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Birth Control Pills For Painful Periods?

From Our Mailbag:

Our doctor is recommending that our teenage daughter be put on birth control medication to remedy anaemia and pain with periods. Can you tell us about the health implications of putting young girls on birth control pills?

- A reader from New Zealand


In general, my experiences have led me to believe that it is best to avoid birth control pills whenever possible. Not because of any major short term concerns; more because of long term health considerations.

Birth control pills are xenoestrogens, which are man-made chemicals that can mimic or amplify the physiological effects of the different types of estrogen that are produced naturally in our bodies.

Long term exposure to xenoestrogens can lead to a physiological state called estrogen dominance, which refers to having too much estrogen and/or too little progesterone.

Review Of Estrogen and Progesterone Output During a Healthy Monthly Cycle

From the onset of puberty to menopause, a woman's body is designed to have estrogen and progesterone work together to fuel and regulate her monthly cycle.

The bulk of estrogen is released into a woman's blood circulation during the first half of her monthly cycle. Estrogen works to build the lining of a woman's uterus to prepare it for implantation of a fertilized egg should fertilization occur.

The bulk of progesterone is released into a woman's blood stream during the second half of a healthy monthly cycle. During this time, progesterone acts to maintain the rich lining of the uterus that estrogen helped to build up during the first two weeks of her cycle.

If a fertilized egg successfully implants into the uterine wall i.e. if a woman becomes pregnant, her body must continue to produce a large amount of progesterone on a continuous basis to maintain a thick and well vascularized uterine wall throughout the course of pregnancy. This job of continuous progesterone production is handled nicely by a healthy placenta.

If there is no implantation/pregnancy, a woman's body stops producing large amounts of progesterone, which results in sloughing off and elimination of the thickened uterine lining, also known as a woman's monthly flow.

This cycle repeats itself about once every month until a woman experiences menopause, with estrogen dominating the first half of each cycle, and progesterone dominating the second half.

When young girls and premenopausal women are continuously exposed to birth control pills and other xenoestrogens, this delicate balance between estrogen and progesterone production can be disrupted. More specifically, some females who are exposed to birth control pills for many years become estrogen dominant; they have too much estrogen or too little progesterone in their bodies.

According to Dr. John Lee, author of What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause, some common health conditions that are associated with being estrogen dominant are:

  • Chronic headaches
  • Unexplained depression, anxiety, and irritability
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Endometriosis
  • Polycystic ovaries
  • Weight gain (fat tissue around the hips and legs)
  • Irregular menstrual cycle

Here is a comprehensive look at the most common causes of estrogen dominance:

  1. Exposure to Xenoestrogens

    Significant sources of xenoestrogens:

    • Birth control pills
    • Hormone replacement drugs
    • Condom spermicides
    • Conventional personal care products, particularly cosmetics
    • Plastic cookware
    • Growth hormones found in factory-farmed animal products
    • Pesticides and herbicides
    • DDT
    • PCBs - polychlorinated biphenyls
    • Foaming agents in soaps and detergents
  2. Being Overweight

    Estrogen is produced in three different areas of the body:

    • Ovaries (testicles in men)
    • Adrenal glands
    • Fat cells

    That's right. Estrogen is produced by fat cells. The more fat cells a person has, the greater chance he or she has of experiencing estrogen dominance.

  3. Chronic Stress

    When a person experiences chronic physical and/or emotional stress, his or her body will begin to convert progesterone into the stress hormone, cortisol. In fact, we now know that a woman who experiences significant stress during pregnancy can actually draw upon her baby's progesterone stores to manufacture enough cortisol to deal with her stress. The point is, stress can lead to a depletion of progesterone, which creates the same condition of estrogen dominance that a woman experiences when she has too much estrogen in her system.

To bring all of this back to the original question about having young girls take birth control pills to address painful periods and associated anemia from excessive blood loss, I recommend taking the following steps with one's food and lifestyle choices before resorting to taking birth control medication:

  1. Strive to avoid unnecessary exposure to xenoestrogens. Study the list of xenoestrogens provided above and do your best to avoid them.
  2. Because fat cells produce estrogen, reaching and maintaining your ideal body weight by losing excess body fat can help to prevent estrogen dominance.
  3. Exercise regularly. Doing so can decrease stress, which can effectively prevent "progesterone drainage" that might be occurring due to a greater-than-normal demand for the stress hormone, cortisol. Regular exercise can also help to ensure that excess fat cells are not contributing to estrogen dominance.
  4. Finally, estrogen dominance must be addressed in part by making a conscious and consistent effort to manage emotional stressors effectively.

My experience has been that young girls and premenopausal women who follow the steps outlined above tend to experience a significant reduction in menstrual flow-related discomfort.


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Dear Mother of Teenage Girl,
I would like to suggest you never allow your child take those pills, especially she being of a tender age.
When I was that young my doctors also recommended the tablets, and I did take them unfortunately. I was and still am very sensitive to drugs and I suffered from all the symptoms Dr Ben Kim mentioned above. The depression lasted especially long, and nobody knew why it was. Only later we figured out that it was because of the chemicals. It took my body over two years to get rid of the long-lasting effects. Some women may be less sensitive but it is NOT WORTH IT to try.
Some people recommend essential oils for menstrual discomfort, like Clary Sage and others, maybe you would like to researc it.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006 10:10:03 AM
HomeSchoolMom said...

