Natural Birth Control Options – Prevent Pregnancy Naturally
By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Learn all about the different methods and approaches to preventing pregnancy naturally. Gain information about the ovulation cycle of women and how it is affected by different methods such as the rhythm method, barrier method which includes use of condoms, cervical cap, IUD, and the chemical method which is by use of the birth control pill. Find out about the pros and cons of each and combination of approaches and determine which one works for you.
I have lots of female patients that are inquiring about this. Also their male counterparts who is trying to figure out ways that they can prevent pregnancy without having a whole bunch of synthetic hormones in the body. So we have the conventional approach, which we’ll talk about today and we’ll also compare that some of the natural approaches and figure out what works best for you. At least give you the options that you can make a better decision.
Three Methods to Prevent Pregnancy:
1. Rhythm method (time-based)
2. Barrier methods (condoms, cervical caps, diaphragms and IUDs)
3. Chemical methods (birth control pills)
Whether they’re a synthetic estrogen or progesterone-based, we’re going to go through this one by one. So off the bat, we have the rhythm method. First thing with the rhythm method is you have to know what your cycle is like.
A typical cycle is going to be about 28 days long, on average. If we draw this out, 28 to 0, that gives you a good frame of reference. And we’re going to use the red for the estrogen. The first half of the cycle you’re going to see, estrogen kind of pop-up a bit. Then it drops off the last half of the cycle, like so.
Progesterone is going to be blue here. You’re going to see progesterone comes up, right about here in the middle of the cycle and then falls off here at the end. So you could see here, first part of the cycle right here- the start, this part here is going to be the follicular phase- put an f and x to it. And this part over here will be the luteal phase.
Estrogen predominates in the first half. Progesterone predominates in the second half- really important. Now ovulation, the primary in which pregnancy can occur, is going to happen right here, right in the middle. This is the money right here. That’s the money shot. And that’s where the sperm and the egg have to meet at the same time. And that’s going to be where that happens.
So knowing that, what we do based on that information? If we have about 2 to 3 day window here, so about 2-3 days here, and we know sperm can live about 5 days – 5 to 7, essentially. We have a 5 to 7, plus three-day window here. Essentially, we got about 10 days a month a woman could potentially be fertile if sex happens beforehand. Because if ovulation’s already happened, it wouldn’t matter if sperm came in here because the hormonal timing is now passed. But If we have sperm in here ahead of time, they could easily get in, fertilize that egg. And a baby would be on its way, so to speak.
We have about 10 days of fertility a month – 10 days. And again, it really takes someone knowing their cycle. I recommend a female having at least six cycles, whether within at least a day or two. So they kind of know where that ovulation is.
Three things to note when using the rhythm method:
- Drop in temperature
- Increase in temperature following the drop
- Increase in cervical mucus production
A couple things you can do to figure that out is a great app called Kindara on the iPhone. And the first thing that you can do, is you can track your temperatures first thing in the morning. You will first notice a drop in temperature. And second thing you’re going to know that you’re already into ovulation, is you’re going to notice an increase in temperature following the drop.
So it’s the drop first. The increase, second. And this kind of means you’re already in the middle of ovulation here. We’re already ovulating here. And the last thing would be also noticing some cervical mucus, kind of like an egg yolk kind of consistency. So those will be the three categories that you would use while you’re in your cycle to kind of confirm that you’re moving along in the right direction. You can also do an ovulation test which measures luteinizing hormone. It’s part of the brain signaling that increases progesterone which is part of that increase in temperature there.
When to use the rhythm method
You can do the rhythm method and use it to avoid sex during this time frame here to here. The big thing is you have to make sure you don’t come in too soon after. So typically, day 10 to day 20, or day 8-18 is pretty safe. And if you’re on the fence, you can use a condom and/or various barrier methods if you’re within a day or two and you’re kind of uncertain about it. Barrier methods or as we said the rhythm method works about 88% of the time. So just be very mindful. It’s not perfect. If your cycle is inconsistent or you’re more on the unhealthy size from a hormone perspective, you may want to look at combining a condom or barrier method along with that. That’s the rhythm method there.
THE BARRIER METHOD
So with the barrier method, we have a couple standard ones here. You have your condom, which will protect you from STD’s as well. Well that’s a male counterpart, right there. The others will be all female counterparts.
