How your choice of contraception could be driving you mad, sad and mentally foggy.

Kay Ali London Nutritional Therapist, hormone and mental health specialist. You Need A Nutritional Therapist Ltd.

Kay Ali, Nutritional Therapist & specialist in hormones and mental health. Co Founder of You Need A Nutritional Therapist. Image taken by You Need A Nutritional Therapist Ltd ©.

Welcome back to part two of ‘The Ovary Act: Sex hormones, mental health and me.’ This week I’d like to discuss with you one of the most difficult areas I am faced with in clinic. Contraception. It’s quite possibly the most problematic topic to discuss in a partnership too. I’ve lost count of the number of women I’ve sat with troubled about how the responsibility of preventing a pregnancy falls on them and not their partner. Often, they don’t quite understand it. Yet, with decades of use most women develop a sixth sense that their choice of contraception is driving them over the edge. Deciding what to do about your method of contraception can feel like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. We don’t want to risk getting pregnant, yet we don’t feel good on it too. Sadly, it’s something that affects all women – younger, older, childless, mother, single or married.

So here’s the stereotype; mothers usually in their 40s are fed up with having to use contraception and feel that it’s time to pass the baton on to their husbands. “Vasectomy, my love? No, I didn’t think so.” As if dealing with the emotional instability that comes with a temperamental period every month for 20 years, 3 pregnancies, 3-6 years breastfeeding, work, mum and wife duties isn’t doing more than our fair share for the team, we then deal with the brunt of contraception in our partnerships. Whether it’s popping pills, sticking on patches, jabbing needles or wedging implants and coils it can make us feel grim and grey. And it has everything to do with how they disrupt the delicate dance of our hormones.

What choices are there?

Kay Ali, London Nutritional Therapist and hormone and mental health specialist. Co Founder of You Need A Nutritional Therapist Ltd

Kay Ali, Nutritional Therapist & specialist in hormones and mental health. Co Founder of You Need A Nutritional Therapist. Image taken by You Need A Nutritional Therapist Ltd ©.

When discussing options with my clients I tend to organize contraception into two categories. Hormonal and non-hormonal. Let’s discuss the former option first. They include the combined and progesterone only pill, vaginal ring, patches, injections, implants and the intrauterine system (IUS). With the exception of the IUS, they all work by preventing ovulation. The story goes no egg, no fertilization. No fertilization, no baby. Now you might think this is good news, but it’s not. In fact, if mental health, sleep and productivity is your concern it’s bad news. Bad, bad news.

You Need A Nutritional Therapist London clinic, quote from Kay Ali about role of progesterone in mental health

Here’s why. When we ovulate midcycle, the egg leaves a little blister that transforms itself into something we call the corpus luteum. This blister is responsible for secreting the lions share of progesterone that our bodies make. If we don’t ovulate, this progesterone production simply does not happen. Now imagine this is happening month upon month and year upon year with your choice of contraception. Progesterone levels drop and oestrogen becomes your dominant sex hormone. I guess, if it’s preventing pregnancies and keeping your uterine lining too thin for implantation, happy days right? Unfortunately not. In fact, on the contrary it can predispose you to depression, anxiety and insomnia (not to mention difficulty with weight loss, fertility and acne amongst other symptoms associated with oestrogen dominance).

Making the connection: progesterone and mental health

What most of us don’t realise is that progesterone is essential for our mental health. We tend to associate it with maintaining pregnancies and that glorious pregnancy glow. However, it does way more than that. In both men and women progesterone keeps us feeling happy and well rested. It’s found in brain cells at levels 20 times higher than what circulates in our blood. In fact, progesterone is a key component of the myelin sheath, the protective layer that insulates each nerve fibre and ensures quick communication from neuron to neuron. In other words, progesterone keeps our brains sharp and productivity high. So if we become deficient in it, you can imagine how mentally unstable we might become.

Kay Ali Co Founder of You Need A Nutritional Therapist and specialist in mental health and hormones for productivity

Kay Ali, Nutritional Therapist & specialist in hormones and mental health. Co Founder of You Need A Nutritional Therapist. Image taken by You Need A Nutritional Therapist Ltd ©.

But that’s not all. Progesterone may help us feel good too. Research has shown that it activates GABA receptors in the brain resulting in calming effects. GABA is a neurotransmitter responsible for controlling fear, anxiety and over stimulation of our brain cells. When it binds to GABA receptors located across our nervous system it calms everything down. The logic follows that anything that is capable of binding to GABA receptors can induce the same effect. This is exactly how prescriptive medications for anxiety and insomnia work. Benzodiazepines like Valium slow down the central nervous system by activating GABA receptors. And guess what? Progesterone does exactly the same thing. Minus the nasty side effects and addiction, of course. So if we want to feel good, manage stress better and sleep well naturally, we should be supporting our progesterone balance.

It goes without saying that if you suspect that progesterone deficiency is your problem you should get your levels tested using a 24 hour urine test. It’s important you get this done between days 19-22 of your cycle for an accurate picture of your progesterone secretion. But what do you do if it’s low? Well, it seems pretty obvious to me. You should start by assessing your contraception.

IUS and non- hormonal contraception

You Need A Nutritional Therapist London clinic. Quote from Kay Ali about the affects of copper toxicity on our hormones and mental health

At this point you’re probably thinking that the choices left are obvious – opt for IUS or a “fit and forget” non- hormonal contraception like the IUD a.k.a copper coil. If only it were that simple! While the IUS doesn’t prevent ovulation, it has been known to disrupt ovulation for some women. What’s more is there seems to be an obvious issue that so many of us are missing. It’s made of plastic. Granted it’s pharmaceutically graded, but I personally don’t trust it. While campaigns across the country are raising awareness of plastic toxicity in our environment, it seems absurd to me that we’re inserting plastic within us. I mean, it’s plastic that sits in our uterus for a minimum of 3 years. Surely, some level of toxic man-made chemical is being secreted into our system? The research on plastic toxicity and its disruption of our endocrine system deserves an entire article to itself. So for me, the IUS is just not something I feel comfortable recommending. Which leaves us with the intrauterine device.