What Hormone Pills Are Doing To Women’s Brains

Women struggling at both ends of their life stages – puberty and menopause – are suffering from depression, anxiety, forgetfulness, brain fog due to the symptoms of these life stages as well as the side-effects of hormone pills. I deep dive into some research and personal experiences with patients and the negative impact of hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills for women.

I am a woman who is proud of having achieved effortless menopause. Apart from weight gain around the belly area of approximately 3 kg, my menopause seems to be a beautiful phase of my life. I can go for holidays without worrying about carrying pads, getting cramps, messing the bed, feeling my breasts getting enlarged or painful. And of course, the sex continues to be amazing. As a nutrition, yoga and mental health therapist, I found my path with my own practice.

I urge all my women patients also to find theirs and help them stay away from hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT is used to relieve menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. Treatments can include pills containing oestrogen or a combination of oestrogen and progestogen, as well as patches, gels and creams. A couple of years before my menopause began, I was diagnosed with a pulsating polyp in my uterus, that made me bleed for eight months continuously.

It was finally removed via a DNC successfully and my gynaecologist wanted to put me on progesterone therapy. She said that this kind of a polyp had a higher chance of recurrence within a few months unless if I took the progesterone. I politely declined, and for good reason. That was in 2018. It’s been five years, and thankfully her prognosis has not yet come true.

The pill that makes you lose your brain

So what is wrong with these pills, you ask? It’s your gynaecologist who is prescribing them and you trust your gynaecologist. That’s right. There is nothing wrong with your gynaecologist, but there is everything wrong with your pills because they’re messing with your brain.

Recently published research in the British Medical Journal (the BMJ, June 28), “Menopausal hormone therapy was positively associated with development of all cause dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, even in women who received treatment at the age of 55 years or younger. The increased rate of dementia was similar between continuous and cyclic treatment.” In any case as per global statistics, dementia affects women much more and it affects men.

In the presence of these statistics, combined with the fact that each woman achieves menopause at some point or the other in her life, it’s basically helping you lose your brain much faster than you need to. Neurodegenerative dementias are progressive and irreversible because of deterioration of brain cells and their interconnections. The major types of neurodegenerative dementias include Alzheimer’s dementia (AD), vascular dementia (VaD), Lewy body dementia (LBD), and frontotemporal lobar dementia (FTD).

Many women in any case start experiencing symptoms of forgetfulness and experienced brain fog around menopause. On top of that, if they are on HRT, the symptoms can get enhanced and within a couple of decades, risk for getting dementia is drastically increased.

Earlier studies have shown no impact of HRT on dementia but researchers have acknowledged limitations within their data, like incomplete recording of menopausal symptoms, particularly for women registered after menopause, that may have affected their results. This particular study is recent and overturns previous ones.

And can also trigger breast cancer

Unfortunately, this isn’t the end of side-effects of HRT. HRT use is associated with increased risks of breast cancer, particularly for older women. Researchers at the Universities of Nottingham and Oxford analysed risks by HRT type (oestrogen only and combined oestrogen and progestogen therapy), by recent (1-5 years) and past (5 or more years) use, and by short term (less than 5 years) and long term (5 years or more) use.

Other relevant factors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, pre-existing conditions (comorbidities), family history, and other prescribed drugs were taken into account. Overall, 33,703 (34%) women diagnosed with breast cancer and 134,391 (31%) controls had used HRT recently or in the past. Risk increases were mostly associated with oestrogen-progestogen treatments, but small increases were also associated with oestrogen only treatments.

Medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), a synthetic form of the naturally occurring steroid hormone progesterone widely used in contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), has also been shown to increase aggression and decrease the sex drive. I am truly glad that I politely refused my gynaecologist from taking the progesterone therapy.

Lifestyle modifications show positive outcomes

The number of women I treat who are suffering from menopausal struggles, have all experienced some amazing outcomes. You can read about Sudha Krishnan and Amrita Talreja. Both of them came to be with associated symptoms and would have been put on HRT if the lifestyle interventions did not work.

Depression and birth control

Now let’s look at birth control pills and what is wrong with them. Cambridge University Press published a few weeks ago the link between contraceptive pills and depression in women.

The research further advices “Physicians and patients should be aware of this potential risk (of depression) when considering oral contraceptives, and individualized risk–benefit assessments should be conducted.” PCOS is a rising epidemic. PCOS affects more than one in ten women of childbearing age and is characterised by high levels of male hormones in the blood, menstrual disorders, insulin resistance and obesity. The syndrome is also associated with a significantly increased risk of mental illness such as anxiety and depression.

Diagnosed PCOS statistics numbers and 10% and triggers and causes include unhealthy eating habits, endocrine disruption due to environmental toxins, obesity and lack of physical activity. So imagine someone struggling with PCOS already has a poor body image, low self-esteem and then she’s put on an oral contraceptive which can enhance the risk for depression. Instead of getting motivated to exercise, lose weight, eat healthy – some of the causes associated with PCOS – she gets demotivated, depressive and goes into a shell.

I get a lot of young girls with PCOS who are on the birth control pill as well and the focus is to get them off the pill as fast as I can. With specific nutritional programs, counselling, yogic therapy, PCOS can be managed so much better without the contraceptive pills that will cause your moods to get more enhanced.

Women have a mentalist brain, why lose that?

Research shows the striking differences between men and woman brains. Men are more likely better at learning and performing a single task at hand, like cycling or navigating directions, whereas women have superior memory and social cognition skills, making them more equipped for multitasking and creating solutions that work for a group.

They have a mentalistic approach, so to speak (Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, 2013). This mentalistic approach is unique and also has higher emotional quotient.

Suppressing this and taking it away because of side-effects of hormone pills is criminal. We need to look at other ways of helping women alleviate symptoms of menopause, PCOS and hormonal fluctuations. A combination therapy of lifestyle modifications amalgamated with yogic breathing and moderate exercise has shown equally good results for both groups of women without the side-effects.

In fact, for menopausal women, the brain ageing has slowed down and women can stay youthful and agile for a lot longer with the lifestyle modifications plan in comparison to just taking hormone replacement therapy. Think about it. For your partner, for yourself, for your child. Don’t pop the pill.

Rachna Chhachhi is Founder, Unhurry® and practises as a nutrition, yoga and mental health therapist across 27 countries. To contact her, email rachnarestores@gmail.com.

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