In the last article ‘How to Safely Come off of Oral Contraceptives (the pill) – Part 1’ we looked at overcoming acne and how to achieve your regular cycle back. This article is going to give you the solutions to overcome heavy periods and painful periods but also how to come off hormonal contraception if your aim is to make babies!
Heavy periods are not only annoying but they can be extremely embarrassing. But what is normal? The normal duration of a period should be between 4-6 days in length and on average lose about 30mL of blood, which is about 2 tablespoons. Blood loss exceeding 80mL is considered abnormal and requires investigations. Ok so that’s great but you’re thinking how on earth do I measure my menstrual blood loss – essentially it should equate to fewer than 16 full tampons.
If you went on hormonal contraception to control heavy bleeding then chances are that it will return soon after stopping. That is because hormonal contraception doesn’t fix hormonal imbalances, it just masks the problem. Kind of like a stain on the carpet: you can put a rug over the top so no one can see it but as soon as you remove the rug the stain is still there. So how do you combat heavy bleeding when stopping the pill?
Two months before coming off the pill, begin:
Dairy free diet – will reduce inflammation and lighten the period. It is important that you avoid all cow’s milk products including milk, cheese, ice cream, yoghurt etc. Instead opt for goat’s or sheep’s milk products and coconut yoghurt.
Get your thyroid tested – Recent research has shown that hypothyroidism is linked to heavy periods and treatment with thyroid medication has shown to decrease menstrual blood loss. When getting your thyroid function tested it is important that you get thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), free T4 and free T3 tested. Most doctors just test TSH which only shows us a fraction of the picture.
Get your iron levels tested – Not only is low iron a causative factor of heavy periods but heavy periods can cause low iron. Therefore, before stopping hormonal contraception it is best to identify if low iron levels are a causative factor for your heavy periods. If iron levels are low use a chelated iron supplement (like an amino acid chelate) take it before bed and avoid taking it at the same time as other mineral supplements. Note: Never take an iron supplement without first having a blood test to test to confirm your levels.
Turmeric – the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric have shown to reduce menstrual blood loss by up to 40% in women with excess bleeding. I recommend taking a standardised extract that contains 100mg of curcumin daily and then increasing the dose at menstruation if you also suffer pain with your heavy bleeding.
Once you have stopped the pill it is time to start clearing out the excess oestrogen…
Clear excess oestrogens – Oestrogen levels within the body determines the thickness of the endometrium and therefore determines how much blood will be lost when you have your period. As a result, excess oestrogen will cause heavy periods (see 9 signs your struggling with excess oestrogen and how to fix it).
Consider Indole-3-carbinol – is a compound found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cabbage that helps detoxify excess oestrogens out of the body, like those found in the pill. It can be taken as a supplement or you can increase your consumption of cruciferous vegetables.
If after 3 months you are still struggling with heavy menstruation than speak with your doctor about further investigations for fibroids, endometriosis or adenomyosis.
The dreaded period pains! Most women have experienced period pain in their life but, although it is common, it is not normal! Don’t let the fear stop you from coming off hormonal birth control, it’s time to kick it to the curb. Pain is driven by inflammation so to combat period pain it is all about reducing inflammation within the body, here is how…
2 months before stopping hormonal contraception….
Dairy free diet – Dairy is very inflammatory to the body so avoiding cow’s dairy is crucial to avoiding period pain. Going dairy free means avoiding all cow’s milk and products including yoghurt, cheese, ice cream and milk but goat’s or sheep’s dairy products are fine. If you have endometriosis I would recommend avoiding all dairy including goat’s and sheep’s dairy too.
Zinc – Hormonal contraception contributes to a lot of nutritional deficiencies particularly zinc so chances are your levels will be pretty low. Zinc has an anti inflammatory action and therefore helps prevent and reduce pain. I recommend getting your zinc levels tested with an oral zinc taste test and if they are low take 25mg of zinc daily for three months before retesting.
Turmeric – It’s not just for heavy periods. The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric have shown to be very beneficial in the treatment of period pain. I recommend taking a standardised extract that contains 100mg of curcumin daily and then increasing the dose at menstruation.
Fish oil – Fish oil is nature’s anti-inflammatory. Aim for 4g of fish oil per day, if you don’t eat a lot of salmon and oily fish you may need to take a fish oil supplement.
Magnesium – similar to zinc and fish oil, magnesium helps reduce prostaglandins (the compounds in the body that cause pain). If your period pain is better when you use a heat pack or it feels like cramping muscles then magnesium is vital. Start taking magnesium before stopping hormonal contraception to try and boost your body’s levels that have been depleted by the artificial hormones. Aim for 300mg of magnesium per day and more during menstruation if need be.
Period pain responds very quickly to treatment therefore if you are still experiencing pain after 3 months of treatment it is best to speak with your doctor for further investigation for endometriosis or similar.
So, you have decided to come off hormonal contraception to start trying for a baby! What an exciting time! If you are stopping hormonal contraception to make babies I recommend waiting at least 6 months before trying to conceive. This gives your body time to detoxify out all the artificial hormones and gives you time to rebuild your nutrient stores, which the artificial hormones have depleted, in preparation for growing a baby (because you will need as many nutrients as possible).
As the egg takes about 90 days to mature, the egg that is growing today is the egg you will ovulate in 3 months’ time. Therefore, building your nutritional stores is essential for a healthy egg. Once you stop the pill you need to start taking…
Pregnancy multivitamin – A pregnancy-specific multivitamin contains all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to make healthy hormones and to grow a baby. Look for one that contains iodine (for brain development), vitamin D (for hormone health) and at least 500mcg of folate (to prevent spina bifida and neural tube defects). It also needs have all the B vitamins for energy production.
Fish oil – is essential for making hormones and reducing inflammation, which has a negative impact on your fertility. Focus on at least 2g of fish oil per day and make sure you purchase a good quality fish oil as cheap fish oils often contain high levels of heavy metals and pesticides!
Zinc – Hormonal contraception depletes the body of zinc and zinc is vital for hormone production, particularly progesterone, which is your fertility hormone. It also helps reduce stretch marks in pregnancy and prevents tearing during labour. I recommend getting your zinc levels tested with an oral zinc taste test and if they are low, take 25mg of zinc daily for three months before retesting.
Consider St Mary’s thistle and dandelion – These are herbs that support liver detoxification, which will help clear the artificial hormones out of your system quicker and help your hormones return to their natural balance sooner. These are best taken for 2 months post stopping hormonal contraception.
A little bit of forward planning can make the transition off hormonal contraception a smooth and symptom-free process. A natural menstrual cycle shouldn’t be feared. With the right steps you can achieve a period that just arrives quietly and as symptom-free as possible!