There’s a pill that we’re using. It’s not quite out yet, but it’s decreasing FSH for men which then creates spermatogenesis downstream. I’m not sure how much I feel about that yet. Not an update on it, but it’s something. It’s coming out – the male version of the pill.
So condoms are going to be the first one. Again, this will actually protect against STD, which is good. The others won’t.
Cervical Cap / Diaphragm
You’re going to have your cervical cap / diaphragm, kind of similar. And that’s just the barrier. Basically, it’s blocking the cervix where the sperm would come in from the cervix into the uterine lining or into the uterus. It basically caps that off and blocks it. So you have the cervical cap and the diaphragm.
It basically sits in the uterus here and prevents the egg from implanting. That’s how the idea works. It is effective of disrupting implantation of the egg, so the egg can’t come in there and stick. We have barriers: condom, cervical cap, diaphragm, IUD. So couple things here. This is going to be something the guy can use. Also protects the STD’s there, too.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the barrier method
Cervical cap and diaphragm are great because they can be combined with the condoms. So you have a barrier method on the male side, a barrier method on the female side, which provides really good, extra coverage. The only thing is you got to put all these things in. You can’t let these things stick. You got to put them on before sexual intercourse or foreplay. So you’re going to know to do that ahead of time. 1-2-3.
The IUD is nice because it’s always there. So you don’t have to plan it ahead of time. The main one that we recommend would be the Paragard IUD. That’s going to be a copper based IUD. You have to worry about some copper issue with that. But, I mean it’s not going to be the Marina which is the progesterone, synthetic progesterone IUD. So it’ll be a copper IUD and it’s always going to be there. Some women, it can create bleeding issues. You got to figure out if it’s right for you or not. You may want to try it and see if it works well from a symptomatic standpoint, but that’s always going to be in there.
Combining IUD and Condoms
A lot of times you can do an IUD, you can combine with condoms or if you don’t want to do the IUD because of side effects or you’re worried about the copper issues, you can combine the barrier method with the condom method and then you got a really good shot. And you can also just do the condom method. That’s still going to be good, 90%+ of the time. If you combine them, obviously you get even better coverage. That gives you the barrier method there. So you have the rhythm, and again you can use all these and combine them with the rhythm method during that 10-day time frame at your hormonally sensitive for ovulation and for fertility and pregnancy. So these can be combined with the rhythm method.
THE CHEMICAL METHOD
So with the chemical method, let’s talk about the birth control pill. The birth control pill, in general, works by inhibiting ovulation by decreasing feedback loops in the brain. So real quick, we have our brain. And we have from the brain, we have our hypothalamus and our pituitary, and that produces a compound down here. We have FSH on one side and LH on the other side and that talks to the gonads. This case, that’s the ovaries. The males, it’s that the testes. So these various feedback loops here. And LH and FSH are really important.
Luteineizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
The LH in a female helps to increase progesterone levels which are responsible for cervical mucus. And FSH helps grows the follicle and also helps thicken the endometrial lining so the egg can implant. So does the LH as well. If we decrease these, we decrease them by taking the birth control pill. It’s going to increase more cervical mucus before ovulation, so it makes it harder for the egg to get in there. That’s going to be the synthetic progesterones. And then the FSH is going to make the endometrial lining thinner. The endometrial lining will get thinner with the FSH being lower and the cervical mucus will get thicker with the LH being lower. Synthetic progesterone will increase cervical mucus. These synthetic estrogen will actually thin out the uterine lining and have effects.
So number one, it’s going to be harder for the egg to get into the uterus. Number two, it’s going to be harder for the egg to implant into the uterine lining because deep lining will be thinner. And that’s the general idea for the most part, a woman’s going to be be taking 21 days of pills.
Types of pills
Typically, it may be a combo of estrogens and progesterone and synthetic ones. So not estrogen, but synthetic estrogens and not just progesterone, but synthetic progesterone. Maybe a combo a lot of times, it’s going to be a ethanyl-estradiol like a Yasmine kind of thing. Or it may be a combo that has synthetic estrogen and progesterone.
Sometimes if there’s side effects, though, we’ll give women progestins throughout the month as well. Those got to be taken exactly at the exact time everyday. Less flexibility with those than the regular ones. But again, 21 days typically of pills, followed by seven days of reminder pills, which are basically just dummy pill, so your hormone levels can drop. Because it’s the drop in hormones that signals the uterine lining to shed and does it all again.
