If you take birth control pills and have a thyroid condition, it’s important to understand how oral contraceptives can affect your hormone balancing, your liver, your thyroid, and your brain. This functional medicine viewpoint can help you make an informed decision about contraception, or give you insight into buffering potential consequences.
Birth control pills flood the body with an unnatural amount of hormones that are also synthetic. This can imbalance the body in a number of ways.
Your body’s hormone balance depends on finely nuanced communication between the brain and the hormone glands. The brain determines how much hormone the glands should produce based on hormone activity in the body.
When you introduce hormones into the body, this tells the brain the body has plenty of hormone. As a result, the “feedback loop” of communication between the brain and the hormone glands slows down or becomes dormant, lowering the body’s natural production. This may create symptoms or problems when the time comes to go off the pill.
Birth control pills, the liver, and your thyroid
Excess hormones can stress the liver as it must break down those hormones for elimination. Chronically overburdening the liver causes it to become sluggish and congested, increasing the risk for inflammation, high cholesterol, and poor immune function.
It’s a little known fact that a poorly functioning liver can raise inflammation. When you are working to dampen inflammation and autoimmune flares associated with a thyroid condition, the potential inflammatory effect of birth control pills on liver function is a factor to consider.
Also, when the liver cannot properly detoxify estrogen, the hormone goes back into the bloodstream in a more toxic form, raising the risk for breast cancer, endometriosis, premenstrual syndrome, fibrocystic breasts, ovarian cysts, cervical dysplasia, endometrial cancer, prostate carcinoma and hyperplasia, and menopause.
Estrogen dominance is a known factor in possibly making it more difficult to manage your thyroid, due to the metabolic and inflammatory effects it can have.
Functional medicine support of liver detoxification may include the use of compounds such as dandelion extract and milk thistle extract to help mitigate these effects.
Oral contraception and methylation
Taking birth control pills can also result in depletion of methyl donors. Methylation is a liver detoxification pathway that attaches a single carbon group to a chemical compound in order to help the body eliminate it.
About 20 percent of the population are already slow methylators. Taking birth control pills can compound this problem, making it more difficult to detoxify an environmental compound. Methylation defects have also been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
Methylation is also an important consideration when you have hypothyroidism. Poor methylation affects immune function, the ability to combat inflammation, brain chemical activity, and more. A methylation issue could hinder your efforts in managing your symptoms.
Functional medicine view of birth control and the brain
Depleting methyl donors can lead to lower serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is the “well being” neurotransmitter that prevents depression, and healthy methylation activity is necessary for sufficient serotonin.
Compounds that can support methylation include methyl B12, P-5-P, MSM, and trimethylglycine. Compounds that support serotonin activity include 5-HTP, St. John’s Wort, and SAMe.
As people with thyroid diseases are already more prone to depression, it’s important to keep pathways or serotonin and other neurotransmitters active.
Birth control pills and thyroid function
Elevated estrogen from birth control pills can cause symptoms of low thyroid function by hindering conversion in the liver of inactive thyroid hormone (T4) to the usable form (T3).
Elevated estrogen can also create too many thyroid-binding proteins, which prevent thyroid hormones from getting into cells. Both these mechanisms can cause symptoms of low thyroid activity, or hypothyroidism.
Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland, causing loss of function. Management entails driving autoimmunity into remission as much as possible, but you also want to support healthy function of thyroid mechanisms.
Functional medicine risks of birth control pills
The more publicized risks of oral contraceptives include heart attack, stroke, and venous thromboembolism, however these risks are recognized as being minimal.
The purpose of this article isn’t to scare you, but simply to educate you in the ways birth control pills can affect your health if your thyroid and hormone levels are out of whack. This gives you more information to make an informed decision or understand how you may be able to mitigate their effects.
Although certain nutritional compounds may be helpful, it’s important to follow an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle to optimize the function of your thyroid and reduce risks.
Ask my office for more advice on healthy hormone function.