So, you’ve decided to come off the pill but are feeling hesitant or worried about the unpleasant side effects such as acne, heavy or missing periods, pain or hair loss..
Perhaps you're overwhelmed about how to even come off it? Or maybe you already have and you’re experiencing several uncomfortable symptoms.
I hear you - and you're not alone. We've created this blog to share with you the diet, lifestyle and supplement strategies that will help you to feel supported when coming off the pill, making the process easier, and less symptomatic!
One of the main questions we get is, "how do you stop taking the pill?" ...
The answer: Anytime! However, we recommend actively preparing your body for a least 8-12 weeks before coming off the pill, so that your body is more resilient and able to bounce back to balance faster.
When you come off the pill, everyone is going to respond differently. Remember, for the time you're on the pill your body isn't making natural hormones. So when you come off it, your body has to relearn how to make hormones again - it can take time and your body needs to be provided with the right support to do so! For the communication to start firing again between your brain and ovaries it may take a month for some women, for others it can take up to 9 months or longer.
Follow the suggested changes below to help with the smoothest transition. If you have already come off the pill, the following still applies to you so that you can help your body to rebalance again.
Firstly - How does the pill work?
It’s important to start by explaining how the combined oral contraceptive pill (the “pill” or “OCP”) actually works.
In a normal menstrual cycle (without the influence of any hormonal contraception), the female reproductive hormones: luteinising hormone (LH), follicular stimulating hormone (FSH), estrogen and progesterone will fluctuate throughout the month. During the middle of our cycle, we ovulate and release an egg which can become fertilised by sperm to result in pregnancy. The oral contraceptive pill works by suppressing our female sex hormones to shut down ovulation and hence preventing our eggs from becoming fertilised.
The pill contains a synthetic version of estrogen and progesterone (progestin) and individuals will take the synthetic hormones for 21 days in a row at the same time every day and then take a ‘sugar pill’ for the next 7 days. When women take the ‘sugar pills’, they experience a drop in the synthetic hormones in the pill which triggers the shedding of the endometrium. This is known as the “withdrawal bleed” and it’s different from a regular period bleed.
What happens when you stop taking the pill?
In an ideal world, we’d like to think that getting off the pill will be a breeze and that we’ll start naturally ovulating and cycling again straight away. Some women may experience this and notice desirable symptoms such as reduced fluid retention, increased libido and improved mood. However, this may not be the case for many women.
Some women may notice that their periods won’t immediately return after getting off the pill and it may take months for their natural periods to return. “Post pill amenorrhea” is the term used to describe the absence of menstruation after women come off the pill. If you notice your period does not return after 3-4 months, it would be recommended to seek the assistance of a healthcare professional to investigate possible reasons why this may be occurring.
Also, whilst the pill is often used for contraception, many women will be prescribed the pill for hormonal-related issues such as PCOS, endometriosis, heavy periods, irregular periods, period-related migraines and acne. As the pill only works to treat the symptoms of these issues and not their root cause, unfortunately most people will find their original issues return when they stop taking the pill.
What are the common side effects post-pill?
Post-Birth Control Syndrome is a holistic medicine term that describes a variety of symptoms that are common to experience 4-6 months after you stop the pill.
COMMON POST-BIRTH CONTROL SYMPTOMS INCLUDE:
- loss of menstruation (amenorrhoea) or other menstrual irregularities
- acne breakouts
- mood swings
- digestive issues
- blood sugar dysregulation
- heavy, painful periods
- hair loss
- thyroid issues
- weight gain or loss
Post-birth control syndrome occurs when your body is trying to rebalance hormones after having them shut down from being on the pill. Since the pill shuts down ovulation and stops our bodies from making the necessary hormones to ovulate and menstruate, it will take some time for our bodies to adjust and begin to menstruate on their own.
How to reduce side effects post pill.
It may take a while for your body to adjust to produce its natural hormones, so patience is key but there are ways you can support your body and make this transition easier.
