Contraceptive Pills (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plaquettes_de_pilule.jpg)

Walking the hormone tightrope

I decided to publish my story concerning my past 25 year roller-coaster journey with the contraceptive pill.  I took several types of prescribed oral contraceptive pill (including the Depo-Provera contraceptive injection) over a 14-year period from the age of 16, which then took me on a journey to recover from severe B12 deficiency during my 30s.

It is a shame that throughout those 25 years, no-one advised me of the dangers of how damaging it is to use the contraceptive pill/injection without additional hormonal support (like natural progesterone).
This I learned after my B12 deficiency recovery, when I came across a recommendation to use a transdermal cream of natural progesterone to balance out the oestrogen (from contraceptives and the environment) and kick-start my menstrual cycle. I noticed a real transformation after only 1-2 weeks of using the cream and within 3 months I started to ovulate!!

I have used this cream continuously ever since – besides it’s contribution to the health of my reproductive system, oestrogen is all around us in various forms that we cannot control, such as in the environment, plastics, water, etc. There is even some research indicating that men would benefit from using such a cream.

Suffice to say, my experience has taught me to educate myself on all prescribed drugs, hormone treatments and the human body, before taking any kind of remedy (synthesised or natural!).

In terms of over-coming symptoms of illness I have always taken a view that the medical profession is unable to dedicate its resources to work through your medical history and your present ‘life’ situation to devise a long-term programme to better health.  If this was provided I’m sure the whole planet would be buzzing with more satisfaction!  So my view is to look at the symptoms, do some research, talk to people, talk to medical practitioners, have tests, make some lifestyle changes, etc.  The most important thing, in my opinion, is to educate yourself on how your body works and what it needs to function, and then to compare this what you’re doing in your everyday life.  This is at least one avenue that will open many others for help and support.

Contraceptive journey

  • Age 16 (1986 – 87): Started with PMT symptoms and heavy periods. Local GP prescribed the oral contraceptive pill Microgynon 30
  • Age 17: Side-effects of breakthrough bleeding and rashes prompted GP to change Microgynon 30 pill and prescribe Femodene
  • Age 17 – 20: GP continued to prescribe me  Femodene
  • Age 20 – 22: Suffered arthritis-type pain and symptoms. Bedridden on occasion. Walking on crutches most of the time.  Eventually diagnosed with Fibromyalgia by NHS/BUPA Consultant. Prescribed pain-killers, anti-depressants and sleeping pills (used very minimally). Also took prescribed contraceptive pill Femodene.
  • Age 22 – 23: GP changed prescription to Mercilon but I stopped use of contraceptive pills. Fibromyalgia gradually disappears. Changed career direction and learned new skills; chose to be single again (!); health returned so I could travel outside the UK to study. Upon return, restarted on prescribed Mercilon.
  • Age 24 – 25: Used prescribed contraceptive pill Mercilon. Blood clotted heavily throughout cycle whilst at university. GP changes my contraceptive pill to Cilest, one that is not on the ‘high risk of blood clotting’ list. (There was a UK-wide pill scare around this time (late 1995) for some brands of contraceptive pills)
  • Age 26 -27: Continued taking prescribed Cilest early in the year and then changed to the Depo-Provera contraceptive injection for convenience. Put on 2-3 stones in weight in less than a few months (jumped from size 10 to size 16!), felt ‘very male’ emotionally and found the side effects very distressing. Local GP prescribed anti-depressants to remedy this (which I did not take)!
  • Age 27: After no change in side-effects after the second injection of Depo-Provera, I returned to Cilest contraceptive pill usage. Could not lose the extra weight so easily, but succeeded in transforming some into muscle mass when I started a good cycling and gym routine
  • Age 28 – 30: Sudden gradual decline in health: physical weakness and fatigue, dizziness, nausea, paler skin, memory loss, confused thinking, numbness in limbs, prickly sensations in toes… disruptive sleep patterns, anxiety…. which eventually came to being too weak to stand up, frequently faint, memory and thinking extremely poor, headaches, terrible flaking skin, hair falling out, blurring vision… (led to resignation from job and staying indoors in bed)… to be honest I thought I was slowly quietly dying. After seeing several GPs with little result, I saw one new GP at Eynsham Medical Centre, Dr Wong, who was fresh out of medical school. He did a lot of tests on me via the NHS. Results = extremely depleted B12 resources!! The GP provided an urgent programme of B12 injections over 6 weeks, which kick started me back to life, quite literally; I had further B12-related tests to test for common deficiency causes: all these results negative. Also had MRI scan (result normal) and thrombophilia screen (result normal). GP then sought advice from a specialist at Oxford Radcliffe to review my case. I relocated to new geographical area.
  • Age 30 – 31: I had already stopped taking the Cilest contraception pill (I was single). Still on B12 injection programme (injection every 10 weeks). I referred to Ayurveda for diet and exercise. I was much healthier and happier. New job, new apartment, new lease of life!
  • Age 32: In relationship with new partner; GP prescribed contraceptive pill Cilest. After just 2 months, I started with all the familiar symptoms for a B12 deficiency. My new GP checked through my medical history and found a letter addressed to my previous GP from the specialist at Oxford Radcliffe hospital, based on the case review, stating “[the patient] probably does not have B12 malabsorption and probably therefore we can explain her low B12 on the oral contraceptive pill.”  My GP was amazed to read this letter since she had just prescribed the pill to me some weeks before – based on these findings, we agreed the pill was no longer an option of contraception for me, and we also changed my B12 injection programme (to every 8 weeks) and committed to test B12 levels continually to ensure they remained stable.
  • Age 33 – 36: Following on from taking no contraceptive medication at all, I still had very irregular menstrual cycles and heavy PMT, the usual candida issues that thwarts contraceptive pill use and mild claustrophobia. GP recommended a diet change for candida, which I did with good results for general health, but with no resolution for the other symptoms.
  • Age 37 – 38: A continuation of irregular menstrual cycles and PMT, plus night sweats, anxiety attacks, dry skin and hair, low energy, weight fluctuations and moodiness.  Following a B12 test taken by my GP – result was ‘normal’ – I replaced B12 injections with sub-lingual B12 anyway and practiced yoga. Started to look for new research on B12 deficiencies and contraceptive pill, and re-educated myself on the body systems – in particular the reproductive system and hormones!
  • Age 38.5: A continuation of very irregular menstrual cycles, bad PMT, night sweats, anxiety attacks, dry skin and hair, low energy, moodiness, weight fluctuations, etc. Thinking I may be entering early menopause(!), I read Premenopause: Balance Your Hormones and Your Life from Thirty to Fifty(1), from which I realised I was most likely having anovulatory periods (not producing an egg but having menstrual bleeding(2))!!!  I also realised that I had been suffering from ‘oestrogen dominance’ for most of my life, most likely thanks to the length of time taking prescribed contraceptive pills/injections.  I started using a transdermal cream of natural progesterone to balance out the oestrogen and kick-start my menstrual cycle (I also created a chart to monitor progress and recorded progress). Using a pea-sized portion of cream daily, applied to different non-fatty areas around the body from Day 12 to Day 26ish of the cycle, I noticed a real transformation in 1-2 weeks:  the night sweats, anxiety and panic attacks stopped. Within 3 months: my weight steadied from size 14 to size 10/12 and there was less water retention; my skin and hair improved; and I started to ovulate!!
  • Age 39.5: Much much healthier, happier and energetic. Regular ‘real’ menstrual cycle. Steady body weight and still size 12. Continue to use transdermal cream of natural progesterone for only half the month now to gently support the cycle. Now a very happy Bunny!
  • Age 43: Still very healthy and feeling younger than my years! Ovulation and menstrual cycle are like clockwork, with no PMS. No symptoms of B12 deficiencies and overall I have very good health. Metabolism and weight very balanced, and wearing size 10 with a physique more akin to my late teens (less curves!). Energy levels very high and enjoying a highly creative and productive life! Still using natural progesterone cream, taking daily B12 vitamins, as well as other supplements for my veggie diet. And still a happy bunny!