Again, birthcontrol pills- what is it doing? High amount of estrogen and progesterone. The high amount of estrogen and progesterone drops the LH and the FSH. And when that’s dropped, what happens is, thicker cervical mucus cap, sperm can get up there- that’s from the LH. We have a thinner uterine lining from the FSH and the estrogen’s behind which makes it hard for the egg to stick.
Some side effects of the pill
Pills can increase sex hormone binding globulin, which can actually decrease your testosterone levels. So common side effect is a lower testosterone, so lower libido.
It can also increase thyro-binding globulin, which can lower your free fraction of thyroid hormone, which can cause weight gain.
So we have decreased energy, decreased libido, and waking- the side effects there. Not to mention nutritional deficiencies ranging from B vitamins, to folate, to methylation, the calcium, magnesium and zinc. There’s a whole bunch of other things going on.
We always try to go with the most natural route possible. And I always try to suggest these things above, the barrier rhythm methods because or a combo because of their safety record.
Pills and Cancer
Again, the pill- not a fan of the synthetic hormones. Just not a fan of it. I mean, the pill has been shown to help reduce uterine cancer and ovarian cancer and thyroid cancer, but it’s been shown to increase breast cancer. And breast cancer is a far bigger killer than the first three. So you got to keep that in mind. Plus, we’re bombarded with estrogens – synthetic estrogens in our environment all the time, and we’re in this. Most females are in a constant state in various testings we do. They’re in a constant sate of estrogen dominance whether estrogen is so high in relationship to the natural estrogen-progesterone balance. And they are predisposed to fibrocystic breast conditions endometriosis, fibroids, ovarian cysts. Mainly because of the hormones being out of balance.
Pills and Symptoms
Now a lot of people are being prescribed birth control pills off-label. So they’re being prescribed because of hirsutism or hair issues on their face, or excessive bleeding, or migraine headaches, or mood issues, or PMS. And a lot of times, the pill is not really getting to the root cause.
If your hormones during your cycle go high and low, then high-low again, then drop, it will cause symptoms. The perturbations or up-and-down fluctuations are going to create symptoms, mood issues, migraine, headaches. If it falls out early, and you have 5-7 day gap, this can drive PMS, back pain, cramping, breast tenderness, moodiness, depression.
So again, is it really fixing the underlying issue? Because all it’s doing is taking your estrogen and doing this. It’s raising a flat line, then you hit your reminder pills, and then basically goes right down. So you’re just basically raising your estrogen levels super, super high and then you’re taking your 7-days reminder pills, and it drops. So all it’s doing is, instead of the up-and-downs here, it’s covering all the deficiencies up by giving you a flat line hormone.
Again, birth control pill’s been around for 50 years or so. Some side effects are present. Pretty easy, easier than most above, so you got to figure out what works best for you. Whether you rather have a little bit more inconvenience, but less synthetic hormones; or a little more convenience for potential side effects. So you got to weigh out pros and cons.
If you’re trying to deal with hormonal issues, PNS issues and/or your hormone’s back on track, click on screen. Reach out to myself so you can get more info on how you can get your hormones back in action. Again, this is Dr. J here. Click on screen, subscribe for more videos coming your way.
Natural Remedies for Hormonal Imbalance, Infertility, PCOS and PMS
By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
There are many natural remedies for hormone imbalance in the functional-medicine world, yet they tend to the be the last line of defense most women reach for. It’s easier to get a birth control pill or antidepressant to fix the symptoms of hormone imbalance, but this does nothing to address the underlying cause.
If you’re a female and suffering from infertility, PMS, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or other hormonal symptoms, this is a strong sign your body is out of balance and not expressing optimal health. Fertility and hormone balance is a natural by-product of health, and without it, our species wouldn’t be here today. I urge every woman to dig a little deeper into what’s driving her infertility and/or female hormone imbalances.
Just 30 to 40 years ago, women would routinely get pregnant on their honeymoon. Today, women are spending upward of $15,000 per in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment, some needing multiple treatments to conceive.
Why can’t I get pregnant?
