebook.

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Brenda Rogers

With over 25 years experience as a corporate trainer, naturopath, yoga teacher and wise woman educator, Brenda is the head clinician and coach at Quintessence Health.

"A healthy mind and body simply ensures you have the time and energy to fully express and manifest your life’s purpose – it facilitates the unfolding of joy."

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