Planning to take a break or quit ‘The Pill’ this year but worried about sudden weight gain, acne, mood changes? We feel you. When it comes to the oral contraceptive pill, there’s been a lot of fear surrounding if women should or shouldn’t be on it and the repercussions either way that follow. On the one hand—if you stay on it there is associated risks such as—infertility, depression and breast cancer and if you go off it—you could go back to heavy periods, menstrual cramps, irregular moods, weight gain and spotty skin. Being a woman is tough. And it seems we’re all concerned. So much so that half of 18 and 19-year-olds now believe they should ‘take a break’ from The Pill every few years, and according to a Cosmopolitan survey, 70 per cent of the women they surveyed have completely stopped taking it or thought about it in the past three years.
Last year I decided to come off the contraceptive pill after a good ten-year stint when a scary chat with a super observant doctor revealed my migraines with ‘aura’ (vision loss) were not a good combo with The Pill—in fact, it gave me a 50 per cent higher chance of a stroke. But that being said, whether you’re merely contemplating it or are ready to go au naturale, there are two important factors to bear in mind. The first involves talking to your doctor to make the best-informed decision for you. Then when given the clearance, it’s all about getting equipped with the right nutrition information to navigate your cycle naturally. To do this, we’ve brought esteemed Sydney-based Naturopath, Anthia Koullouros and nutritionist Nikki Gonda, Founder of ‘My Moon Box’( a menstrual cycle tool kit) on board to provide menstrual cycle support and the best natural diet solutions.
What is the common reason women come off The Pill in your experience?
“This is an area I specialise in as so many women are coming to realise that The Pill (whether it is OCP, IUD, Injection or Patch) is not fixing their hormonal imbalance and they need to dive deeper to find out the reasons behind diseases such as infertility, PMS, painful periods and PCOS and really address the underlying cause—which could be anything from nutrient deficiency, stress, dysbiosis, infection, inflammation, etc,” says Koullouris. “The truth is, ‘The Pill’ does not ‘balance hormones’; it switches off ovulation and as a result, switches off oestrogen and progesterone and induces a kind of ‘chemical menopause.’ This means we become disconnected to a natural rhythm and life cycle, often on top of other important rhythms including circadian rhythms (daily sleep/wake cycle) and seasonal rhythms as a result of living artificial lives. Why does this matter? Well, when we sit at computers which use high electromagnetic radiation, eat conveniently, sleep late, and then push our bodies into a fear-based, stressed out ‘doing’ state, not only do we disconnect from our consciousness and what brings us joy but it’s in this state, disease begins.”
What are the common symptoms of hormone imbalance (before or after going off The Pill)?
“When I went off ‘The Pill,’ I experienced a lot of symptoms that were challenging, my pre-pill symptoms returned but even worse, so through investigating my own research into food and supplements I learned how to best support my hormones.” “These are the most common symptoms of hormone imbalance (see below)—which, while common, biologically speaking, are not normal. Ideally, your period should arrive with ease with very little to no physical or emotional discomfort” says Gonda.
Common symptoms of hormone imbalance:
Low sex drive
Irregular, heavy, very light or missing periods
How can foods affect our hormones?
“While our hormones change throughout our menstrual cycle, we need to meet have enough certain nutrients to make hormones, as well as to ovulate and then metabolise them,” says Koullouros. “Having a body that boosts progesterone and metabolises oestrogen is crucial as the balance of these hormones are essential for energy, mood, libido, thyroid, skin/hair health, regular healthy periods and so much more,” explains Gonda. “A build-up of oestrogen without the balancing of progesterone causes symptoms like heavy periods, breast tenderness and mood swings and too little oestrogen can cause fatigue, insomnia and depression. With progesterone, it is your calming, happy hormone and is only produced with healthy ovulation.” “ If you’re not ovulating and making enough progesterone you will experience symptoms of PMS, hair loss and heavy periods,” says Gonda. “But if you eat more progesterone boosting foods it may help prevent women from having menstrual cramps, weak libido, and menopausal problems,” says Anthia.
What foods should we eat?
As a general guideline, Koullouros says recommends the following nutrient-rich diet…
Wild and sustainable omega 3 rich, mineral-rich fish and seafood such as sardines, mackerel, salmon, fish eggs or caviar.
Fat-soluble vitamin-rich—organic and pastured liver.
Protein and healthy fats—such as rich pastured or grass-fed beef, lamb, pork, poultry, eggs.
Vitamin, Mineral and Antioxidant rich seasonal fruit and vegetables.
Healthy starches – such as potato, sweet potato and rice.
For more specific targeting, Gonda recommends the following depending on your symptoms/imbalance.
Vitamin E foods—sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and almonds.
Zinc-rich foods—shellfish, pumpkin and lean red meats.
Oestrogen metabolising foods:
Cruciferous veggies—cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. These veggies have compound indole-3-carbinol that enhance the metabolism and detoxification of estrogen.
What Foods Should We Avoid?
“Inflammatory foods interfere with oestrogen metabolism, inhibit ovulation and therefore also affects healthy production of progesterone,” says Gonda.
Inflammatory foods to avoid:
According to the experts, these are the ones to watch…
Vegetable oils—canola, sunflower, rapeseed, corn oil and peanut oil).
Trans fats such as deep fried food
Histamine-rich foods—fermented foods and drinks such as sauerkraut, alcohol, pickles, kim chi, kombucha, yoghurt, kefir, vinegar, deli meats, soughdough, long-cooked bone stock, dried fruits and cheese).