A Naturopath's Guide for Coming off the Pill - www.clarabailey.com

A Naturopath’s Guide for Coming off the Pill

Writers note: This article was originally published in August 2020 and has been updated in July 2021.

 

A naturopath’s guide for coming off the pill smoothly, easily and inexpensively.

Coming off the pill after long-term use can feel like a daunting task.  You may be worried about the less than pleasant side effects such as acne, weight gain, hair loss or irregular periods (or no periods). Or you may already have stopped, and you’re experiencing several uncomfortable symptoms.

If you’re going off the pill to fall pregnant, you may be concerned about balancing your hormones and getting your fertility up and running ASAP.  I’ve gathered together a checklist of how to safely and smoothly transition off the pill using diet, lifestyle and herbal remedies.

For all women, you can stop taking the pill at any time.  You will have a withdrawal bleed, and then the next couple of months will involve your body reawakening the pathways of hormone communication between your brain and your ovaries.  This may only take a month for some women; for others, it may take longer.

Remembering what your periods were like before going on the pill is the best place to begin.  I recommend incorporating these suggested changes and remedies 6-8 weeks before stopping the pill – this will ensure the smoothest transition.  If you have already gone off the pill, these guidelines still apply.

 

What is Post-Pill Syndrome?

Post pill syndrome is a holistic medicine term that describes a range of symptoms that are common to encounter when you stop the pill. Rather than being a formal medical condition, post-pill syndrome refers to a cluster of symptoms that have been triggered or worsened in the first 4-6 months after stopping the pill.

Post-pill syndrome common symptoms include:

  • loss of menstruation (amenorrhoea) or other menstrual irregularities
  • mood swings
  • acne
  • hair loss
  • thyroid issues
  • fatigue
  • weight gain

 

Cycle disruption and the pill: the chicken or the egg?

The way the pill interacts with your body in very simplified terms is by closing the ovaries communication systems down via synthetic hormones. These synthetic hormones have some significant differences to our own and are potent medications. Many symptoms that arise when you stop the pill are drug withdrawal reactions and will eventually pass.  (Check out this excellent and well-researched article by Dr Aviva Romm for more backstory on this)

If you went on the pill for acne, PCOS, endometriosis or other menstrual irregularities, there is a very high chance that when you stop the medication, these will return, as the root cause has not been addressed.

Another possibility is that the underlying cause developed during the time you were on the pill. This is common if you started the pill at a younger age purely for birth control before your cycles had time to establish themselves or you have been on it for a long time. Remember, while on the pill, you do not have periods. The bleeding you experience is a hormone withdrawal bleed.

Because there is such a wide range of symptoms with many different causes, coming off the pill requires a holistic approach. So let’s have a look at what this may be for you.

 

Getting to the Root Cause of Post-Pill Syndrome

Working with a naturopath or herbalist can be very valuable for uncovering what is at the root of your symptoms and they can recommend relevant blood work, but there is certainly detective work you can do on your own.

What’s your oldest health story?

Think back to before you went on the pill. What was your health like? How were your stress levels? Sleep? Digestion? Skin? What was happening with your period? Were you eating well?

Your answer to these will give you some useful clues to where the imbalance lies.

Gather information

Charting your cycles with the fertility awareness method can provide you with surprising insights into your entire health. You will be able to see how your thyroid is doing, if and when your body is ovulating and provide insights into your oestrogen and progesterone.  It’s an invaluable tool for understanding how your hormones are coming back online after coming off the pill.

I have written a free starters guide to the Fertility Awareness Method complete with charts, so that is a potent place to begin. Pop over here to download your copy.

 

Fortify your Health Pillars before Coming Off the Pill

Nourish and Restore your Nutrients

The pill is known to deplete your levels of:

  • magnesium
  • vitamins B12, B6 and folate,
  • selenium
  • zinc
  • vitamins C and E

Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, modest amounts of pasture-reared (organic if possible) meat and healthy fats (think nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and ghee) is the best place to begin. Once you have these in place, bringing in a good quality B vitamin complex, magnesium and immune nutrient complex (selenium, zinc, vitamins C and E  sare often formulated together) are icing on the cake.

Sleep and stress

Getting enough sleep and keeping your stress in check is essential for hormone balance. Sleep and stress govern your circadian rhythm. And your circadian rhythm is like a conductor and your hormones the orchestra. If the conductor is all over the place, so will the music.

Make sure you’re getting 8 hours or more of sleep and weaving in plenty of rest, relaxation and fun into your days.

Gut healing

If one of your health challenges is digestive discomforts, then this pillar is particularly relevant to you. The synthetic hormones in the pill need to tbe detoxified. The heavy lifting is done firstly by the liver (see below) and secondly by the microflora in your gut – both are central players in your digestive function. Long-term use of the pill can, therefore, put a strain on both. Healing the digestive system is a long game, but if you’re serious about it and stick to it, you can see remarkable improvements very quickly. I’ve written an entire article on how to do just that over here.

