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Most people are on the pill for non-contraceptive reasons, such as to manage period pain, heavy bleeding or irregular periods. So will the pill help these issues?
The oral contraceptive pill (commonly referred to as ‘the pill’) was introduced to Australian women in February 1961 and started momentous change in women’s lives. Primarily it is a contraception. If used correctly, the pill is at least 99% effective at preventing pregnancy and 93% effective when allowing for mistakes. Some people like the pill because it can also reduce acne, skip periods if you’re due at an inconvenient time, and make periods lighter, more regular, and less painful. Various pills are available on the market now with different combinations and levels of estrogen and/or progestin, but they all work in a similar way.
The pill stops the ovaries from releasing an egg each month by preventing the brain and ovaries from communicating with each other through man-made (or synthetic) hormones. The cycle is then managed by the hormones in the pill rather than the hormones our body makes. Unfortunately, the ovaries and egg that would be released are also responsible for releasing hormones such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinising hormone (LH), progesterone (which is different from progestin), testosterone and estradiol. So while we’re on the pill, the levels of these hormones are significantly reduced.
Often, period symptoms such as heavy bleeding or irregular periods are caused by an imbalance in our hormones. Therefore, when we hand over the role of managing our hormones to the pill, these symptoms are reduced.
Because of the way the pill works and the body’s processes to break it down, use it and eliminate what it doesn’t need, a number of nutrients are depleted. It has been shown that nutrients such as folic acid, vitamins B2, B6, B12, vitamins C and E and the minerals magnesium, selenium and zinc are most at risk of depletion. These are key nutrients if you’re trying to conceive so it’s important to give yourself time after coming off the pill to address this before conception.
When you come off the pill, you will experience a withdrawal bleed. This is from being on the pill and isn’t a ‘real’ period because there hasn’t been an ovulation yet. From day 1 of your second bleed, you can start tracking your cycles if you choose to, as this is your first ovulatory cycle.
As your brain and ovaries are learning to communicate again, it might take a while for your to get a cycle or for your cycle to be regular again. Your cycle may be the same or worse than it was before taking the pill, as the underlying cause of these symptoms hasn’t been addressed.
As a clinical nutritionist, I can address the underlying cause of your menstrual symptoms through various supplements and dietary and lifestyle recommendations. The best time to start this is before coming off the pill to make the transition as smooth as possible. However, it’s never too late to start. If you choose to stay on the pill, I can support your body by addressing nutritional deficiencies that can be caused by the pill.
If you’re interested in seeing Court to address your period symptoms, book an appointment.