I honestly can't remember much about my period pre-hormonal birth control, only that I had crippling cramps. So awful that I had to talk to my gynecologist about them after probably only having my period for a year (I was a late bloomer so this was around 15). The recommendation at the time? Go on the pill. I was given no run down of potential side affects, wasn't told that there was anything wrong with me or given an explanation to why I was having such horrible cramps. All I was told was that this would fix my problem. My mother had been on birth control before she had me and got pregnant no problem. So with no questions from my 15 year old self and no questions from my mom, will filled the prescription and I never looked back until the beginning of last year.
If you've been following my gut health journey, you would know that at the start of 2017 my stomach issues took a turn for the worst. I went from thinking I was managing my IBS symptoms and only having occasionally flare ups to being so bloated I looked like I was 7 months pregnant. By the time I was supposed to start a new birth control pill pack in May 2017 (now over a 1 year ago), I decided I was done. I wasn't going to take it anymore. My gut literally told me to do it, so I listened. The funny part is, I'm not a rash person and I always overanalyze everything and anything before I do it...except this one.
So here's the deal - going off the pill without talking to anyone about it and with no research was probably the best and worst thing I ever did for myself. Best, because it decreased the rest of my bloat symptoms by probably 90% (something that the low fodmap diet couldn't do alone) and temporarily made me feel lighter (both mentally and physically)...until my body decided to flip out. Had I not been seeing a functional medicine doctor at this time for my gastrointestinal issues (new flash: many of these were probably related to being on hormonal birth control), I would have been in trouble. I would have had no idea that my zinc to copper ratio was completely out of whack, that my body wasn't absorbing any of the B vitamins that I was feeding it (I've literally been taking B complex vitamins since I got my first facial at age 14), that my cortisol levels were totally shot (my body literally doesn't product any), and that not only did I have fatty liver but that there were supplements I could and should be taking to support it - incase you weren't aware...because I wasn't...nothing works correctly if your liver isn't functioning properly. Was this all because of hormonal birth control? Maybe not completely, but we do know for a fact that my copper imbalance and B vitamin levels were directly related and I'm beginning to have a hunch that my fatty liver is, too.
That fatty liver talk is a saga for a later date. What I know you want to know now is how I got my cycle back! The harsh truth is it's still not regular or normal in any way shape or form. I've gotten it 4 times in the past year. The first time was 7 months after going off the pill. The second time was 40 days later after that. The third time was 3 and a half months after that. The fourth time was a huge leap of progress and came just 34 days after the third cycle. The hitch is, each period only lasts between 12 and 24 hours...not normal. That being said, I am ovulating. So that counts for something, right? For 2 whole weeks before each period I get bloated, super moody, very crampy (and crabby), I also crave all the carbs and omega rich foods in the world. The average luteal phase is about 14 days. So my thought is, from the time I ovulate to the time I get my period my body feels it, hard, in an abnormal way for reasons unknown that will hopefully become more clear with time and testing with my functional medicine doctor. I have been slacking on these tests but will get my s*** together to complete them soon! Upcoming tests include: hormone testing (the overall diurnal pattern of free cortisol and total distribution of cortisol metabolites), a toxic profile + glyphosate lab, heavy metals testing, mitochondrial function testing, and an updated sex hormone blood lab (I did this once after my third cycle and all looked good, but I want to do it in a different spot in my cycle).
What I also think I need to work on at this point, is regulating my follicular phase, which I recently learned can vary greatly. I also learned that apparently you can sync your cycle to the moon cycle - if that's a real thing I want in and will make it happen, talk about being grounded.
Any whooo, back to what worked for ME (important note, everyone has different issues and imbalances, what worked for me won't necessarily work for you, unless you have the same issues that I did...which you wouldn't know unless you've seen the doctor. So go see the doctor before taking anything).
The first two times I got my period, I was on my gut and liver healing, zinc:copper balancing, protocol. I truly believe balancing my zinc to copper ratio not only kept my anxiety at bay (or at least to a lower point than what it would have been) and lowering my AST and ALT levels helped me get my flow back that first time -- that and the yogi women's "moon cycle" tea I was drinking. That tea is comprised of raspberry leaf, dong quai root extract, and chaste berry tea extract all of which help to regulate sex hormones. After I cycled the second time, I imagine life got busier and more stressful (side note: I also stopped drinking the tea as regularly). Stress plays a huge factor in hormone and even overall body health. I had gone back to 9-5 work June of 2017. Being in an office setting, driving to work, and being on a strict schedule does not flow with my body. I've learned that my barley cortisol producing body requires a slower morning and a non HIIT workout after it's woken up (a.k.a. not at 6am) to function at it's best. Working a 9-5 job in a corporate office meant speeding through my morning, not getting adequate emotional support time from my puppy (a real thing), and either skipping my workout or having to push my body to an extreme to get it in at 630am and racing through my morning even faster. It was a blessing that I was told to "part-ways" with the company for non-performance related reasons - more on this another time if you're interested. Funny enough, the day after my last official day of work, three and a half months after my second cycling since going off the pill, I got my period again! If that isn't a sign, I don't know what is.
So here I am four cycles later trying to figure this period stuff out. Here's a recap of what has worked for me so far:
- Balancing my zinc:copper ratio. I did this by taking a zinc supplement twice a day* and avoided super copper rich foods until my levels evened out about 3 months later. They're now stabilized and I'm off the supplement.
- Lowering my AST and ALT levels and promoting healthy liver function. I did this by supporting my liver with milk thistle and NAC (N-Acytel Cystein).* I've tapered off the dosage but still take both of these every morning as part of my supplement routine. As of my last blood test my AST levels are down to 29 and my ALT levels are down to 27 -- that's a total win! My next step is to get an ultrasound to see if my liver is still fatty.
- Finding stress reducing techniques - most recently meditating and incorporating anti-anxiety techniques into my day-to-day routine. More info on that can be found here.
I started taking ProButyrate and BodyBio PC caps* as part of my "get my hormones movin' and grovin'" protocol about a month and a half ago.. This could have helped my cycle come back this fourth time so quickly...will keep you posted when it comes back next. Fingers crossed within a normal cycling period (which should be around the 24th of this month, so keep those femme thoughts coming my way) - UPDATE! My fifth cycle just started last night (7/2). This is 35 days since my last cycle. I've been doing some research and it looks as though normal cycling can vary from 21-35 days, so I'm slowly but surely getting on track! My cycle may just be on the longer end of things. I also started taking primrose oil last week in hopes that it will help out my newly forming hormonal acne. More to come there, too!
*I'm sharing MY STORY. Please see a doctor before starting your journey.