Coming off the pill by Clara Bailey Naturopath

Specific Support with Herbal Medicines for Coming Off the Pill

Herbal medicines are a powerful complement to supporting your body when coming off the pill. These are a handful of my favourites:

Womb Nourish

Raspberry leaf and red clover blossom nourishing infusions are a classic combination that I learnt from Susun Weed. The mixture can be used for both regulating your cycle and improving your fertility. Raspberry leaf is rich in nutrients, is a womb tonic and gently balances hormones. Red clover is a cleansing herb and is valuable if you’re experiencing any skin breakouts or rashes after stopping the pill.

Red clover blossoms are also phytoestrogens, which means that they gently interact with your oestrogen receptors, which can help the body transition from the stronger synthetic oestrogen in the pill to your natural oestrogen. If your period hasn’t yet returned, this combination is handy.

The combo is best taken as a tea, 15 grams of each herb added to 1 litre of water off the boil and allowed to sit for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Drink 2-4 cups daily.

Liver & Stress Support

Schisandra berries are excellent medicine for post-pill syndrome and safe to take long-term (but not during pregnancy). They support your liver in detoxifying excess hormones; they help you adapt to stressors and promote focus and energy. Quite the impressive range of virtues for the job!

, If your skin has gone berserk, you find that you are unable to tolerate alcohol, caffeine or strong smells or you experience bloating, constipation or poor appetite, then Schisandra has a lot to offer you. I make an extract in my practice and prescribe 1ml before meals. It is also lovely as tea with a pinch of liquorice root.  I love this video of Deb Soule in the Avena Botanical’s garden in Maine, USA talking so lovingly about Schisandra.

 

Re-establishing Cycles

Vitex, also known as chaste berry, is possibly the most well-known herb for menstrual cycle regulating. She helps to regulate the activity of the ovaries, therefore, regulating the whole menstrual cycle.

The critical thing to know about vitex and post-pill syndrome is not to rush into taking it too soon (I learnt this instrumental principle from naturopath Lara Briden).

Give your body three months to reestablish these lines of communication on their own.  You can start with the raspberry leaf and red clover blossom tea and Schisandra extract. If your period hasn’t returned by then or it’s unregular, then bring vitex into your self-care plan. There is so much to say about this incredible plant, so if you’d like to know more about how she works and dosing, pop over to this article.

 

Transitioning to Natural Birth Control

If you are transitioning to the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), begin educating yourself and get a good handle on the principles before you stop taking the pill.  This shouldn’t take too long –  women I teach will understand within 30 minutes – the mastery comes with the practice.  I’ve written an informative blog post with everything you need to know to get started.  Then I recommend investing in some reference books such as “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler and “The Billings Method” by Dr Evelyn Billings and Ann Westmore.  You need to start charting for 3 consecutive cycles before relying on it as a birth control method.  I also teach a 6-week online course called Moon School which teaches you the method is a very supportive environment.

Tip!  There are a lot of fertility apps and devices out there these days that tout they are a safe and natural method of fertility awareness.  Before you invest in any of them, make sure you read this article I wrote called “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Fertility Apps and Devices”.

If you are transitioning to another form of birth control (i.e. condoms, diaphragm, IUD etc.), make sure you have everything set up and ready to go before going off the pill. With that in mind, let’s launch into the dietary changes, lifestyle practices and natural medicines you can use to support your body:

 

My Periods Were Normal before Going on the Pill

  • Nourish and Restore your Nutrients by eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, modest amounts of pasture-reared (organic if possible) meat and healthy fats (think nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and ghee).
  • Raspberry leaf and nourishing nettle infusion.  To a 1-litre glass jar or teapot, add 1/4 cup each of raspberry leaf and nettle teas and pour over with 1 litre of boiling water.  Allow to steep for 4 hours or overnight.  Drink 2 cups a day (refrigerate the rest for the following day)
  • Take 30 drops (about 1ml) of Schisandra extract in a little water before meals.
  • The above nourishing infusion is rich in many of the nutrients the pill depletes, but if herbal teas are not your thing, you can give your body a boost taking a good quality supplement of:
    • B vitamin complex – 1 a day
    • Magnesium (as citrate or glycinate) – 300mg twice a day
    • Immune nutrient complex (make sure it contains selenium, zinc, vitamins C and E).

 

Coming off the Pill & Irregular Periods

If your period was irregular before going on the pill, they will likely be irregular when you stop.

  • In addition to measures outlined for “normal”, it will be wise to do some investigative work with a naturopath or holistically-minded doctor.  Thyroid imbalances, gluten sensitivity, high prolactin, high androgens, blood sugar and insulin issues and low vitamin D can all be root causes for irregular periods.
  • If you have a formal diagnosis (which means blood work + ultrasound) for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, starting treatment three months before going off the pill is ideal.

