Hormonal Dangers of Birth Control Pills

Updated: Sep 24

Chinese Medicine Provides Safer, More Effective Alternatives to Bio-invasive Birth Control Methods

for Adolescent Girls


In the 21st century, first world countries have been seen as constantly “progressing” and “advancing” in the areas of medicine, science, and technology. The widely accepted viewpoint held by the first world citizens is that this process is becoming more and more beneficial for the general public due to highly sophisticated research studies, drug synthesis, and growing availability of life changing products manufactured by one of the most powerful and influential industries on the planet: the Pharmaceutical Corporation. This industry has made several methods of birth control become more available to women of all ages. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in regards to contraceptive use in the United States, “the pill is the method most widely used by women in their teens and 20's. Of the 3.2 million teenage women who use contraceptives, 53% rely on the pill, 16% rely on other hormonal methods, including the implant, injectable, patch, and ring, and 3% rely on the IUD.” Astonishingly, there may be even more women using birth control pills for non-contraceptive reasons such as menstrual pain and regulation, acne, and endometriosis. How do doctors determine that this hormonally intrusive method is appropriate for each woman, especially the most vulnerable populations that are going through massive hormonal and psychological changes in their young lives? This article will address how biologically-altering birth control methods used in the present era are prone to cause harmful side effects in female adolescents, specifically in hormonal imbalances, menstrual disorders, and psychological upsets. It will also address how to effectively treat pubescent hardships using holistic methods such as lifestyle management, dietary shifts, and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Puberty involves the increased activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis, which results in a rise of sex hormone secretion. There is also more activity in the hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), which governs the release of several stress hormones including cortisol. Cortisol has an age-related increase starting around age 12. Gonadal and adrenal hormone levels are linked with behavior in adolescents; any change in their levels are associated with greater behavioral problems (Evans xxxi). These facts come to the pertinent question involving hormone changing methods and how they affects the levels of these gonadal and adrenal hormones. According to an article in the Journal of Clinical Pathology published in 1969, “since unbound cortisol levels in plasma are controlled by a hypothalamic feedback mechanism, it appears that oral contraceptives have some effect on this mechanism. Possible long-term effects of oral contraceptives on hypothalamopituitary function require examination.” A more recent study done in 2006 states that “oral contraceptive use is associated with a decrease of androgen ovarian synthesis and an increase in the production of sex hormonebinding globulin (SHBG).”


In order to get a clearer, non-pharmaceutically funded bias on this issue, researching the work of holistically minded doctors such as Dr. Mercola opens up avenues for greater perspectives of the health concerns involved with hormonal birth control. There are many serious, longterm risks of taking these pills, especially at a young age, in which many women are not warned about from their doctors and have to research on their own. Some of these are increased risk of breast and cervical cancers (due to synthetically made hormones such as a type of progestin called ethynodiol diacetate, (see Aleccia in resource list)), arterial plaques, blood pressure, blood clots, lower bone density, vaginal infections, bleeding, yeast overgrowth, depression and mood changes, and loss of sexual function. There are many concerns from professionals about the risks that hormonal birth control methods pose to adolescent girls. Breast cancer researcher and biochemist David Zava, PhD, states that “on top of early puberty, you have teenage girls using hormonal contraceptives very early on, and yet multiple studies have shown that use of hormonal contraceptives in young girls increases their risk of developing breast cancer by as much as six times. The younger a girl begins using them, the greater her risk of breast cancer.” He also points out the travesty of marketing birth control to vulnerable teens through popular magazines, suggesting that it can be used to treat acne. Are most teenagers going to research or understand the harmful side effects of these drugs?

Another major concern of contraceptive hormones is the rise in cases of anovulation (lack of ovulation) that they have caused. This deprives teenage girls of essential natural hormones produced in the ovaries that they need for this rapid developmental era of their lives. Long-term use of birth control pills can also inevitably lead to infertility. Ironically, as stated above, there is a growing trend of biologically intervening birth control methods being used to actually regulate menstruation and treat menstrual disorders. Altering natural hormones and shutting off ovulation will unavoidably change the activity of the reproductive system in the long run, the extent of which depends on how long and which methods are used. When young girls have their menarche (first period), it is common for them to have heavy and irregular bleeding, which makes it very alluring for them to get medication from a doctor to mask the problem. The bodies of these young girls have not yet established regular ovulation. The natural ovulation process is the only way that the female body makes estrogen and progesterone. Using biologically altering birth control methods will in turn make it harder for these girls to ovulate in the future; they need their natural hormones to train their bodies and prepare them for reproduction. These methods also do not address the underlying causes of irregular periods and heavy bleeding, which can involve several physiological conditions that invasive birth control methods cannot cure, such as PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and endometriosis.


