I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the health of your gut microbiome impacts literally every aspect of your overall health. If you are struggling with health conditions like IBS, vaginal infections, rashes/skin issues, fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, depression, hormone imbalance, and/or infertility, AND you’ve been on hormonal birth control for years, you are not alone. Hormonal birth control prevents pregnancy by essentially shutting down your body’s natural hormone production mechanisms, wreaking havoc on your gut. This spells disaster for your health, and not just your reproductive health.
Unfortunately, the impact of hormone-releasing birth control on your health will last long after you stop taking it. But it is possible to rebalance your gut microbiome and regain your health and fertility naturally.
First, and most obviously, stop taking hormonal birth control (and switch to a natural, non-hormonal birth control method if you’re not ready to have kids yet). Next, add in digestive support to help your body properly break down, digest, and assimilate the nutrients necessary for gut healing and immune support. If you experience bloating, gas, heartburn, loose stools, constipation, or feel like food is always “sitting in your stomach” after you eat, you will definitely benefit from adding in additional digestive support. You can try digestive enzymes, Betaine HCl, or 1 Tbs. of apple cider vinegar in water with your meals:
Focus on re-establishing healthy bacteria in the gut, healing both your intestinal microbiome and your vaginal microbiome by eating plenty of naturally fermented foods like kombucha, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir water, and taking a potent, high quality probiotic every single day. My favorite is MegaSporeBiotic (to order, click on REGISTER in upper right corner, then click PATIENT, then enter code SJS2018 when asked for Patient Direct code to order. Start with 1 capsule daily and work up to 2 capsules daily over a 7 day period. Continue on 2 capsules per day.) You can additionally use probiotics in the form of a vaginal suppository a few times weekly while trying to get pregnant—insert the capsules at night before bed; they will dissolve while you sleep.
In addition to rebuilding your intestinal and vaginal microbiota, you’ll also need to work on healing your gut lining. It’s important to make sure that you’re eating plenty of anti-inflammatory, gut healing foods to make sure that your body has access to critical nutrients at every meal (need help with meal planning? I’ve got you.) In addition, add in GI Revive powder. I love using this powder with clients as it offers comprehensive support for optimum gastrointestinal health and function. It helps to heal and seal the lining of the gut so you have proper permeability and integrity so you can not only absorb nutrients, but also prevent toxins, allergens and microbes from gaining access to the bloodstream.
In addition, make sure you’re eating lots of these beneficial anti-inflammatory foods:
You can also reduce gut inflammation and regulate hormone production with high quality, gut healing fats, like:
There are also some important supplements that are critical for gut healing:
New research over the last decade or so is revealing just how much your gut health impacts your estrogen levels. The particular group of bacteria capable of metabolizing estrogens is known as the estrobolome. Microbes in the estrobolome regulate estrogen by producing an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase. In a healthy gut, the estrobolome produces just the right amount of beta-glucuronidase to maintain an optimal estrogen level and flushes the rest from the body. In an unhealthy gut, there is often an elevated level of beta-glucuronidase enzyme. High levels of beta glucuronidase disrupt the body’s ability to detoxify both natural hormones and environmental chemicals, resulting in higher than normal estrogen levels.
One of the ways the body gets rid of toxins and already used hormones is through a process called conjugation (which happens during phase 2 of liver detoxification). During conjugation, toxins are packaged into water soluble compounds in a process known as glucuronidation. Through glucuronidation, toxins and hormones pass through the liver, to the bile, then to the gut where they are excreted.
However, high levels of beta-glucuronide separate toxins and hormones from their conjugate bond and allow them to be reabsorbed into the body, instead of being excreted like they are supposed to. These reabsorbed toxins and hormones make you feel tired, hormonal, and out of balance without realizing why.
It’s not just reabsorbed hormones and toxins that are the problem. The synthetic estrogen in hormonal birth control disrupts this delicate balance even further by flooding the body with MORE estrogen, interfering will ALL of your body’s process, including your fertility.