In addition to this, following the steps below will set strong foundations for you.
Replenish nutrients post-pill
The pill depletes multiple nutrients including magnesium, zinc, selenium, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and vitamin B2. The pill affects the conversion, absorption, excretion and metabolism of these nutrients and studies have shown women on the oral contraceptive pill have lower amounts of these nutrients in their blood. These nutrients are essential for hormonal detoxification, healthy mood balance, thyroid health, preconception, energy, immunity and so much more!
Hence women should prioritise intake of these nutrients and supplement as required (under the supervision of a trained health care professional) to prevent possible nutrient deficiencies and their related symptoms. Researchers of a 2019 review recommended women on the pill should supplement with a B vitamin complex with folic acid, vitamin C, E, magnesium, zinc and selenium. You can effectively replenish your magnesium levels with Moon Boost Magnesium Oil.
Support the liver post pill
Both our gut and our liver are responsible for clearing out excess hormones, and this includes the synthetic hormones in the OCP. Hence supporting both our gut & liver’s functions in clearing out the hormonal build-up we’ve accumulated from taking the pill is essential for optimal hormonal balance.
There are many ways in which we can support our liver, and these include increasing the intake of liver-loving foods and reducing our intake of liver loaders. Liver loaders include alcohol, trans fats, refined sugar and processed foods. Liver supporting foods include cruciferous vegetables (bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, maca and kale), dandelion, milk thistle, turmeric and green tea. Cruciferous vegetables contain a nutrient called “indole 3-carbinol” which boosts the metabolism and excretion of estrogen.
We recommend drinking our Half Moon Tea which is our natural, liver supporting tea that contains a beautiful mix of hepatoprotective (“liver protective” herbs) to optimise hormonal detoxification.
Support the gut post pill
The pill can disrupt our gut microbiome and thus focusing on restoring a healthy microbiome is important post-pill. In a healthy gut, we have a subset of microbes (“estrobolome”) that help metabolise estrogen. When we have an imbalanced microbiome or inflamed gut, this affects our estrobolome’s ability to maintain the balance of estrogen resulting in hormonal imbalance. Women who use the OCP are also at a higher risk for developing gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel disease.
So how can you support your gut through diet? Through eating a diverse range of whole foods. Our gut loves diversity and eating a wide range of foods helps keep our ‘good bugs’ happy and thriving. So next time you’re in the fruit and vegetable aisle in your supermarket or farmer’s market- pick out something you’ve never tried and look up recipes to use it. If you love cooking like me, you’ll find this exciting and who knows- you may find yourself with a new favourite vegetable!
Our gut also needs fibre to maintain its healthy balance in addition to keeping us regular. We recommend adding Earth Seeds into your meals daily for an easy fibre boost. Other great sources of fibre include unpeeled fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts.
Reduce inflammation post pill
The pill can increase inflammation in the body, as measured by C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in the blood. When we’re chronically inflamed, it significantly increases our risk for major diseases such as diabetes, heart attacks, cancer, Alzheimer’s and inflammatory bowel disease.
So how can we fight the inflammation caused by pill? Through our diet, specifically, through anti-inflammatory foods. Consume organic (where possible) and seasonal produce, healthy fats (such as flaxseeds, Earth Seeds and avocados), wild-caught fatty fish and minimally processed whole grains (or pseudo-grains for all you coeliac/gluten-sensitive folk). Cooking our foods with herbs and spices is also a great way to boost the antioxidant content of our meals. Ginger, turmeric and cinnamon are some of my favourite anti-inflammatory spices to cook with. You can find these delicious herbs and spices in our Luna’s Gold and Luna’s Lover.
Also, stay away from foods such as refined carbohydrates, fried foods and highly processed foods. Many of these heavily processed foods are inflammatory and contain a long list of artificial colours, sugars and additives.
