Today, women are taking oral birth control pills for many reasons – to prevent pregnancy, to balance hormones in conditions like PCOS, decrease heavy or painful periods, relieve PMS symptoms, regulate an irregular cycle, treat acne, and (perhaps worst) because their doc told them to at age 15 and no one objected. Most women have taken the pill at some point in their lives, and many have taken it for the majority of their fertile years. It’s so commonplace that they teach you in medical school to ask a patient about meds they take, and then specifically ask about the pill because tons of women forget to mention it.
The pill basically flatlines your female hormone levels, preventing them from doing their intricate monthly dance. Every month, when you stop taking the synthetic hormone pills, a false menses is induced during which the uterine lining sheds but no egg is released. When one wants to come off of the pill, it’s very common to see a lack of menses for several months as the body tries to balance itself back out – further, many women experience mood imbalances (not dissimilar from those they experience when initially going on the pill), weight change, acne and other hormonal symptoms as their body tries to regulate itself often for the first time in years.
So you want to come off of the pill, but you’re scared to experience your pre-pill PMS, acne or heavy periods? I get it. Know that it will often take several months for the body to recover from being bossed around by exogenous hormones, but there are a few things you can do to help ease this transition and replenish your body. Especially if you are planning to become pregnant, make sure to follow this advice as well as speak to an ND about your individual situation to ensure your body is ready to produce a healthy, happy babe.
Acne, heavy or irregular periods, PMS symptoms and even fibroids or PCOS are all signs of hormonal imbalance. Although it will be a different situation for you and me, we can all follow some simple steps when coming off of the pill to allow the body to correct itself gently and replenish the vitamins and nutrients that are depleted by the pill. Try the following for at least 6 weeks (1.5 months) post pill:
1. Drink warm water and lemon in the mornings: one of the most important things to do post pill is to make sure your detoxification pathways are working properly. Lemon in warm water, first thing in the morning, signals your liver to start working and provides a boost to your natural detox systems.
2. Buy a high quality B complex, and take daily: one of the vitamins most depleted by the pill is B6 (pyridoxine), a B complex vitamin. If you have not been taking this since the beginning of pill popping, you should get to it asap. Make sure you buy a professional brand that has a good amount of B6 (250mg is adequate) and take daily to bring those levels back up.
3. Eat clean daily and workout 4-5 x per week: give your body a bit of a break and allow some time for it to flush and detox for a couple of months. While you should be eating clean always… this time post pill is extremely important. Your body needs time to get rid of any residual hormones and toxins so that it can produce its own and begin to function normally. Meat and dairy cause inflammation that can contribute to acne and painful periods, so avoid these for this period of time. Increase your cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts), as these help your body properly detox estrogen.
4. Sleep like a boss: regardless of supplements and a clean diet, your body needs restful, restorative sleep in order to produce proper levels of all your hormones (including female sex hormones). The most important hours for our circadian rhythms are from 10pm-2am so make sure you are fully asleep in pitch darkness during these hours. If you fail to follow this rule, you’ll notice your mood vacillate and you’ll begin to crave specific foods. See this post to deal with cravings, but sleep first to avoid them.
5. Drink tons of water and herbal tea: teas like peppermint, nettle and dandelion are great to help support detoxification. Nettle leaves are actually a fantastic source of many micro-minerals, they support bone health and your adrenals (stress hormone-secreting glands), and even help with acne. Steep 1 tbsp nettle (Urtica dioica) leaves in 1L of water overnight, strain in the morning and drink throughout the day.
It can be useful to talk to an ND or other health practitioner about your individual situation, especially if there are conditions like PCOS in the picture. We can individually recommend other interventions to help balance your hormones specifically. If you do become pregnant, see a doc immediately and ask about all the herbs and supplements you are taking (even teas) because many are cautioned during pregnancy.
As always, listen to your body. Acknowledge that coming off the pill may be a bit rocky, but it doesn’t have to be awful. Many women stop the pill and notice nothing, so expect the best while planning to help your body adjust!
Best of luck!