By Emma Stessman
When it comes to the birth control pill, one thing experts agree on is that it’s pretty effective at doing what it’s intended to do: prevent pregnancy.
Ask any conventional physician, and they’ll also tell you that taking oral contraceptives is efficient and safe. It won’t affect your ability to get pregnant down the road and can be super helpful in reducing difficult symptoms from conditions like PMS and PCOS.
Yet an influx of people, from Instagrammers to functional MDs, have sworn off the Rx, saying the pill can cause health problems ranging from depression and adrenal fatigue to gut issues and weight gain. Moreover, they are concerned that the contraceptive can have lasting effects, even years after going off the med.
“Obviously, it’s really great that this exists as an option for people,” says Alisa Vitti, the founder of FLO Living and author of WomanCode. “You don’t want to get pregnant, so you can take this medicine to temporarily sterilize yourself. But that’s exactly what this medication does—it shuts off ovulation and it shuts off the conversation between the ovaries and the brain.”
Vitti is a health coach who has become known as a women’s hormone expert (she has no traditional medical training), and she founded FLO Living to empower women to take charge of their hormonal health. In her practice, she sees women with common issues like PCOS and endometriosis, and she developed a method to help treat them via lifestyle and diet changes, without the use of oral contraceptives.
Since different conversations about the Pill seem to be happening more and more, we sat down with her to learn more about her take on the issue. After all, your birth control method, like anything else having to do with your body or sex life, is your choice, and we want you to have the tools to make a totally informed decision.
The Birth Control Pill: Q&A With Alisa Vitti
You’ve been pretty vocal about the negative impact that hormonal birth control can have on the body. What are your major concerns? Women who take birth control primarily are being prescribed the medication to fix hormonal issues like PCOS and endometriosis. Which is a complete misrepresentation of what the medication can and can’t do, because it doesn’t fix the real symptoms or get to the root of the issue. It doesn’t fix what’s wrong, and because it depletes the micronutrients that your endocrine system needs to perform optimally, it can worsen the conditions that you are trying to treat.
Can you talk a little more about that? How does it affect micronutrients? It causes the body to flush out in massive quantities of micronutrients like vitamin D3, B vitamins, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids. [Editor’s note: There is some research that shows women who take the Pill may have lower levels of some B vitamins. No sufficient scientific research yet supports the overall claim that massive quantities of any of these nutrients are flushed from the body when taking the Pill.] It also disrupts the gut microbiota. If you were to put all of these things together in any healthy woman who is not on birth control, she would most likely develop a hormonal problem. But if you already have a hormonal problem and you’re taking this medication that’s supposed to help, but it’s making your micronutrient levels even lower, you’re going to have a worse situation than before.
And what about the gut? The microbiome issue is a big problem as well. There’s this phenomenon where many women who go on synthetic birth control have to be put on Prozac after. A study came out that taking birth control pills…increases rates of depression [Editor’s Note: The study showed use of hormonal contraceptives was associated with “subsequent use of antidepressants and a first diagnosis of depression,” not that birth control caused rates of depression to increase]…and it comes down to the disruption of the microbiome in the gut. We know that the bacteria in your gut can determine how stable your mood is, because that is where 90 percent of your body’s serotonin is produced.
Most conventional MDs will say that there aren’t any long-term effects to birth control, but you and many others say the opposite. Why is there this disconnect? It’s a lack of cross-pollination between the information and the research that’s being done on the functional medicine side of things versus in conventional medicine. You have to take the other side into consideration. For example, you wouldn’t go to your mechanic and ask how to brush your teeth. It’s two completely different things. So you can’t go to your gynecologist, who is conventionally trained, and expect to get alternative treatments.
What a conventional doctor is trained to do is prescribe medication and perform surgeries. So, if you ask them, “What can I do that doesn’t involve drugs or surgery?” they won’t have an answer for you. Having the expectation that they’re going to have information outside of their training is a consumer mistake. You should go into it with the expectation that your doctor will support drug therapy, because that’s their training. That’s why you may have to do your own research on the functional side of things and get that information and see that there’s an area here where these two parties aren’t talking to each other. But you are ultimately the driver of the health train that you’re riding on. These are people that are giving you information and support along the way but they’re not ultimately in charge of your body, you are.
In your own clients, you see the long-term effects, then? Yes. Hormonal contraception is being given to women for absolutely anything and everything. Not to mention, it’s now being prescribed so early. In my opinion, the most dangerous time to introduce synthetic birth control into the female body is in between the ages of 12 and 22. During those precious pubescent years, the brain and the ovaries are trying very hard to establish a regular hormonal conversation, and the ten-year process of puberty is for that purpose.
So if someone is looking for an effective, natural option to replace the pill, what do you recommend? Well, I recommend a couple of things. You need to track your cycle. We have an app called My Flo Tracker. You should track your cycle so that you know when you’re ovulating and the range in which that is––you’re fertile for about six to seven days a month. And during the days when you’re fertile, you can use one to two barrier methods. If you’re in a heterosexual relationship, where it may be an issue, you need a condom and, for your piece of mind, a cervical cap. With those two things, it’s just as effective as the pill. The rest of the month, if you’re tracking your ovulation, you can be pretty confident that you’re not going to get accidentally pregnant.
(Photos: Shutterstock, FLO Living)