It’s pretty common knowledge now that antibiotics wreak havoc on our gut health, and it’s always advisable to take a course of probiotics after using any form of antibiotics. However, it’s much less common knowledge that other long-term medications, such as the contraceptive pill, can also have detrimental effects on our gut.
I don’t want to demonize the use of the contraceptive pill, because I know many women use it for a variety of reasons. However, I want to draw attention to the many side-effects that come with long-term use of the pill.
How does the pill negatively affect our gut health?
Several studies have surfaced showing that oral birth control negatively affects gut flora. This, in turn, adversely affects estrogen metabolism which comes with a whole host of negative consequences, including weight loss resistance. On top of this, research shows that the pill can significantly increase your chance of developing inflammatory bowel diseases. In fact, two large-scale American studies linked the use of oral contraceptives with Crohn’s disease. It is believed that it is the hormone-altering component of the contraceptive pill that is detrimental to gut health.
This is huge news, as many people, especially women, are increasingly suffering from digestive issues and they’re often being told there is nothing that can be done about it. So women suffering from ongoing digestive disorders should consider the possibility of it being linked with their birth control use.
Why is gut health even important anyway?
Obviously gut health is important in a physical sense as it is related to healthy digestion. With poor gut health, you’re more at risk of developing gastrointestinal and inflammatory disorders such as IBS, Chrons and Leaky Gut Syndrome. You may also experience symptoms such as bloating, sluggishness, and excessive gas.
However, gut health is also highly related to mental health. Roughly 90% of our serotonin (the neurotransmitter that promotes feeling good) is produced in the gut. Norepinephrine, which is involved in maintaining the production of GABA (the neurotransmitter which makes you feel calm) and strong antioxidants are also produced in the gut microbiome.
Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are highly related to levels of these chemicals in the brain. Low serotonin and antioxidant levels are both associated with increased risk of depression. The antioxidants are responsible for stopping brain inflammation which studies have linked to increased depression, and low levels of serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter) are associated with depression. Norepinephrine influences the level of GABA in the brain, and lower levels of GABA are linked to higher feelings of anxiety.
You might be wondering, how on earth these neurotransmitters and antioxidants produced in the gut microbiome affect brain chemistry? Well, the gut and the brain actually communicate with each other in a bidirectional way via three methods; the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the gut-brain axis.
Even a long time ago, researchers knew the importance of gut health on mental health reporting that explorations of the gut microbiome showed a close relationship between mood, behavioral issues, and bacterial health.
More recent research has shown that participants with IBS are more likely to also have anxiety and depression.
What can you do?
For obvious reasons you might not want to stop using contraception, and for some, eliminating oral contraceptives isn’t an option. Those of you who want to continue taking the pill (though I highly suggest looking into more research on other detrimental effects of the pill before making your final decision) should incorporate probiotics into their diet. This can be done through slow-release pro-biotic capsules or by eating fermented veggies and/or tempeh.
If you do want to stop taking oral contraception, you can switch to none-hormonal contraceptive methods. Natural Cycles, which is a monitoring method where you use your basal temperature to determine your fertility status and Copper IUD’s don’t alter your hormone levels and obviously there are condoms. Personally, I have felt a huge improvement in my health since switching to Natural Cycles, and will never go back.
Whatever you decide to do, it is important to know what you are putting into your body and the effects it could be having on you, so you can make choices that are going to best serve you and your health.
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