If your doctor prescribes you synthetic hormonal birth control, you may only be aware of its benefits - preventing pregnancy, combating irregular periods, and addressing other conditions. But, these birth control methods can also lead to negative effects that have significant implications for your overall health. Therefore, it’s vital to be informed about synthetic hormonal birth control pros and cons when beginning or ending a regimen.
It’s helpful first to understand the differences between bioidentical and synthetic hormones. Bioidentical hormones are structural replicas of natural hormones, with customizable dosages for each patient’s needs. On the other hand, synthetic hormone dosages are uniform for every patient and are not structurally identical to endogenous hormones. While natural hormones keep the body in balance by binding to specific receptors, synthetic hormones are capable of cross-reactivity within the body’s receptors, causing hormonal imbalances and other uncomfortable side effects.
How Synthetic Hormonal Birth Control Methods Work
The steady dose of synthetic hormones in birth control mimics those the body makes naturally, by making the body think it’s already pregnant. Higher levels of the synthetic hormones signal the ovaries not to release an egg, denying the sperm anything to fertilize. At the same time, these hormones prevent the pituitary gland from producing gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). The higher progestin levels also thicken the cervical mucus and make it stickier, impeding the sperm’s travel to the uterus and disallowing an egg to implant.
Types of Synthetic Hormonal Birth Control
Synthetic hormone contraceptives contain either progestin-only, such as the minipill, or progestin combined with estrogen. The most common forms of this type of birth control are:
- Oral contraceptives - progestin-only or combination pills
- Hormonal vaginal rings
Pros of Synthetic Hormonal Birth Control Use
Short-Term Side Effects
Many women experience common side effects after beginning a synthetic hormone birth control plan, particularly during the first few months of use. These symptoms include libido changes, breast sensitivity, decreased or increased bleeding, vaginal discomfort, and weight gain. Fortunately, these generally subside as the body gets used to the synthetic hormones. For women who want to conceive in the future, ending the use of most hormonal birth control methods allows a woman to resume normal ovulation and fertility.
Efficacy and Convenience
Many women cite that they use synthetic hormonal birth control due to its effectiveness. In addition to preventing unwanted pregnancy, it can also alleviate the pain associated with some periods, help regulate irregular cycles, lighten bleeding, and relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and endometriosis.
Further, hormonal birth control provides more convenience than other forms of birth control, such as barrier methods, emergency contraception, fertility-awareness methods, or methods used during intercourse.
Combination birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progestin synthetic hormones can decrease a woman’s androgen production. Lower androgen equates to less oil (sebum) production in the skin and less oil secretion from the glands, which can mean fewer acne breakouts. However, the minipill, which only contains progestin, doesn’t have the same effect on acne.
Cons of Synthetic Hormonal Birth Control Use
Normal bodily functions rely heavily on hormonal stability, and synthetic hormonal birth control can cause hormonal imbalances. For example, women can experience an increase in thyroxine-binding globulin (TBG), leading to thyroid dysfunction and affecting energy levels, skin and hair health, and metabolism, as well as insufficient vitamin B stores, which are a crucial component for the body’s production and effective use of thyroid hormones.
Synthetic hormonal birth control increases cortisol levels while lowering testosterone. Because testosterone is vital for sex drive, brain performance, healthy sleep cycles, red blood cell production, muscle development, and energy levels, adequate levels are essential.
Particularly regarding libido, ending a synthetic hormonal birth control regimen does not immediately revitalize testosterone levels and sexual interest. Instead, women can experience prolonged testosterone deficiencies that negatively affect their overall health.
Natural Hormone Interruption
The synthetic hormones in birth control negatively impact homeostasis; as the body recognizes the unusually high estrogen and progesterone (e.g., progestin from hormonal birth control), it classifies it as a hormonal imbalance. It will slow or disrupt further production of these hormones to restore order. This, in turn, often lengthens the time it takes for the menstrual cycle to resume its normal function after synthetic hormonal birth control cessation.
Post-birth-control syndrome refers to symptoms that begin following the discontinuation of synthetic hormonal birth control, usually occurring after 4-6 months. These include:
- Heavier, irregular, or no periods
- Fertility issues
- Skin problems, such as acne and rosacea
- Headaches and migraines
- Depression, anxiety, mood imbalances
- Hair loss
- Bowel issues such as gas, bloating, and leaky gut
- Inflammation and immune deficiencies
- Low libido
- Weight Gain
- Blood sugar imbalances
Let Us Be Your Lifelong Guide
Although hormonal birth control has been around for more than half a century, it’s essential to knowledgeably weigh the pros and cons of its use before beginning or ending a regimen, and medical advice should be an integral part of any decision process.
No matter where you are in your health journey, the Ageless and Wellness Center is here to guide you. From puberty and menstruation to pregnancy, menopause, and beyond, we offer evidence-based medical insights and beneficial vitamins and supplements to maintain and restore your hormonal balance to help you live your healthiest life, at any age.