It is possible to mimic your hormones with Follistim, Lupron, or Clomid to manipulate your brain into thinking you are healthy enough to get pregnant. Your body is wise, and is not letting you have a child for a reason; it knows the hormonal environment is not optimal to produce a healthy baby.
The hidden chemical stressors in your body can activate certain genes epigenetically. When these genes are activated, it predisposes you and your child to autoimmune/chronic inflammatory conditions, like asthma, heart disease, allergies, and learning disorders (1, 2, 3).
When we look at the underlying cause of infertility, 40% is on the woman’s side, 40% is on the man’s side, and 20% is unknown.
Both men and women should adhere to similar dietary and lifestyle principles to help support and nourish their bodies. A diet that is nutrient dense, anti-inflammatory, and low in toxins is essential for optimal health and for a growing a baby.
Factors to Consider
Women who are trying to get pregnant need to make sure their diet has adequate fat for the formation of their soon-to-be child’s nervous system; adequate meal timing to stabilize blood sugar; and the avoidance of all toxins from pesticides, grains, and refined foods.
If you are trying to get pregnant, you need to form a cohesive team with your partner. There needs to be a combined effort of the couple engaging in health-sustaining habits. Though the female grows the child inside her body, the quality of the sperm and the support regarding nutrition and lifestyle habits are just as important.
As long as your partner’s sperm count, motility, and morphology have been assessed and there are no issues regarding the female’s reproductive anatomy, then you are a great candidate to start a natural female-hormone-balancing program.
There may be 5% of women that need IVF treatment to conceive. I personally would recommend IVF last. The natural hormone-balancing diet and lifestyle programs can work over 90% of the time. IVF may help you get pregnant, but it does nothing to ensure a healthy pregnancy and optimal health for your child.
According to research, as well as my clinical experience, women that have IVF or go into a pregnancy unhealthy to begin with tend to suffer from more hormonal related issues post pregnancy, have a more difficult time losing weight, and have an increased risk for postpartum depression (4).
To All Men out There
Sperm counts have been dropping over the last 40 years significantly and so have the reference ranges regarding what normal may be. Due to these drops in the reference range, I urge men to be in the top 25% of the range to ensure adequate health. Consider anything in the middle of the range inadequate to standards just 30 to 40 years ago. (5)
Women’s Cycle: The Two Phases of Your Cycle
The first half of your cycle is the follicular phase. This is where estrogen predominates. The second half of your cycle is the luteal phase. This is where progesterone predominates.
The Domino Effect of Healthy Hormones and Pregnancy
Progesterone and estrogen drop at the end of the cycle, which signals bleeding, or your period. The sloughing off of your endometrial lining is important to reset your body so it has a chance for pregnancy the next time it ovulates.
The bleeding that occurs during your period stimulates FSH—a brain hormone. FSH stands for follicle-stimulating hormone which stimulates the follicle to start growing.
As the follicle starts growing, it stimulates estrogen to increase. As estrogen increases, it starts to thicken the endometrial lining. Estrogen stimulates growth, which is needed for the uterine lining.
As estrogen reaches its peak around day 12 or 13 of your cycle, ideally, it stimulates an increase in LH (luteinizing hormone).
When LH increases, it stimulates progesterone to increase around day 15 of your cycle.
The rise of progesterone, which was preceded by a rise in estrogen, signals ovulation. This when you can get pregnant, and it’s only about a three-day window. Progesterone causes the uterine tissues to mature (to grow up), which provides the right environment for the egg to implant into it.
Step 7 (optional)
The egg is ejected into the fallopian tube where it has the potential to come in contact with sperm as the egg makes its way down to the uterus.
Step 8 (optional)
The fertilized egg embeds itself into the uterine lining as the corpus luteum (the scar from where the egg formed in the ovary) stimulates progesterone through the production of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG).
Progesterone and estrogen drop out around day 27 or 28 of the cycle, which then signals menstruation (your period). The whole process then repeats itself again.
Fun Fact: HCG is what is typically tested to confirm pregnancy. Elevated HCG will get you a positive on your home pregnancy test.
Problems in the Luteal Phase
The luteal phase needs to be at least 12 to 15 days long to ensure there is enough time for adequate progesterone to be made. If progesterone levels fall off early in the luteal phase (symbolized by the red lines above), it’s because of stress. Stress comes in physical, chemical, and emotional factors. Essentially, progesterone, your pro-gestational hormone that holds the egg in place, actually can get converted downstream in the cortisol.
