The hormonal birth control pill has been revered as one of the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century.
While it has benefits, after more than half a century of use, we’re now learning more about the real impact the pill has on our bodies.
The problems with the pill include endocrine disruption, female sexual dysfunction, mood swings, masking symptoms of serious reproductive health issues, and more short and long-term health concerns.
You might be thinking, ‘Well isn't that lovely…but I need the pill.'
Yes, the pill can be prescribed to treat a variety of things such as acne, PMS, PMDD, painful menstrual cramps and of course to prevent pregnancy.
You might have even asked your providers about alternatives but you were told the pill is the best treatment. Perhaps the pill is the easiest course of action for some issues, but that doesn't mean other effective alternatives aren't available.
Alternatives To The Pill
Here are 5 reasons why you might be prescribed the pill and available alternatives:
#1: Preventing Pregnancy
Since it first hit the market in the 1960s, the pill has been a popular choice for pregnancy prevention. The pill provides 91-99% effectiveness at preventing pregnancy. The stated range is due to typical use (how most consumers actually use the pill) and clinical use (prescribed use).
With its effectiveness and simplicity, it's no wonder it quickly became a popular choice. Unfortunately, it doesn't come without it's fair share of side effects.
Fortunately, several non-hormonal options exist:
- The Creighton Model System taught by a certified instructor is around 98% effective in avoiding pregnancy. One advantage of this method is the knowledge taught can also aid in achieving pregnancy once desired.
- Other natural family planning (NFP) methods, including the TwoDay Method (96% effective in clinical use); The Billings Method (99% effective in clinical use)
- Condoms are around 97% effective in preventing pregnancy
- Diaphragms with spermicide are around 94% effective
- Copper IUDs offer long-term pregnancy prevention and are 99% effective when used properly
- Tubal ligation provides 95-99% effectiveness at preventing pregnancy. Having a uterine ablation along with the tubal can also aid in offering permanent pregnancy prevention.
- Vasectomies, male sterilization, provides permanent 98-99% effectiveness in preventing pregnancy
#2: Regulating Your Menstrual Cycle
Some women have irregular cycles. They are told that birth control pills can help regulate their cycle.
While the pill will give most women 28 day ‘cycles', it actually does the opposite of creating a regular cycle. The pill works by providing you with 21 days of hormones to suppress ovulation. You then have 7 days of sugar or placebo pills. Women experience menstrual like bleeding during those 7 days, but this is due to hormonal withdrawal, and not an actual menstrual cycle.
Irregular cycle should be evaluated to find out if they are truly irregular or within the realm of typical variations. Irregular cycles can be due to PCOS, endometriosis, hormonal imbalances and other underlying medical conditions. Rather than simply using the pill, it's important to treat the underlying issues. Conditions like endometriosis don't sleep while you're on the pill, they silently keep working away in your body. Read more here.
Charting your cycle, using the Creighton model or other NFP methods, can help you pinpoint any irregularities. The first part of your cycle, known as the follicular phase, can vary by several days and still be a completely normal cycle. The luteal phase, the days following ovulation and leading up to bleeding, is the part of your cycle that needs to be within a certain range. If it isn't, there are several ways to regulate your cycle without suppressing ovulation with the pill. You can learn more about your cycle by reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler.
Here are some alternatives for regulating your cycle:
- Chart using the Creighton Model and working with a Creighton doctor to help regulate your hormones naturally.
- Work with a naturopath to regulate your cycles using supplements such as vitex
- Acupuncture, acupressure and other forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have been shown to help regulate cycles and improve fertility
- Be evaluated and if necessary treated for PCOS, endometriosis, thyroid conditions and other health concerns
- Reduce your stress levels, practice yoga, meditation, journaling, prayer, etc.
#3: Eliminating Or Reducing Painful Menstrual Cramps Or Chronic Pelvic Pain
Firstly, every woman needs to know that painful periods are not normal. The same goes with painful ovulation. Both of these issues are common in today's society, but common doesn't always mean healthy.
Suppressing your natural cycle might reduce or eliminate pain, but it doesn't cure the underlying problems. Left untreated, conditions like PCOS and endometriosis can progress causing serious health and fertility concerns.
