When it comes to contraception, there are many different forms of birth control out on the market to choose from. From implants and shots to pills and sterilization, the choices can be overwhelming for those women looking to have a reliable source of contraceptive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 12% of women between ages 15 and 49 use birth control pills. This hormonal form of birth control is certainly effective; between helping to manage the painful effects of endometriosis to preventing pregnancy and aiding in making periods shorter and less painful, birth control pills can be a popular choice among women of many different stages of life.
Even though there are benefits to this little daily pill, it can most certainly come with side effects – most of which can be considered uncomfortable or even dangerous (not to mention many of these do not have to be disclosed in an informed consent form from your doctor). Aside from the fact that birth control pills don’t protect against sexually transmitted diseases, they can also disrupt the normal hormonal cycle once not in use, and can lead to issues like headaches, depression (discussed in depth with this past blog article) and blood clots (in severe cases).
Another side effect that birth control pills have is on the thyroid and its corresponding functions. This is interesting information, seeing as how almost 1 out of every 3 people have issues with their thyroid – and most of these people are female (for every one man with a thyroid condition, 10 others are female). The thyroid plays a major role in human health; not only does it aid in overall metabolic functioning; it also sends hormones throughout the body and helps with the development of the body as well. The main hormones are T3 and T4 and the nutrients that are needed for these hormones to work properly can be depleted with birth control pills.
Minerals like zinc are not utilized as well with the use of birth control pill, and zinc is necessary for thyroid hormones to work appropriately (critical for the immune system as well). Zinc levels are also depleted with birth control usage . Aside from minerals, vitamins can be depleted as well (most common are B vitamins), making it nearly impossible for your body to make proper amounts of the hormones required for the thyroid to function correctly.
Studies have shown that the use of birth control pills can also increase the chances of venous thrombotic embolisms (blood clots deep within the body, most often within the lower leg), with one study showing an increased risk of three to eight times more than those subjects who don’t use contraceptive pills. Granted, this number will change based on the amount of estrogen and progestin within each brand of birth control pill, but the risk is still certainly there.
Another negative side effect of birth control pills is due to thyroid-binding globulin, or TBG. Birth control pills increase TBG making hormones bind to themselves. This reduces the amount of thyroid hormone that is actually moving throughout the body. When the TBG is bound like this, hormones aren’t used appropriately by the body, which isn’t ideal since your body needs these critical hormones to function properly.
With side effects like these, it can be easy to see how birth control can cause some major problems for many females – some effects almost life threatening. If you (or someone you know) are using birth control pills, it can’t hurt to have a full lab panel done to make sure that your hormones are working properly and that you’re staying healthy. In the meantime, if you are unable to come off of birth control at the moment, there are ways that you can naturally support your body and your thyroid!
The most important piece of the puzzle in regards to thyroid health is a whole, nutrient-dense diet (think dark, leafy greens, bright colored fruits and veggies, and lean proteins). Exercise is another large piece of the health puzzle, which can help get thyroid hormones into their active forms for the body to use (did you know T3U is a blood test that can tell you if estrogen is negatively impacting the thyroid receptor?). If you still feel as though you need some support for your thyroid, supplementing with vitamins, minerals and herbs can all be helpful in keeping your thyroid in good health.
One of the most overlooked trigger for hormone related problems (besides long term use of contraception) is insulin resistance. This condition is the most common form of blood sugar handling disorder Americans (yes, even you Boulder & Denver!) suffers from. When you s have symptoms like fatigue post meals or inability to tolerate carbohydrates and of course those wicked sugar cravings your body is telling you that sugar (and insulin) is beginning to run amok! As you make more insulin to keep blood sugar under control this in turn create more fat cells. More fat cells lead to more estrogen effectively creating a higher hormonal burden and more symptoms as a result. This leads to more inflammation and subsequently, more insulin! Breaking this vicious circle requires diet, exercise and targeted supplementation – exactly where functional medicine shines! In turn this may go on to influence thyroid health and this is why we have to look at how one system will impact another (the very core principle behind functional medicine).
If you need more assistance with learning about thyroid health and what you can do to support yourself and your body, please speak with your local functional medicine doctors in Boulder! They can also point you in the right track as to birth control usage and maintaining a healthy thyroid as well.
Yours in health,
Ian Hollaman, DC, MSc, IFMCP