In case you haven’t heard, the subject of birth control has been in the news lately. Before I get in to this post, I’m going to add a clarifier that I am not a doctor or a pharmacist and the advice contained in this post should not be used to replace medical advice. But this is about really learning about what it is that you, our readers, put into your bodies.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I want to tell you something that gets under my skin like nothing else does. I bet that you’ve probably heard at least ten people in your life say it (or some variation) this last month.
“But birth control isn’t all bad. I know someone who’s taking birth control for medical reasons and it cured her.”
Show of hands? Who here has heard someone say that? Who has said it themselves?
Let me tell you what’s wrong with that statement. I’ll start with the easy part.
Birth control doesn’t CURE anything!
In consulting with Dictionary.com you find that the following definition of the word “cure” exists:
Cure [kyoor] noun, verb, cured, cur·ing.
1. a means of healing or restoring to health; remedy.
2. a method or course of remedial treatment, as for disease.
3. successful remedial treatment; restoration to health.
4. a means of correcting or relieving anything that is troublesome or detrimental: to seek a cure for inflation.
5. the act or a method of preserving meat, fish, etc., by smoking, salting, or the like.
The one place where this definition falls short (in my opinion) is that it doesn’t state that the “means of healing or restoring to health” should be specified as permanent means of healing or restoring to health.
Someone whose cancer has been cured has been healed or restored to health – permanently. Someone whose endometriosis has been cured has been restored to health – permanently. Someone who is still battling cancer (or endometriosis) has not been fully restored to health and therefore cannot be considered cured.
The conditions that the birth control pill is said to treat are painful periods/cramps, heavy or irregular periods, acne, too much hair, or severe PMS (mood changes, headaches, bloating, etc.).
It is very discouraging to me that a woman with any or all of those symptoms would walk in to a doctor’s office and the doctor would just throw medication at the problem without taking the time to diagnose what’s wrong. Yet that’s what happens! That doesn’t happen with other medical conditions, why “female problems”?
For the last year I have been struggling with some incredibly awful heartburn, nausea, gas, bloating, and what I later learned was a swollen esophagus. The doctor wouldn’t prescribe anything for me until she’d run a battery of tests. She needed to figure out what the problem was (particularly making sure that I wasn’t having any cardiac issues) before she started to treat me. Yet if I were to go to her and say “my cramps are so awful that I can hardly sit up at my desk at work, and then when I do get my period I can’t go anywhere or be away from a bathroom because I go through tampons so quickly,” what usually happens (in most doctor’s offices)? I walk out with a prescription for birth control pills without having run a single test to determine what the problem is.
I know that’s what happens – it has happened to me three different times in my life and it baffled me each time. You’re going to give me something to take before you tell me what’s wrong with me? Now granted, if my doctor had talked to me about surgery for endometriosis when I was 21 years old I might have run for the hills, but I would have known the word endometriosis. I could have learned (at the age of 21) about the importance of eating natural foods (less processed food), reducing my salt intake the week before my period, trying to add an Omega-3 supplement in to my diet, and using progesterone. Heck! I would have learned about the hormone progesterone!
Yes, when you have endometriosis all you want is relief. If someone would have told me that when you take birth control pills to treat the symptoms of endometriosis, the symptoms usually return and are usually worse, I maybe would not have gone down that road. In other words, when I was ready to finally have a child with my husband, there were more than a few months where I wondered if I could live with the cramps while we were trying to conceive. (I ended up having a laparoscopy four years ago, and probably need to have another one but don’t want to deal with the recovery that I had last time)
The other condition that a lot of the symptoms listed above (acne, irregular and heavy periods, too much hair) are symptomatic of is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). If you’re not someone who’s been around the Infertility community, or if you don’t have a family member who has PCOS, you’ve probably never heard of it before. As many as 1 in 15 women have it, and it’s one of the number one causes of Infertility. I have five good friends who have PCOS and I know several other women who suffer with the disorder. It’s a frustrating thing to deal with.
PCOS is largely the result of Insulin Resistance (IR). Because the body can’t process insulin correctly, the female reproductive system doesn’t work quite right and instead of releasing an egg on a routine cycle (every 28 days for “average” women), the ovaries produce cysts and an egg is released on an unpredictable schedule. Often times reproductive endocrinologists talk about patients with PCOS having a “string of pearls” row of cysts in their ovaries.
Women fall victim to thinking that birth control pills cure PCOS because they (generally) go to see their doctor about the fact that they never know when they’re going to get their period. The doctor gives them a prescription for birth control pills, which they take, and they get a period every 28 days. It’s almost like a miracle for them – they have predictable cycles, their acne starts to clear up, their cramps aren’t as bad, they’re not nearly as moody, they can walk past the ice cream case in the grocery store without filling their cart… Life is almost normal.
But then when they want to have a baby? They go off of birth control and their problem is back and even worse.
God willing, they get someone who talks to them about the benefit of diet and exercise. There is a great deal of evidence that women with PCOS benefit from a diet like the PCOS diet or the Glycemic Index diet or being gluten free. They learn that just dropping 5% of their body weight has a profound effect on their fertility. Amazingly, when your body isn’t working so hard to combat the roller coaster of Insulin Resistance, it can do a better job at fertility.
But the medical community doesn’t tell you that the only way to really cure PCOS is through diet and exercise (and not just “eat less than 1,800 calories a day” – but eat the right things) because there are drugs they can throw at the problem. If you don’t want to get pregnant you can take birth control pills. If you do want to get pregnant they can give you Clomid to force your body to ovulate.
I hate to say it, but we’ve allowed ourselves (and I count myself in this group) to be tricked in to believing that birth control pills are the answer to all of our problems.
In many cases, however, they complicate the problem further. I firmly believe (but can’t find a doctor who will agree with me) that the five years I spent taking birth control pills caused my infertility. Those gastrointestinal issues that I referred to above? Turns out that they’re caused by Insulin Resistance (IR). I don’t have PCOS, but I have something very similar to it, so I’m learning how to eat right for my body. If someone had talked to me when I was in my 20’s about IR I could have saved myself a lot of heartache (and chest pains). My body has lost the ability (also complicated by age since I’m closing in on 40) to correctly produce progesterone, something that I believe was always there, but has been complicated by using birth control pills to regulate my hormone swings. My hormones don’t know how to “swing” without help – like the 6-year-old who sits on a swing and doesn’t know how to pump her legs because someone has always pushed her.
So what’s the answer? If you know a woman of child-bearing age who complains about painful periods, irregular periods, heavy bleeding, acne, or excessive hair on her face, urge her (beg her) to ask her doctor what other options are available to her other than the birth control pill. If you yourself are on the birth control pill for “medical reasons”, please do your own research. Is continuing to push hormones in your body that just simply mask the symptoms rather than treat the problem worth it?
Wouldn’t you rather be truly cured?