This article is in gratitude to a very tenacious GP, Dr Wong, based at Eynsham Medical Centre at the time, and his enquiry with several medical specialists at Oxford Radcliffe hospital, who collectively contributed to my road to recovery.

(1) As for the book, I’d say its vital to any woman who has taken any kind of oestrogen inclusive hormone therapy (inc. contraceptive pills, etc.), or is reaching her mid 30’s, or is reaching pre/peri/post menopause, or who just wants to understand their female body better!
(2) The explanation is quite simple: if you count Day 1 as the first day of your period, the first two weeks of your cycle are dedicated to oestrogen activity (and this is when levels of oestrogen are high).  When the egg is released ‘unfertilised’, progesterone is produced immediately afterwards (which amongst many important functions, one is to lower the oestrogen levels over the last 14 days of the cycle) so you can ovulate again and be ready for possible ‘fertilisation’. However, if you don’t ovulate (create an egg) then you don’t create progesterone, ending up with what they call ‘oestrogen dominance’ – on top of this, stress, chemicals, environment, etc. can also raise oestrogen levels to make matters worse.  Same with contraceptive pills, implants, injections, etc. – you don’t ovulate with these hormone treatments and therefore don’t produce the main source of progesterone(3) to balance the oestrogen levels in your body. These symptoms are also obviously similar to women when they start to reach menopausal years and ovulation eventually stops – interestingly, some GPs prescribe HRT for this which is more oestrogen!! From what I’ve read on forums there seems to be millions of women out there of all ages, in different stages of their lives, getting no support from GPs and suffering anything from mild PMT to suicide.
(3) There are other locations in the body where progesterone is produced, like the adrenal glands, but these aren’t effective on their own without the main source.  The production of progesterone also reduces as we age.  Adding an additional source of progesterone helps out here.

Originally published: Saturday, July 10th, 2010 at 23:31 in Living matter, Monologues

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2 Responses to “The contraceptive pill and B12 deficiency”

  1. Shell says:

    I have just been prescribed a course of B12 injections as my B12 level is abnormally low. My GP does not understand why it is and I’m adament it is because of the pill (I’m on Mercilon). He wasn’t buying it, however he has agreed to change my contraception to Cerazette to see if it is. Funnily enough my friend is on Mercilon and is also undergoing a course of B12 injections.

    • Dear Shell, thank you for your sharing your recent experience here; this page is visited is a lot, which makes me think that perhaps there is some interest ‘out there’ in the connection between abnormally low B12 levels and the contraceptive pill/injection. For anyone in such a situation as ourselves, its critical to have a GP that will listen and be open-minded to new research as well as revising their approach to solving new problems. The impact of the contraception revolution has brought many positive changes, but this should not overshadow the health issues reported by contraceptive pill users.
      Anyhow, I hope you start to feel much better after your initial course of B12 injections and please feel free to contact me again as you wish.

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