Go good fat, not no fat
Fats and cholesterol are what hormones are made from and it’s important to focus on the right types of fats if we want our body to produce adequate amounts of our female sex hormones. Choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, avocado, oily fish, walnuts and extra virgin olive oil. Reduce your intake of trans-fats and saturated fats found in fried foods, baked goods and vegetable oils as these are inflammatory and can do more harm than good.
Manage stress levels
I know you’ve heard us harp on and on about it before but it’s for a good reason! When cortisol (the stress hormone) is elevated, this can reduce our female sex hormones and increase our androgen (male sex hormone levels). Some women will also find that their periods become irregular or even absent when they’re stressed. Journaling, having a big belly laugh with your best mates, boxing, Moon Boost, a Moon Soak bath and meditation are all great ways to kick stress away.
Alternatives to Hormonal Birth Control
If you’re using the pill for contraception and you’re not looking to get pregnant, it’s important to know that there are other non-hormonal birth control methods out there and these include the copper IUD, diaphragm, condoms, fertility awareness method and the withdrawal method.
The copper IUD is a small T shaped device that’s placed inside the uterus for either 5 years or 10 years. The copper IUD prevents pregnancy by producing local inflammation in the uterus which is toxic to sperm and eggs. It’s a very effective and reliable use of contraception (99.5% effectiveness rate) and desirable for women who may forget to take the pill at the same time every day.
However, due to the localised inflammation caused by the copper IUD, it is common to experience heavier and more painful periods. Hence, this is not a recommended method of contraception for women who already experience menorrhagia, dysmenorrhea (period pain) and/or low iron levels. Additionally, the copper IUD may alter the vaginal microbiota which in turn increases the risk for bacterial vaginosis.
Condoms are a barrier method that is used on the male (or female although female/internal condoms are less common) to prevent sperm from entering the vagina. Condoms also protect against STI’s and can be used with other methods of contraception such as the pill, copper IUD and depo shot. When correctly used, male condoms are 98% effective and condoms are widely available.
We recommend Jonny’s condoms – a vegan, natural condom made from natural latex. They’re free from all the nasties (parabens, glycerin, petrochemicals, flavours, fragrances, spermicides, benzocaine and nitrosamines) which can change the pH of our vaginas and increase our risk for urinary tract infections (ouch!).
Fertility awareness method (FAM)
FAM is a natural form of contraception where a woman will identify when she is ovulating during her menstrual cycle to prevent pregnancy. Women monitor signs of ovulation by checking their basal body temperature, cervical mucus and cervical position. When women are close to ovulating or ovulating, they may choose to abstain from sex or use contraception (e.g., a condom).
This method when used correctly can be incredibly effective (99% effective) however this method is most reliable when women have a regular cycle and requires 3-6 months of consistent practice. Factors that may affect its reliability include recent infections or illnesses, travelling through different time zones, breastfeeding, irregular periods, stress etc.
We recommend downloading a period app on your phones such as Clue or Flo to help track your cycle. The Fem Tech device Tempdrop is an accurate & incredible fertility tracker that records and calculates your fertile window for you. (discount code: mymoonbox)
The withdrawal method relies solely on the male’s ability to ‘pull out’ before ejaculation to prevent sperm from entering the women’s vagina. If the ‘pull out’ is ill-timed or if the pre-ejaculation fluid contains sperm, then this can cause accidental pregnancies. We would only recommend withdrawal method in combination with the Fertility Awareness Method so you're aware of the exact days you are fertile. Never rely solely on the withdrawal method or generic period tracker apps to tell you when you're fertile as these are just predictions.
At My Moonbox we’re not “anti” the oral contraceptive pill, however we are passionate about pro-informed consent and ensuring that you are provided and empowered with ALL of the birth control options available.
Everyone is so individualised, and some will find the birth control pill is what suits their lifestyle the best. This blog post is intended to inform you of how the pill works, the effects of the pill, what may occur after you come off the pill and what other non-hormonal methods of contraception are available to you.