With chronic stress we see progesterone falling out early in the cycle, which can make it very difficult to sustain a pregnancy. This progesterone deficit makes it very difficult for the egg to stay implanted, and it will eventually slough off causing a potentially thicker period that particular month, or maybe even no period at all. Low progesterone over time can cause your cycle to be anovulatory (without a period), or you may have even been told you have premature ovarian failure.
Throughout our cycle, on average, we have 22 to 25 times more progesterone than estrogen. This is a normal, healthy balance. When stress occurs and progesterone gets converted downstream, we start seeing a state of what’s called estrogen dominance. We start seeing an excess of thickening of the uterine lining. Women may notice fibroids, endometriosis, and fibrocystic breasts.
These hormone imbalances may manifest themselves at the end of your cycle as PMS, headaches, fatigue, migraines, breast tenderness, and uterine pain. All these symptoms are primarily driven by a state of estrogen dominance.
PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) occurs when androgens in the female cycle become elevated. As androgens elevate in the cycle, it throws off the upstream brain hormones, so communication from the brain to the ovaries becomes disconnected (6).
One of the most important triggers of PCOS is chronic ups and downs in blood sugar (reactive hypoglycemia), or insulin resistance. The elevation in insulin up-regulates certain enzymes in the body (17–20 lyase), which can accelerate the conversion of female hormones to male hormones (testosterone). That’s why it’s common to see acne, abnormal hair growth, and ovarian cysts as a by-product (7, 8).
What’s the Deal with Birth Control Pills?
When we take birth control pills (BCPs), we shut down the upstream signaling to our brain known as the HPG axis (hypothalamus, pituitary, gonadal axis—see picture below). FSH and LH, essentially, are the conductors of this beautiful hormonal orchestra. In this orchestra we have the strings, the flutes, and all the different instruments you can imagine. If the conductor of the orchestra goes on vacation, it’s very easy for this beautiful music to sound like noise.
Taking this analogy back to hormone land, as hormonal imbalances occur due to physical, chemical, and emotional stressors, they essentially mug the conductor. They knock the conductor off the stand, and the hormones start to go awry.
Women who take BCPs do see a benefit. Their hormones may stabilize, which may help their mood, PMS, and skin issues in the short term. The ups and downs of the hormones in the cycle are somewhat leveled out by this artificial, yet steady, bombardment of hormones.
The symptom-relief experience from BCPs is real. There are ways to produce the same results, if not better, through natural hormone-balancing protocols that address the underlying cause of the issues. When the underlying cause is addressed, there is less chance of the typical side effects of BCPs, including weight gain, blood clots, increased risk of a breast cancer, and potential difficulty conceiving down the road.
“Women who were on oral contraceptive birth control pills may experience a few months of being infertile while the synthetic hormones work their way out of their body. Women who were on the Depo shot on the other hand, can experience infertility between six months to a year.”
~Dr. Lauren Streicher of Gynecologic Specialists of Northwestern
Other Available Methods
If you are using a BCPs to prevent pregnancy, there are other natural non-hormonal methods out there. My favorite is the rhythm method (if you are in a stable long-term relationship). Other methods can be used, including a non-hormonal IUD (ParaGard). This can be used in conjunction with a diaphragm and/or a condom for extra security. If your hormones are stable, there is only a small window in your cycle when pregnancy can occur, so make sure proper precautions are made.
What You Need to Do!
If you are struggling with hormonal-related symptoms and are looking to get pregnant, there are some action items you should make ASAP!
Make the right diet and lifestyle changes to stabilize your hormones and blood sugar for success.
Avoid common toxins that may come from pesticides in your food and chemicals in your makeups and hygiene products. The toxins in these products are xenoestrogens in nature and can mimic the hormone estrogen. Most women are already in a state of estrogen dominance, and this bombardment off additional synthetic estrogen only makes the problem worse.
Get assessed! If you are not assessing, you are guessing! If you are having hormonal issues and you want to get pregnant, you need to see where the root of your hormonal issues are coming from.
Are the hormonal imbalances coming from a thyroid issue, adrenal issue, female hormone issue, or chronic infection? It may even be a combination of all of them like I see with most patients.