If you are prescribed the pill to treat pain, it's important to find the underlying cause of your pain. Working with a women's health specialist or a chronic pelvic pain specialist can help you reach a proper diagnosis. A local doctor or GP is often not specialised enough to diagnose and treat such gynaecological issues.
Reaching a proper diagnosis is the first step in treating chronic pelvic pain or severe menstrual cramping. With a proper diagnosis and while working with your specialist and a good naturopath, you can consider the following:
- A low inflammation diet. Many conditions, such as endometriosis, can be aggravated by overall bodily inflammation. A healthy whole foods diet low in sugar, refined grains and artificial hormones (especially in meat and dairy) can be helpful in reducing pain.
- Working with a pelvic physiotherapist or osteopath can greatly reduce pain associated with the menstrual cycle
- Acupuncture and other TCM can help regulate the cycle, improve blood flow, reduce pain and improve overall system function.
- If you are diagnosed with endometriosis, the best long-term treatment is an excision surgery to remove endometriosis tissue, followed by ongoing, non-surgical treatment to deal with the root cause.
- If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, many find following a diabetic friendly diet helps control blood sugar and PCOS symptoms. Some also find using the medication metformin helpful in controlling sugars, however underlying lifestyle issues should be addressed to help manage the root cause. In severe cases, a surgical procedure, an ovarian wedge resection, might help.
- While many like to avoid medication, you can weigh the benefits and risks of using 21 days of hormonal contraception versus 1-5 days of NSAID pain relievers while in the process of finding longer term treatment for your pain. Be aware that ongoing NSAID use may cause ovulation issues.
#4: Treating Chronic Acne
When acne seems to be hormone related, it makes sense that the pill is prescribed to help treat acne. However, like the other issues the pill can treat, it often masks the real underlying causes.
If you have an irregular cycle, having acne might simply be another symptom of it. Treating your irregular cycle, as mentioned above, might help eliminate acne. Using the Creighton system is a way to track your cycle and look for signs of hormonal irregularities. Going over the chart and symptoms with a Creighton doctor can help you find the right treatment for regulating your cycle and reducing acne.
Other ways to treat acne include:
- A diet aimed to reduce overall inflammation in the body
- Using a food diary, elimination/re-challenge diet or being tested for food allergies/sensitivities might help you pinpoint a trigger for your acne
- Address any sources of stress in your life. Seek a good therapist, take up yoga, meditation or mindfulness to help reduce stress
- Using natural hygiene products, soaps designed for sensitive skin and not using oil based products on the skin is helpful for some dealing with adult acne.
Some women find virgin coconut oil to help with acne. Virgin coconut oil has antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, antiviral and antimicrobial properties, which explains why it may be so effective. However, if your acne is caused by diet or stress, you need to address these to achieve more permanent results.
#5: Treating Premenstrual Syndrome and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
Women suffering from PMS and PMDD that impacts their ability to function properly on the days leading up to their cycle starting have quite the challenge. It is difficult to feel as if you are unable to control your emotions while also dealing with bloating, fatigue and other physical symptoms.
PMS and PMDD can impact relationships, work and emotional health. It is important to treat these issues, but there are ways to treat without relying on the pill. Some treatment includes:
- Using Creighton or other methods/treatments to help regulate your cycle and balance your hormones might eliminate or reduce PMS and PMDD symptoms
- Acupuncture and other TCM
- Eating a health whole foods diet low in hormones can help reduce endocrine disruptor exposure which can impact your endocrine system and hormone levels
- Testing for food allergies/sensitivities can show if you have any food related triggers that are causing overall body inflammation
- Work with a therapist to help with coping techniques
- Use yoga, journaling, prayer and meditation to help reduce stress levels and cope with symptoms
- Have a full evaluation with your healthcare provider to rule out or treat any underlying mental health concerns
If you suffer from PMS, read our article here.
The pill can seem like a ‘cure all’ for female related health concerns. Unfortunately, it isn't without risk and in many cases, simply masks true symptoms of health issues and doesn’t actually cure them.
Deciding whether or not the pill is right for you is a personal choice. It's important for women to realize all of their options so they can make a truly informed decision about their family planning, healthcare and mental wellness.