Hormonal forms of birth control, including the birth control pill, are among the most popular contraceptive options for women in the United States. Hormonal birth control can be used for many different reasons, including pregnancy prevention, irregular periods, severe and painful cramping, acne, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, and more.
While hormonal forms of birth control offer many benefits for women suffering from any of these conditions or wanting to prevent pregnancy, they can also have unintended side effects on your overall health, including the function of your thyroid.
What is hypothyroidism?
An estimated 4.6 percent of people ages 12 and older in the United States have some form of hypothyroidism. Women are considered much more likely than men to develop hypothyroidism, and the problem is much more common in people ages 60 and older, but what is hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a health condition in which the thyroid gland is underactive and does not produce enough of certain types of hormones. Over time, this can cause a number of health problems to develop, but many people do not experience any symptoms at first.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism tend to develop slowly and are often associated with age, such as fatigue and weight gain.
Signs of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Elevated blood cholesterol level
- Pain, stiffness, or swelling in the joints
- Thinning hair
- Enlarged thyroid gland (goiter)
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle aches, tenderness, and stiffness
- Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
How does birth control affect hypothyroidism?
Hormonal forms of birth control work to prevent pregnancy and treat the health conditions listed above by releasing controlled amounts of estrogen and progesterone, the female sex hormones.
Thyroid hormones work closely with estrogen and progesterone, which regulate the female reproductive cycle, and due to the similarities between synthetic estrogen and progesterone and thyroid hormones, unintended side effects besides the prevention of pregnancy can occur.
Some forms of hormonal birth control have been found to have an effect on thyroid function. A study examining the effects of four different monophasic birth control pills (birth control pills that follow a 28-day cycle and contain three weeks of active pills with the same dose of hormone followed by a week of inactive pills) found that the pills caused elevated levels of T3, T4, and cortisol, which are hormones that affect thyroid function.
The use of hormonal forms of birth control containing estrogen can cause an increase in thyroxine-binding globulin (TBG). TBG is a liver protein that helps to transport hormones throughout the body’s circulatory system. Increased levels of TBG mean that you have less free thyroid hormone, which can impact the amount of thyroid hormone replacement medication that your body needs to maintain proper function.
Additionally, hormonal forms of birth control, including birth control pills, have been found to cause nutritional deficiencies in some women, according to the World Health Organization.
It appears that hormonal forms of birth control impact the body’s ability to absorb nutrients such as folic acid, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. Of these, zinc, selenium, and magnesium are all essential for the production of T4 in the body. Without an adequate supply of zinc, selenium, and magnesium, the body is unable to produce a sufficient amount of T4, which can exacerbate hypothyroidism.
What can you do to minimize the effects of birth control on the thyroid?
Many women need to take hormonal forms of birth control for the treatment of certain health conditions or prevention of pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean that they have to accept undesirable impacts to their thyroid function.
Nutritional supplements formulated to address nutrient deficiencies caused by hormonal forms of birth control can contain therapeutic doses of minerals like zinc, selenium, and magnesium that are essential for thyroid function. Taking a nutritional supplement and eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein can minimize the effects of birth control on the thyroid.
The use of hormonal forms of birth control can cause a disruption to the natural thyroid function and can contribute to or exacerbate symptoms of hypothyroidism.
The Other Pill by Even is a nutritional supplement specifically designed to address nutritional deficiencies caused by hormonal forms of birth control, and can help support healthy thyroid function.