I was 17 years old. I went to my doctor about my painful, irregular, extremely heavy menstrual cycles. I was not sexually active. The answer. Birth control. No thyroid test, by the way these symptoms are typical in hypothyroidism, which would have saved me from decades of undiagnosed hypothyroidism.
Written by Jolene Brighten, ND
Worldwide, 100 million use some form of birth control…without knowing how it actually works and the possible damage it can do to their bodies. I’m talking the pill, the patch, the ring, the IUD, the depo shot, the implant, the “fill-in-the-blank”. Women are being put on birth control to manage their symptoms without any discussion of what that’s doing to their body now and what it could be doing to their body in the future.
Are you aware that most women, at some point in their life, have been the birth control pill by their doctor? The CDC estimates 10.6 million women use oral contraception in the U.S. alone.
Doctors often offer up the pill in response to common complaints, such as acne, heavy menses, PMS symptoms, or irregular periods. And yes, the pill can help with all of those symptoms for some women, but this approach certainly doesn’t address the underlying cause, including in many cases thyroid disease.
What most doctors don’t share with women is that the birth control pill has its own share of side effects. Some of which are irreversible.
The birth control and thyroid connection
The birth control and thyroid connection is real! And many women have written to me questioning if the birth control pill could be sabotaging their thyroid health. The common story I hear from these women and the women in my practice is that most of their problems started when they committed to that daily pill consumption.
This has been a question on my mind too, after all I did my time with The Pill and was diagnosed as hypothyroid later in life. After I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, I knew I had some work to do if I was going to get my health back on track and that this was definitely not the time to get pregnant. After having over a ten year relationship with birth control pills I knew I didn’t want to go back, but it did make me curious about what effects the birth control pill could have on thyroid health.
So I dug into the research and found that the pill does more than prevent pregnancy – it sabotages your thyroid health.
Is the pill the cause of your thyroid problems?
Birth control pills deplete vital nutrients your thyroid requires and can interfere with thyroid hormone on multiple levels. For example, selenium and zinc are needed to produce thyroid hormone and to convert it to its active form, T3. Zinc is also required for getting the thyroid hormone and cell receptor talking.
Just by depleting zinc alone, the pill can prevent you from making, activating and using thyroid hormones. But the pill affects more than just your minerals.
Crucial B vitamins are also depleted by the pill. Without these key vitamins, you can not synthesize thyroid hormone…not to mention the hundreds of other uses for them in the body.
So, let’s recap where these nutrient depletions are impacting your thyroid:
- Interferes with synthesis of thyroid hormone
- Interferes with conversion from T4 (inactive) to T3 (active)
- Interferes with using thyroid hormone at the cellular level
The pill affects just about every level of thyroid hormone synthesis and utilization. You make less, you convert less and you use less…this alone is enough to advise against taking the pill if you have a thyroid condition.
But there’s more…
The Pill Increases Thyroid Binding Globulin
On top of interfering every which way it can with your thyroid hormone, the pill also elevates Thyroid Binding Globulin (TBG) and as you can probably guess, it binds thyroid hormone.
Once thyroid hormone is bound to TBG it is not available for use by the cell. This means that even if you manage to overcome the nutrient depletions and make enough thyroid hormone, much of it will be bound and therefore, not available to your cells. Keep in mind, every cell in your body requires thyroid hormone.
So, in addition to depleting nutrients needed to make and use thyroid hormone — the pill also causes your body to bind up any thyroid hormone you actually manage to make.
The Pill is Inflammatory
You know what else is inflammatory? Autoimmune disease. And it is the number one cause of thyroid disease in the United States.
Why is this important? Well, there are 3 big reasons.
ONE: Inflammation is at the root of all chronic disease.
If you already have an autoimmune condition then you probably already understand that more inflammation is bad. Like, can’t get out of bed, or move, or even think bad.
TWO: Inflammation will take your T4 and convert it right into Reverse T3 (RT3).
And when RT3 is up, you are beyond tired. I call it the hibernation hormone because it is designed to make you store calories (aka fat) and go to sleep…you know, hibernate.
THREE: Inflammation makes your cells walls less responsive to ALL OF YOUR HORMONES.
Read more How I Lost 16 Pounds in 30 Days
This includes insulin…and we all know where insulin resistance leads to. Actually, let me tell you that it is not just diabetes, but also neurological issues and heart disease that you have to worry about.
Think inflammation as fire and the pill as gasoline.
C-Reactive Protein (CRP) is a common inflammatory marker that is measured with via a blood test. With the pill, women not only experience an elevation in the CRP (the lower the better), as well as other acute phase proteins, including fibrinogen and ceruloplasmin.
Ok, so we’ve established the pill isn’t great for thyroid health, but what choice do we have?
Non-Hormonal Alternatives to The Pill
Your choice for a contraceptive should be made after doing your research and having a conversation with your doctor. This is an individualized decision and as such, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Talk to your doctor about non-hormonal options and ask for the pros and cons of these methods as they relate to your health and needs.
For my high-tech gals, check out Daysy Fertility Monitor. Actually, you don’t have to be high-tech at all. Daysy makes it so easy and has so much data that she can help get your cycle dialed in quickly. This is the method I use because “green light go” and “red light stop” work really well when my mind is on pregnancy prevention.
About Jolene Brighten, ND
Dr. Jolene Brighten is a licensed Functional Medicine Naturopathic Doctor. Dr. Brighten specializes in women’s health, from fertility to postpartum care, adrenal and thyroid support, autoimmune conditions, and digestive disorders. In her innovative women’s medicine clinic, Rubus Health in Portland, Oregon, Dr. Brighten thrives on navigating the space between conventional and alternative medicine, all while working with patients to help them achieve optimum balance, health, and happiness.
READ NEXT: Hypothyroidism? Hair loss? Fatigue? Heavy Periods? Check Your Iron