Let’s break down what else happens when hormonal birth control disrupts your estrobolome:
Research shows that synthetic estrogen increases intestinal permeability and inflammation in the body, causing side effects like increased risk of GI disorders like IBS, Crohn’s, and chronic pain disorders related to chronic inflammation. The term leaky gut refers to a condition where the intestines are chronically irritated and, consequently, the protective barrier of mucus becomes eroded. This allows large food molecules (and other toxins) to pass through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream, triggering the immune system to launch an inflammatory response to the foreign items detected in the blood. Besides creating extra work for the liver, having a leaky gut makes you feel tired, achy, bloated, and unable to think clearly most of the time.
One of the reasons that the pill may cause GI symptoms is because it alters the balance of “good” versus “bad” bacteria in our digestive tracts, and may thereby encourage gut dysbiosis. Dysbiosis, the term for when the microbiota in your gut become severely imbalanced, damages the health of both your gut AND your vaginal microbiota. When your vaginal flora are out of balance, it creates an environment that is not healthy for sperm or for a fertilized egg to implant, causing issues with conception, implantation, and also with IVF success. Even if you are able to get pregnant, imbalanced vaginal microbiota can be dangerous for pregnant women, increasing the risk of second-trimester miscarriage, preterm labor, and postpartum endometriosis. And if you are thinking about trying to get pregnant anytime soon, make sure you have a plan of action to heal your gut and get your body primed for pregnancy.
Another side effect that happens when you have leaky gut and or/dysbiosis is that your intestines become unable to absorb critical nutrients your body needs, causing your body to burn through the nutrients it does get in order to metabolize the synthetic hormones. The main nutrients that become depleted include folate, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. These micronutrients are essential for optimal hormone balance, and a deficiency can lead to fertility issues, even after you’ve stopped taking birth control. Unfortunately, when you’re micronutrient deficient and unable to absorb what you need even from additional supplementation, you’re set up for decreased physical and mental health.
So in addition to the other side effects that synthetic hormones cause (like increased risk of blood clots, mood swings, weight gain, etc), you can also develop immune disorders, infertility, thyroid issues, chronic pain disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and even cancer because of the excess levels of estrogen in your body. Using hormonal birth control also means that you don’t ovulate, and ovulation has a direct impact on your bone density, meaning a higher risk for fractures and osteoporosis.
All super important reasons to just STOP taking hormonal birth control like, yesterday.
Start with 1 cup of liquid (water, homemade nut milk, fresh or canned coconut milk). Then add a high quality protein powder, like PurePaleo protein powder or PurePea protein powder (vegetarian), then add the foundational ingredients:
½ cup organic frozen berries (blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries)
½ organic frozen banana
2 Tbsp raw, unrefined coconut oil OR 1 Tbsp XCT Oil/Brain Octane Oil
2 large handfuls of organic spinach
1 Tbsp nut butter
1 Tbsp Designs For Health Paleo Greens
1 tsp organic maca powder
1 tbsp collagen powder
You can add any of the additional/optional ingredients below depending on what you have on hand, or what flavor you’d like:
Chia seeds or chia gel
Ground flax seeds
1 Tbsp raw cacao powder
1-2 Tbsp raw coconut shreds
1⁄4 – 1⁄2 avocado
1 Tbsp raw coconut butter
1 cup homemade coconut milk yogurt/kefir
1⁄2 cooked sweet potato (best after a hard workout, or if you’re needing extra carbs)
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp fresh mint
1 tsp vanilla bean powder or vanilla extract
raw, unheated honey to taste (if needed)
Pinch of sea salt
Blend and ENJOY!
I want to hear from you—leave me a comment below and we can continue the conversation!
Have you suffered from any intestinal issues or other side effects after being on birth control? What natural methods of preventing conception have you tried? What improvements have you seen in your health as a result of gut-healing methods?
Spread some gut health lovin’! I bet you have some friends who would love to read this too :).
Looking to have a more in-depth conversation about healing your gut after birth control? Schedule a consultation with me!