I agree with Dr. Kim and with the anonymous lady who wrote in. Taking birth control pills is NOT worth the risk. Unfortunately, I also took them for 4 months, when my husband and I were first married. I honestly believe I would have died if I'd continued. I had headaches, numbness, blurred vision, muscle spasms that made it almost impossible to climb a flight of stairs (the muscle in the back of my legs pushed downwards as I tried to climb upwards), I gained 20 pounds, and had anxiety attacks!! I'm sure not everyone reacts this violently - but I can also tell you that my gyn assured me that NONE of this was caused by the birth control pills, so my symptoms, and I'm sure many other women's sypmtoms, were never reported as being caused by taking them.

I've heard that taking calcium and magnesium will alleviate the cramps.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006 10:51:55 AM
Kathi said...

When my daughter was 16 she had very bad cramps for the first day of her periods, so bad she couldn't go to school. Our chiropractor (female) said that it could be caused by an excess of estrogen. The remedy was for her to use topical progesterone cream twice a day, starting on day 14 and stopping on day 28 (or sooner if she started her period early) . Her next period was pain free and she only had to repeat this for 1 more cycle, then her own body got back to normal. The diet changes are helpful, too, but not followed as much as you'd like (by a teenager).
Tuesday, July 04, 2006 11:29:48 AM
Anonymous said...

"Been there, done that, and I do NOT recommend it!"

My mother had the doctor put me on birth control, to help with pain, cramping, clotting & irregularity. Several years of birth control pills resulted in horrible headaches, lots of doctor visits and large doses of ibuprofen and other drugs to try to relieve the headache pain. I stopped taking birth control pills. Then I found out I had fibroid tumors, inability to get pregnant, endometriosis, times of depression, and more tumors. These results showed up over a period of time, AFTER DISCONTINUING THE PILLS.

I later learned that natural supplements and a good diet helped immensely...after I had been off of birth control pills for a couple of years. Borage oil and/or evening primrose oil helped to lessen PMS symptoms and lessened my cramping and clotting, but the tumors necessitated an emergency hysterectome for I was never able to have a baby.

Doctors don't always help us prevent illness and get healthier. We see them after we're in bad shape, and they try to cut out the problems or treat with drugs, and the side effects cause more problems. If I could go back, I would start EARLY with the natural supplements and good diet, and take hot showers, use a heating pad, exercise more, and avoid all drugs, including advil and birth control pills!

Now I have experienced many wonderful benefits of taking a good foundation of multi-vitamins, fish oil, calcium & magnesium. There are so many companies trying to capitalize on the health & natural supplement market. There are a lot of useless products available, and they didn't help me when I tried them. Since I started getting Shaklee products a few years ago, I got healthier, because they are safe and effective. Shaklee scientists do tons of research and the company has very high standards of testing for purity. Good, pure nutrition can do wonders for our bodies.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006 1:06:07 PM
Anonymous said...

Dear Teen Mom,
My daughter's first cycle day also was extremely uncomfortable with terrible cramps (she'd scream in agony!); and her PMS was unbearable for all. An allergist suggested she lessen her diet of wheat and dairy to see if it helped, and it DID!

On a similar note: Fast forward two years and many symptoms/doctors later: I found out I've had celiac disease my entire life and without the "usual" symptoms (the villi in the small intestine blunt in response to the gliadin in gluten from wheat, rye, barley, oats, etc). We have an appointment for my daughter to get tested.

What I found very helpful after diagnosis was reading anecdotal stories from other celiacs. It's AMAZING the spectrum of symptoms. Consider searching the internet.

My best to you both.
Another Teen Mom
Tuesday, July 04, 2006 2:46:23 PM
Anonymous said...

I respect Dr. Kim and the insight provided by the other posters, but as someone who has immensely benefited from the use of birth control for debilitating cramping and spotting during ovulation, please don't paint a picture that all birth control and its use is bad. I’ve tried all of the natural remedies as well as following health suggestions such as on Dr. Kim’s blog, and it wasn’t enough. The bottom line is that just as there are many women who have problems with the birth control hormones, there are many women, including myself, that have had a very positive experience and received significant health benefits while using birth control to help alleviate a variety of menstrual symptoms.

There are many birth control options if you find one that doesn't work for you, in addition to low-dose estrogen options. I also agree that there are some women that simply cannot tolerate birth control. While I absolutely concur that underlying issues such as overall health, diet, body weight and other hormones play a direct part in reproductive health and must be addressed, to say that the birth control option must be avoided at all costs just doesn't work and isn't accurate for many women (of all ages).
Tuesday, July 04, 2006 5:49:04 PM
Anonymous said...