From a psychological standpoint, biologically invasive birth control methods impact the mental states of those who take them. A recent study from 2015 states “oral contraceptive use was associated with significantly lower cortical thickness measurements in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate cortex. These regions are believed to be important for responding to rewards and evaluating internal states/incoming stimuli, respectively.” Another recent study about oral contraceptives from 2007 says that “the focus on its side effects to date has mainly been on physical aspects, even though the most commonly stated reason for discontinuation is depression. More research is needed to better inform women and doctors about depression related to oral contraceptive use, and clinical guidelines are needed regarding the different types of oral contraceptives and their potential depressogenic properties.” From a holistic viewpoint, it seems obvious that any substance that alters hormone levels, ovulation, and development, is invariably going to cause an imbalance in mental functioning. In accordance with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), there is evidence to suggest that at the onset of puberty, hormonal levels predict the onset of MDD in girls (Evans 7).


Fortunately for our vulnerable population of teenager girls, even Elle magazine is on top of the latest research that states the psychological dangers of birth control pills when a featured article states: “women on the Pill were twice as likely to experience depression, anxiety, mental numbness, and an inability to feel pleasure from normal activities (known as anhedonia). These kinds of side effects can be among the most frustrating because they're so easily dismissed by doctors and even by the women experiencing them.” Despite all the evidence (and common sense) about the dangers and long-term effects of biologically invasive birth control methods used in teen years, there are still millions of users and prescribers of them for problems that could be resolved using natural medicine and lifestyle changes. The answer for this destructive trend may lie in the bank accounts of the pharmaceutical companies that produce these drugs and market them to doctors, medical schools, and the vulnerable teen population. There are astonishing studies that state that oral contraceptives can reduce depression symptoms, such as one produced by John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Why would a prestigious medical school want to promote yet another off-label use of an already life altering substance? That answer could also lie in a bank account, the one belonging to this John Hopkins school that is. There are even articles available online that state how misunderstood funding from Big Pharma to medical schools can be. Therefore, it is wise that parents and healthcare practitioners pay attention to all medical trends, are well informed of all the medical scandals that are and have been occurring, and understand the value of natural holistic therapy.


Though hormonal disturbances in young women is a challenging trend to overcome, there are many answers that will address the shortcomings and dangers of conventional birth control interventions. For example, it is clear that the many non-contraceptive uses of birth control do not address the root problems that they are prescribed to treat. Acne incidence, for example, is highly related to sugar, dairy, and refined carbohydrate intake that causes more body fat, increase estrogens, and can trigger earlier puberty. Simply changing the diet has a profound effect on developing teenagers. Nutritional supplements such as zinc and magnesium can also make a big difference since most of our food supply is lacking in these key minerals. Heavy menstrual bleeding can also be effectively handled with the right diet and nutrition. For all age groups, heavy bleeding primarily involves too much estrogen (which thickens the uterine lining) and not enough progesterone (which reduces the uterine lining). In teenagers, estrogen receptors are sensitive and overtime, the periods will lighten up and their bodies will become accustomed to regular ovulation. Turmeric is a popular anti-inflammatory root that has been used by several types of medicinal practices throughout history and all over the world. If taken often, it will regulate the body's movement of blood. Using a fresh turmeric root, making tea, juice or delicious “golden milk” (dairy free and sweetened with honey) will enable it to be absorbed and digested into the body most effectively. Iron supplementation can help aid the blood loss involved with heavy bleeding. Avoiding dairy products during the teen years, especially cow products, are crucial due to the presence of animal hormones that interact with their vulnerable hormone production. Regular physical exercise can also minimize the side effects of hormonal imbalances during puberty and decrease the risks for developing hormonal related cancers. These natural treatment methods may take a little longer to address the issues, but their long-term effects will effectively cure the root of the problems. Traditional Chinese medicine is another effective type of holistic therapy that has been used to treat gynecological disturbances for thousands of years. Diagnoses are based on the perspective of channel and organ systems and their functional relation to bodily processes. Many menstrual irregularities, for example, tend to involve imbalances of the liver's ability to control the movement of blood, the spleen's (digestive system) ability to create the blood, the heart's role of governing the blood and spirit (emotions) and the kidney's role in storing the essence (primary life force).


Acupuncture works by regulating the energetic channels of the body, strengthening the body's life force (“qi”), and eliminating pathogenic factors (Maciocia 89). When used on adolescents, acupuncture can help with the development of young energetic channels to secure harmony in their bodily functions throughout their entire life. Chinese herbal medicine can also play an important role in treating imbalances in the female body. Chinese medicine views blood as an important element in women's health. There are many herbs that are specifically geared towards affecting the blood in several categories and are used according to the specific imbalances that the prescribing practitioner sees applicable. These categories involve herbs that invigorate the blood, cool the blood, nourish the blood, dispel blood stasis, and stop bleeding. These categories can even be broken down into subcategories such as “invigorate the blood and promote healing of tissues.” Some professionals even say that the blood moving herbs are the most useful due to their pharmacological actions, which involve improving the dynamic of blood flow, microcirculation, coagulation, concentration, accumulation of blood, influencing connective tissues (thus treating skin diseases), readjusting cellular and humoral immunity, having an analgesic effect, and combating inflammation and bacterial infection (Maciocia 102-103). After being studied and used for centuries, there are volumes of information that detail the specific usages of herbs and their combinations with others in herbal formulas.