 

Holistic Pregnancy Prep Checklist - Blog Opt-In (1)

Coming off the Pill & Heavy Bleeding

  • Follow the guideline for ‘normal.’
  • If you didn’t investigate the causes of your heavy periods before going on the pill, work with a naturopath or holistically-minded doctor to do some digging.  Undiagnosed endometriosis, uterine fibroids, thyroid imbalances and anaemia could each explain the cause of your heavy bleeding.
  • Cut dairy out of your diet.
  • Drink raspberry leaf and ladies mantle infusion.  1/4 cup of each to 1 litre of boiled water and steeped overnight and drink 2 cups daily.
  • When your periods do return, and if they are heavy, take fresh Shepherd’ Purse tincture, 1 ml in a little water every hour until the flow slows.

Coming Off the Pill by Clara Bitcon Bailey Naturopath

Periods Were Painful before Going off the Pill

  • Follow the guidelines for ‘normal’.
  • Avoid chocolate and coffee.
  • Take magnesium glycinate 300mg twice a day during the month, and when your period begins, increase to four times a day.
  • Take high-quality fish oil with high EPA levels – take 1000mg of EPA daily.  If you are vegan or vegetarian, take 1000mg of evening primrose oil daily instead (or one teaspoon).
  • Combine the Schisandra with an equal part Motherwort to have throughout the month, 2ml three times a day.
  • Add 0.5-1ml of cramp bark extract to your raspberry and nettle infusion and increase your intake to four cups throughout your period.

 

I Experienced PMS

  • Follow the guidelines for ‘normal’.
  • Out of the supplement options, take magnesium and B6 combination (Bioceuticals’ UltraMuscleze P5P is useful here).
  • Take an iodine supplement, 1000mcg a day (if you have thyroid issues, check with a naturopath first).
  • Combine the Schisandra with an equal part Motherwort to have throughout the month, 2ml three times a day.
  • If you also experience premenstrual migraines, add Wood Betony to the above mix.  This means you’ll have 30ml of each Schisandra, Motherwort and Wood Betony and take 3ml three times a day in a little water.
  • Also, I invite you to explore the psycho-spiritual dimensions of PMS also.  

 

I Experienced Tender Breasts Leading up to my Period

  • Follow the guidelines for ‘normal’.
  • Eat seaweed!  Think arame, wakame or nori strips added to soups and salads.  Nori snacks.  Add kombu to soup stocks.  Gomascio and dulse flakes are tasty condiments.
  • Take an iodine supplement, 1000mcg a day(if you have thyroid issues, check with a naturopath first).
  • Raspberry leaf and red clover or violet leaves nourishing infusion,1/4 cup of each to 1 litre of boiled water and steeped overnight and drink 2 cups daily.
  • To your Schisandra extract, add 5% poke root extract (i.e. in a 100ml bottle you’ll have 95ml Schisandra and 5ml Poke) and take 30 drops three times a day.

 

I’m Concerned my Acne Will Come Back After Coming Off the Pill

Start all of the following 6-8 weeks before coming off the pill:

  • Avoid sugar and dairy.  If you experience regular digestive issues, cut out wheat products too.
  • Focus on eating foods from the broccoli and cabbage family: broccoli sprouts, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, saurkraut etc.
  • Make a nourishing infusion by combining all of these skin, blood, liver, bowel and kidney cleansing herbs and adding 1/2 cup of the mix to 4 cups of boiled water and drink 2-3 cups a day.
    • 2 parts nettle
    • 2 parts clivers or red clover
    • 1 part calendula
    • 1 part Oregon grape root
    • 1/4 part licorice (optional)
  • Take a zinc supplement (in citrate or glycinate form) – 30-50mg a day after food.
  • If your acne was cystic before going on the pill, add Oregon grape root to your Schisandra extract – equal parts of both, and take 2ml before meals.

 

What to do if after 3 months off the pill your cycle and symptoms have not improved?

At this point, if you have not yet got your period or if it is excessively heavy or painful, some more in-depth investigation with a naturopath or holistically-minded doctor will help you uncover the root cause.  This is also the time to try taking Vitex (Chasteberry) as a beautiful hormone regulator.  The reason I don’t recommend taking it earlier is to allow the body the chance to fall into its rhythm first.

I am quite particular with my dosing of vitex and have found that the following has worked the best in most cases.  Take 20 drops in a little water (or one tablet) upon waking. Keep it in your bathroom, and it will be easy to remember. It is best to try to take it around the same time each morning. After ovulation increase to 40 drops (or two tablets) – learning the fertility awareness method will give you a very clear idea of when this is.  If you’re not sure when this is, make the switch around the halfway point of your cycle. When you begin bleeding, stop taking. Once bleeding has stopped, resume again. It may sound complicated, but once you’re in the swing, it’s nice and easy. Occasionally some women can get frontal headaches, in these cases decrease the dose to 5-10 drops.

 

A Final Word on Coming Off the Pill

Like all health decisions, this is about choice and having all the facts available to you so you can make an informed decision. It’s essential that you enter a judgment-free space with any of your healthcare practitioners (make sure you choose your team wisely!). If you’re working with anyone that is pushing you to either be on it or off it, I would carefully reconsider. 

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A Naturopath’s Guide for Coming off the Pill by Clara Bailey, Naturopath and Herbalist

Fertility & Conception

July 7, 2021

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