Jacqui Lamplugh
Women’s Health & Natural Fertility Specialist

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Your Go-To Guide to Coming off the Pill Part 1

Stopping the pill or any kind of hormonal contraception can be a daunting time. Most women start using the pill not for contraception purposes but to treat menstrual issues like acne, period pain and heavy bleeding. But the pill doesn’t ‘fix’ these issues it just masks them so as long as you take the pill your symptoms are gone but as soon as you stop they will return. The uncertainty of what will my hormones be like? When will my period return? Can often make the transition a little uneasy. But coming off the pill whether it is to make babies or just to give your body a break from the artificial hormones can be a relatively smooth transition. It just requires a little pre-planning.

The first step in coming off the pill, if you are using it for contraception, is to make sure you have an alternative contraception available to you. There are many options available and the old ones are making a come back think condoms, diaphragms, symptothermal charting and even the withdrawal method are non-hormonal options to consider.

To make the transition super smooth the biggest question you need to ask yourself is what were my periods like before I went on the pill? This will give you a good idea of what they will be like when stop. Don’t fear below is a step by step plan on what to do to ensure when you come off the pill your transition is not only smooth but with minimal symptoms.

What were your real periods like?

  • Normal periods
  • Acne
  • Heavy Periods
  • Period Pain

 

Normal, Regular Periods

Ok, so you’re the lucky one who had a regular period with no acne or period pain and more than likely went on the pill for contraception purposes. The focus of your transition is to ensure you return the gut and your nutritional stores back to normal levels to support healthy hormone balance. Did you know the pill has a negative effect on your gut health resulting in higher levels of bad bacteria than good bacteria and nutritional stores also take a beating with many women deficient in zinc, vitamin C, folate and magnesium just to name a few.

Probiotic

Take a broad spectrum multi strain probiotic that contains both lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium in order to recolonize the gut with healthy bacteria. This should be started 2 months before stopping hormonal contraception and continue taking them for 3 months once you have stopped the hormonal contraception to ensure good colonisation. You can also include fermented foods into your diet like miso, kefir, good quality yoghurt etc.

Multivitamin and Mineral Complex

I recommend all women on hormonal contraception take a multivitamin and mineral supplement every day because the artificial hormones increase your bodies need for nutrients. If you aren’t already taking a multivitamin and mineral then I suggest you start. This will help restore your nutrient levels and help with hormone balance, energy and general wellbeing.

St Mary’s Thistle  

Is also known as milk thistle and is a herb that supports liver detoxification. Taking St Mary’s thistle once you have stopped the hormonal contraception and continuing it for 3 months will help clear your body of the artificial hormones and restore your natural hormone balance. St Mary’s thistle can be taken as a tea, tablet or as a liquid.

Broccoli

Contains a nutrient known as indole - 3 - carbinol a compound found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cabbage that helps detoxify excess oestrogens out of the body, like those found in the hormonal contraception. Eat a serving (about 1 cup) of cruciferous vegetables every second day to help clear excess oestrogen.

 

Acne

Going onto the pill for acne is very common particularly for girls who started taking the pill in their late teenage years. The thought of stopping is like a scene out of a horror movie! The distant memory of a face full of acne, pussy red and sore is enough to keep you taking it. But with the right preparation coming off should be as painless as possible. Post pill acne peaks 6 months after stopping the pill but the following recommendations can help ensure that this transition is as bump free as possible.

Two months before stopping the pill:

Dairy free diet

Dairy is very inflammatory to the body it also creates mucous, think white heads and pussy pimples. Many people don’t tolerate dairy very well and it causes gut inflammation and weakens the immune system. It is often said that the skin in a reflection of the gut so a compromised gut isn’t going to result in glowing skin. Going dairy free means avoiding all cow’s milk and products including yoghurt, cheese, ice cream and milk but goat’s or sheep’s dairy products are fine.

Sugar free diet

We all know how bad sugar is for our bodies but did you also know it’s extremely inflammatory and reduces collagen production by the skin. Resulting in red, pussy outbreaks and scaring (no thank you!). Going sugar free is crucial in the fight against acne.

Zinc

The pill contributes to a lot of nutritional deficiencies particularly zinc so chances are your levels will be pretty low. Zinc is vital for collagen production, prevents scarring, kills the bacteria that causes acne and reduces inflammation. This is your acne must have! I recommend getting your zinc levels tested with an oral zinc taste test and if they are low take 25mg of zinc daily for three months before retesting.

Fish oil

Fish oil is like zinc; an acne must have! There are a lot of studies supporting the use of fish oil in the treatment of acne. It not only helps prevent scarring, but reduces inflammation making the pimple less red and painful. Aim for 3g of fish oil per day, if you don’t eat a lot of salmon and oily fish you may need to take a fish oil supplement.

Once you stop the hormonal contraception the focus shifts to restoring gut health and supporting liver detoxification as it is the hormones causing the acne. Continue with the above suggestions and then add in:

Berberine

Is a compound found in certain herbs like goldenseal. It helps reduce acne by reducing testosterone levels in women, is anti-inflammatory and helps restore good gut health. Gut health is usually compromised by the pill, supporting bad bacterial overgrowth. I recommend taking berberine for 4 weeks, do not take if you are pregnant or breast feeding and speak to your pharmacist or doctor if you are on medication.

Probiotic

Once you finish taking the berberine then it’s time to recolonise the gut with a broad spectrum multi strain probiotic that contains both lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Take the probiotic for at least 3 months to really get that gut in a good shape. You can also include fermented foods in your diet like miso, kefir, good quality yoghurt etc.

Indole-3-carbinol

Is a compound found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cabbage that helps detoxify excess oestrogens out of the body, like those found in the pill. It can be taken as a supplement or you can increase your consumption of cruciferous vegetables.

How long will it take?

It can take up to 3 to 6 months but you should notice that the acne is much improved from the start if you follow the above treatment. If after 3 months you aren’t getting the results you are after I would suggest getting your oestrogen, testosterone and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) tested as you may require a tailored herbal treatment to help balance your hormones. If you get acne just before your period it is likely from too much oestrogen, if the acne occurs all cycle long it is usually from too much testosterone.

 In part two we discuss heavy periods, painful periods and how to come off the pill if you want to make babies…stay tuned!