Eliminating hormonal birth control from your life isn't as difficult (or as risky) as you might think, argues women's hormone expert and Well+Good Council member Alisa Vitti—and she's got the intel you need to make the right choice for you (hey, they don't call her the "hormone whisperer" for nothing).
For years, women have been led to believe that there’s just one option for preventing unwanted pregnancies: the birth control pill. Doctors have even taken to prescribing the pill as a go-to treatment for everything from acne to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
But here’s the truth: Birth control pills are not the answer. Aside from the long list of potential side effects listed on their labels, like blood clots and depression, studies have shown that the pill can compromise your fitness goals and even alter your ability to pick the right romantic partner. And if you think you’re safe from these side effects because you rely on an intrauterine device (IUD) or ring rather than pills, think again: A recent study revealed that the hormonal IUD actually holds a higher risk of depression than the pill.
I hear so many women say they feel like something is wrong with them because they’ve tried a million different types of pills and can’t find one that leaves them symptom-free.
So what exactly causes women to suffer the side effects of hormonal birth control? In order to patent pharmaceutical products, manufacturers have to alter their molecular structures. That means that no form of synthetic birth control is a perfect match for your cell receptor sites, and this can cause hormonal chaos in your body and brain.
I hear so many women say they feel like something's wrong with them because they’ve tried a million different types of pills and can’t find one that leaves them symptom-free. I’m here to tell you that if this is your situation, there’s nothing wrong with you! (Author Holly Grigg-Spall wrote a fascinating book about all this and more in her book, Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control.) I believe the reactions you’re having are your body’s way of telling you that you’re sensitive to the flood of synthetic hormones, and you need to stay away from them in any form.
If you’re using the pill to prevent pregnancy, you have so many other, non-chemical, highly effective options. Keep reading for my recommendations.
I don’t care if you’re single and dating or are in a long-term, committed relationships: condoms are a must. They’re just as effective as the pill when used correctly and consistently, but they don’t come with all the side effects of synthetic hormones. And they don’t just prevent pregnancy—they also help keep you safe from bacterial and viral infections, as well as HPV. There’s nothing unromantic about using condoms; the reality of modern romance is that you need to do everything you can to protect your own health. And if your partner truly respects you and cares about your well-being, he’ll wear a condom, no questions asked.
2. The diaphragm
There’s now a one-size-fits-all hormone-free diaphragm called Caya that’s available by prescription. The contoured rim is designed for a comfortable fit, and you no longer need a doctor to customize it to your shape.
3. The sponge
People rarely talk about the sponge since it gained attention from that one well-known Seinfeld episode, but it’s a great option that’s available at any local pharmacy. You’ll need to use spermicide with it, so I recommend a natural option like ContraGel.
4. Fertility awareness method
Just as you can use an app—like MyFLO, which I developed—to track your symptoms, you can also use it to become more aware of when you might be fertile. To be even more precise, you can track your BBT (basal body temperature) with a device like Daysy or Lady-Comp, and/or observe changes in your cervical fluid to let you know when you should avoid sex completely or use condoms plus spermicide to be safe.
5. Wild carrot seed
Also known as Queen Anne’s Lace and used as a tincture, this is an ancient herbal remedy that women have used for centuries to prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg into the uterine wall. If you’re having sex and the condom breaks (these things do happen), you can try taking wild carrot seed immediately as an alternative to Plan B to disrupt your cycle and minimize your chance of pregnancy.
Whichever method you choose, remember that pregnancy prevention is all about knowing your body and yourself. The best place to start to see where your hormones and predictable ovulation might be off is to do an audit of your period. By understanding how your ovulation and cycle works and recognizing the signs it’s sending when it’s irregular, you can start moving toward feeling confident with your non-chemical forms of contraception.
Alisa Vitti, HHC, is a women's hormone expert, an integrative nutritionist and a member of Well+Good's Wellness Council, a handpicked holistic health squad that gives the best advice this side of your own personal guru. She is also the creator of the MyFLO hormone-balancing period tracker app, the best-selling author of WomanCode, and the founder of FLOLiving.com, a virtual health center that supports women’s hormonal and reproductive health. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
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