As someone who is currently in the process of altering my lifestyle to reduce xenoestrogens, I can attest to the fact that for me, making these changes has tremendously impacted how I feel. I cut out all refined white sugar and caffeine in addition to working to avoid the listed xenoestrogens and the intense PMS symptoms I was experiencing with uterine fibroids have completely gone away. So far the fibroids haven't, but I believe that as I continue to root out the xenoestrogens (and also phytoestrogens) that in time they will and if not, at least I feel better.
I don't know how birth control effects everyone, but when I was young, naive and newly married, I used it the first year and it did make me feel horrible. I had been regular and it caused me to be very irregular and to have increased PMS. Different things work for different people, but I would definitely try other natural alternatives first with my own girls if it were necessary.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006 6:28:26 PM
Anonymous said...

I too had and have terrible menstrual cramps, suffered and suffer from anemia, as well as sciatica and a disturbingly heavy flow. When I was a teenager I was told to take birth control pills for "my condition", which I of course did because I was absolutely miserable. Did they make me feel better? ......absolutely! Twenty years later.... (and a very long story short and many procedures, including an abdominal myomectmy) I have very problematic fibroid as well as a host of other ailments and so far an "issue" with fertility. I can't help but not wonder how much the birth control pills contributed to my situation. I'm currently seeing a chiropractor and an accupuncturist as well as eating a proper diet and exercising. It seems backwards to me that I started with the pills first rather than changing my diet, exercising.... you know trying the more obvious and basic things. I wish my doctor at the time had suggested that first? Who knows whether or not I would be experiencing this now. Just a little food for thought.

Best wishes and Good health
Tuesday, July 04, 2006 8:34:30 PM
Eileen Nah said...

I tried foot reflexology and it works. If it is not so accessible to get to a foot reflexologist, try stepping on different sizes of stone on bare feet to stimulate the nerves on the feet. This is very natural way and it really helps. Try to do it everyday and you should see the difference. In our country usually in the parks the Government will made a path of different sizes of stone, especially some really small ones for the purpose of foot reflexology for the people.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006 9:50:17 PM
Coralily said...

I had terribly painful cramps when I was younger, and I also refused to go on birth control pills, knowing what I did about them in the in the late 1960's. I eventually stumbled upon taking extra vitamin B-6, an additional 50 mg beyond the B complex I took daily. Those 50 mg of B-6 taken for a week before my period became a real godsend, virtually ending the cramping or making it so little that it was entirely manageable. My own daughters have had success using the B-6 as well.
Thursday, July 06, 2006 12:12:16 AM
Anonymous said...

I had terrible menstrual cramps when I was young. They started within my first year of having my period (age 14), and got steadily worse. I threw up from pain nearly every time I had my period, could not participate in sports on the first day or two of the period, and eventually by the time I was 16 or 17 I was missing school as well. I weighed only 100-110 lbs and was taking 1000mg or more of ibprophene to curb the pain. Essentially the pills put me to sleep.

I probably did not have much exposure to xenoestrogens. My diet was reasonable, but not perfect. I exercised every day and was at an extremely healthy, low weight. Though I had an unusually high workload, my stress level was also reasonable.

However, the pain from my periods was unbearable and impossible. I know we didn't try everything to make it better, but for me birth control pills were an excellent solution. Even though I had only had my period for 3 years and so I wasn't a fully mature adult, it was definitely the best solution for me. I experienced minor breast pain for a few months after starting the pill, but NO other side effects. I was given a particularly low dose which could be some of the reason for lack of side effects.

You should not categorically be telling people to not use the pill for painful periods. I appreciate the recommendations of what to do first, but I'm sure that if I had followed all of these (indeed I followed most), the pain still would have been debilitating. It was almost as painful as going through labor, but once I started the pill the pain was gone. Birth control pills worked for me!
Wednesday, July 26, 2006 2:55:56 PM

As a teenager myself...I would tell you that if your daughter is talking about birth control you might want to take the time and listen. I know that I suffer from the worst cramps ever sometimes i couldnt even get up.. I was talking to my mother about getting me on it because I couldnt take the pain but she thought it was for other reason. For me a teenager is going to do what they want even without birth control. I know that some girl yes do want it for that other reason but you just have to hope that you raised your daughter better then that to do that at a young age.

OK, this is an old topic, but I would like to share. I have been taking Dr. Kim's Greens for a couple of months, and what I have noticed I stopped having horrible cramps on the first day. I have been searching for a cure for a long time. First, I tried birth control pills for a few months and my period stopped being consistent. Recently I experimented with nettle and raspberry tea, which stopped my cramps, but shortened my periods to 23-25 days. Then I found this website and bought my first two bottles of Greens. I like the effect. I do feel much better on the first day of my period and do not have to take a sick leave like I used to do.

Has anyone suffered from Premenstrual insomnia? If you have how did you deal with it??

Yes, i have. I take 300 mg of magnesium around day 21 of the menstrual cycle until i menstuate, and take some more in the night if i wake up. Plus a multi B vitamin. I find this helps.

I'm a teenager who was put on birth control for acne, and it made me much more depressed than I was. I cried uncontrollably every night I was on it. I already was dealing with depression, but birth control took it to a whole new level that was impossible to deal with. I wanted to commit suicide for the first time in years. The depression got much better when I stopped taking it. This might not happen to everyone, but I don't suggest birth control unless it's absolutely necessary. It can mess with your body really badly.