There are so many options for health care available to women in the first world that it may seem overwhelming to figure out which works best for each individual. It is clear, however, that humans are intrinsically products of their environment and going against natural processes have unnatural consequences. Many modern health care practitioners in the United States will tell young women that contraceptives with a lower dosage of hormones are safe and beneficial. There are even vaginal insertions such as the IUD (intrauterine device) which can be hormonal or non-hormonal and effective at preventing pregnancy. The late Dr. Sharon Feng, a renown Chinese medical practitioner, powerfully stated that “an IUD creates a local chronic inflammation so the egg cannot plant into the lining of the uterus. It creates a one month miscarriage” (Feng 11). When seen from this perspective, it's simpler to understand the dangers of this dramatic effect the IUD has. There are several women who have uterine lining irritability and increased bleeding with these devices. Even more risky is the chance of the device getting stuck and perforating into the uterus, which occurs in 1-3 out of 1,000 women. These devices do not even protect against STD's.


Obviously, there are risks with every contraceptive and every sexual encounter, especially in adolescent girls. Though abstinence is preached throughout schools and health centers, teenagers are obviously going to be sexually active anyways. The availability of condoms to teenagers is imperative as the most effective birth control device to prevent STD's. There are many types that are widely available due to incidence of latex allergies. When used correctly, condoms are just as effective as biologically invasive birth control methods and do not require daily dosages or life altering side effects.


The bottom line is that adolescents need to understand their options, risks, and viable life choices. Clearly, if holistic medicine was better understood and widely available in schools and mainstream health facilities, there would be much less complications and imbalances in the adolescent years. Parents and health care providers can prevent young girls from the developmental atrocities that modern, pharmaceutically funded biomedicine has forged into our society. We are coming out of an age of fear and into an age of self-empowerment and education. With the rising popularity of holistic and natural medicine in first world countries like the United States, the future holds a crucial liberation from synthetic chemical interventions and a natural lifestyle for developing adolescents.


Resources

Aleccia, JoNel. “Some birth control pills may boost breast cancer risk, Fred Hutch study finds.” 1 Aug, 2014. https://www.fredhutch.org/en/news/center-news/2014/08/Some-new-birth-controlraise-breast-cancer-risk.html Briden, Laura. “Natural Treatment of Very Heavy Periods.” 6 September 2014. http://www.larabriden.com/natural-treatment-for-very-heavy-periods/


Burke, C.W. “The effect of oral contraceptives on cortisol metabolism.” The Journal of Clinical Pathology. 1969. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1436049/


Edwards, Jim. “John Hopkins in Pharma Funding Flap.” 5 August 2008. CBS Money Watch. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/johns-hopkins-in-pharma-funding-flap/


Evans, Dwight L. et all. “Treating and Preventing Adolescent Mental Health Disorders.” Oxford University Press. 2005. Pages xxxi and 7.


Feng, Sharon. “TCM Gynecology.” Spring 2003. Class notes taken by Robin Green.


Guttmacher Institute. “Contraceptive Use in the United States.” October 2015. https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/contraceptive-use-united-states


Keyes, Katherine M. et all. “Association of Hormonal Contraceptive Use With Reduced Levels of Depressive Symptoms: A National Study of Sexually Active Women in the United States.” American Journal of Epidemiology. 25 August 2012.


Maciocia, Giovanni. “Obstetrics and Gynecology in Chinese Medicine.” Pages 89-91 and 102-103. Elsevier. 1998.


Mercola, Joseph, MD. “Real Contraceptive Choices: Alternatives to Risky Hormone Pills, Patches, and Shots.” 10 July 2010. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/07/10/real-contraceptive-choicesalternatives-to-risky-hormone-pills-patches-and-shots.aspx


Panser, C. et all. “Impact of oral contraceptives on sex-hormone-binding globulin and androgen levels: a retrospective study on women with sexual disfunction.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. 3 January 2006. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16409223


Peterson, M. et all. “Oral contraceptive pill use is associated with localized decreases in cortical thickness.” National Center for Biotechnology. July 2015. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25832993


Sole-Smith, Virginia. “The Birth Control Pill Has Become a Widely Prescribed Cure-All... But What About the Drawbacks?” Elle Magazine. 13 October 2013. http://www.elle.com/beauty/health-fitness/advice/a12605/birth-controll-pills/


Stoppler, Melissa Conrad, MD. “IUD (Intrauterine Device for Birth Control).” 25 Februrary 2016. http://www.medicinenet.com/iud/article.htm


Wershier, Laura. “Why Young Teens Need Real Periods-Not the Pill.” 8 September 2015. http://www.menstruationresearch.org/2015/09/08/why-young-teens-need-real-periods-not-thepill/


Zava, David. “Teens, Birth Control, and Hormonal Balance.” http://www.virginiahopkinstestkits.com/teensocszava.html

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It's important for teens to be empowered do their own research, AND get help with understanding it, to discover what feels best for their developing bodies.

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