Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that can occur within both men and women; but is there a connection between IBS and birth control?
What is IBS?
IBS is a digestive disorder and symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain and nausea
- Alternating constipation/diarrhea
For some people, these symptoms are severe. For others, they may be mild – but are still uncomfortable, nonetheless!
What is hormonal birth control?
Types of Birth Control
Birth control comes in many forms, some with hormones and some without. Examples of birth control methods without hormones include condoms, diaphragms, copper IUD, and fertility awareness method (FAM). Some examples of birth control methods with hormones include the hormonal birth control pill, hormonal IUD, implant (i.e. Nexplanon), and vaginal rings. Hormonal birth control contains forms of the hormones estrogen, progesterone, or both. This article will be explaining the connection between hormonal forms of birth control and IBS, as non-hormonal forms do not have an impact on IBS symptoms.
Can birth control cause IBS symptoms and digestive issues?
Let’s look at some of the common IBS symptoms to see if there is a link between IBS and birth control.
IBS and Birth Control: Constipation
Estrogen dominance – which refers to when the body contains more of the hormone estrogen than is ideal – can cause constipation. Many birth control pills increase the amount of estrogen in the body, and therefore can lead to constipation.
IBS and Birth Control: Diarrhea
Sometimes when hormones get out of whack and are imbalanced, the body can experience loose stools or diarrhea. Hormonal birth control manipulates the amount of hormones in your body, so diarrhea can sometimes occur as a result of that.
IBS and Birth Control: Bloating
Progestins – which are female hormones used in some hormonal birth control pills – can result in slower digestion, constipation, and bloating. Estrogen dominance (high levels of estrogen) can also lead to water retention and bloating. Depending on what type of hormones are in your hormonal birth control, bloating may occur.
IBS and Birth Control: The Microbiome
Our microbiome refers to the bacteria and gut flora that lives in our digestive tract. Everyone contains levels of beneficial bacteria in their microbiome. Sometimes, “bad” bacteria can overgrow, and/or our beneficial bacteria can get imbalanced, which we refer to as dysbiosis. Hormonal birth control changes the gut microbiome and can contribute to dysbiosis, which is a very common culprit of IBS symptoms.
How to Minimize IBS Symptoms While on Birth Control
Since hormonal birth control and IBS can be connected, one way to minimize IBS symptoms is to use non-hormonal methods of birth control.
Alternatives to Hormonal Birth Control
Some simple non-hormonal methods for birth control include using condoms (male or female), or female diaphragms. Some women prefer to get the copper IUD, as it prevents pregnancy but does not contain any hormones. My personal favorite non-hormonal method of birth control is called Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). FAM involves tracking your menstrual cycle by taking your temperature every morning as a way to determine when you are ovulating and most fertile. Another beneficial aspect of practicing FAM is the opportunity to really learn about your body and your menstrual cycle, so that you can know exactly when your period is coming and plan accordingly. If you do use FAM, it could also be helpful to use condoms to be extra cautious in preventing pregnancy – especially as you are still learning to track your natural menstrual cycle and time of ovulation.
Seeing a Nutritionist for IBS
Yes, a healthy diet, lifestyle and stress-management do all play a role – and this is likely what your doctor will tell you to do in order to manage IBS. They aren’t wrong, these are all super important. BUT if you’ve been struggling with these issues for a while, oftentimes that won’t be enough.
That’s where I recommend seeing a nutritionist for IBS and getting comprehensive stool testing. We can take a look to see EXACTLY what is going on in your microbiome and causing these symptoms. Common culprits of IBS symptoms include: dysbiosis, pathogens, candida, parasites, SIBO, and poor digestive function. By figuring out exactly what is going on inside of your gut and contributing to your digestive symptoms, we can create a targeted plan to eradicate the problem. It really doesn’t get much more clear-cut than that.
So even though IBS is a real diagnosis, it often is actually being caused by imbalances or pathogens in your gut. Once we can address these and your symptoms are decreased/eliminated, you may no longer even qualify for the diagnosis of “IBS”.