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My Story … and maybe it’s yours too? Why I became a Nutritional Therapist.



In my nutrition clinic, I often sit down to listen to a client’s story and feel a strong sense of Déjà vu. I’m sure I have heard this exact story before; in fact, I have heard it hundreds of times.


The story goes something like this: a woman feels unwell and she has symptoms with her hormones. Maybe she is losing a lot of blood on her period and is feeling dizzy and tired, or she is feeling sad, anxious and depressed before her period starts. Or perhaps her periods have stopped or become irregular. So, she goes to visit her GP … and 10 minutes later she comes out with a prescription for the hormonal contraceptive pill.    


Six months later she goes back to visit her GP. Her skin is better, her periods are lighter and now confined to the pill free break. But now something else is happening, something feels wrong in her body.  Her mood is low, and she feels flat and apathetic a lot of the time. Ten minutes later she comes out with a new prescription…for anti-depressants.   


I know this story particularly well because it is also my own. I was a happy child; I loved to play, be outside as much as possible and climb trees. I remember feeling happy and light, living in the moment and carefree. And then my period came!  


I was the last of my friends to get my period. I remember being desperate for it to start, and I was fourteen when it finally arrived; I was so excited and felt very grown up. From the beginning, I bled heavily on my period had low energy and wasn’t able to do much other than rest when it came. I felt like I needed some support with this, and with my mum’s encouragement, I visited the doctor. I told him all about my concerns, heavy bleeding and low energy levels. And can you guess what happened? I came out 10 minutes later… with a prescription for the pill.   


I now know that it is very common to have irregular and heavy periods in the first couple of years after our periods begin. It takes time for our bodies to learn how to ovulate successfully each month, and progesterone produced in the second half of the cycle after ovulation is period lightening. When we are younger, our hormones and hormonal patterns that help regulate periods haven’t fallen into place yet. This is not a reason to shut the cycle down with hormonal contraception, but if we work on supportive diet and lifestyle habits and then give the body time, irregular cycles and heavy bleeding may, in fact, sort itself out.


I took the pill religiously every day and had a pill-free break at the end of the packet to regulate my bleeding. I remember feeling very grown-up about this. Many of my friends were also taking the pill. The pill I was taking also had a friendly name. It was called Yasmin, and it helped my skin to clear up, which was a relief to me.


I found it difficult being a teenager most of the time. I felt strange in my body, kind of … flat, withdrawn, apathetic. It’s difficult to describe exactly why I felt different and weird in my body on the pill like my brain was foggy or mouldy.


The pill and depression


There is now a good deal of research linking the pill to depression and anxiety symptoms. At the time, I never put these symptoms together, I would never have thought that these could be due to my contraceptive pill. After all, a GP prescribed it; I assumed they would have told me if there were any risks or side effects.


I hear this story every day in my nutrition clinic. It’s heart-breaking, especially for young people.


Period pain?

Irregular cycles?

Heavy bleeding?

Skin issues?

Want to stop your period?

Need contraception?  


The answer to all of these questions does not have to be the same. Without taking a thorough case history, which is impossible in a 10-minute consultation, or running any tests to check if there is an underlying cause to the symptoms experienced, PCOS, anaemia, and thyroid issues come to mind. Women are prescribed the pill, shutting off their own hormonal production and putting an end to our natural cycles.


Imagine telling a man that because he has acne, he needs to shut down his own production of testosterone. Or because he feels angry or tearful at certain times of the month, the treatment is to take a pill that will shut down his testicle's production of testosterone.  

  

There was research to produce a hormonal male contraceptive pill. However, the trials were stopped because of the side effects that were experienced and the fact that the researchers and pharmaceutical companies funding the trials didn’t feel that men would take them considering the side effects. So why is this ok for women?


 Women need their natural hormones; oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are very important for women. These natural hormones impact our brain function, our bone strength, our neurotransmitter levels, and our sex drive.


It’s just insane that the treatment for anything to do with women’s hormones is more often than not the contraceptive pill. Our hormones and cycles are not the issue, and they do not need to be shut down. In my clinical experience nutrition can have a significant impact on fixing many of the reasons why women go on the pill in the first place.  


Irregular cycles: Are you eating enough to get a period, particularly carbohydrates in the second half (called the luteal phase) of the cycle?

Heavy periods can be caused by iron deficiency, and I have seen improvements in blood loss by correcting the deficiency with supplements and iron-rich foods.

Irregular cycles can be a sign of PCOS, in which case I work hard on blood sugar balance with my clients.    

At the age of 17, after years of feeling anxious, stressed, and depressed, I decided to come off the pill. I just felt that something wasn’t right in my body. It felt like intuition like I was being guided to feel again. It’s important to listen to this voice when it comes as it’s never been wrong.


My period didn’t return for several months; my skin broke out with a vengeance, but I knew I couldn’t go back on the pill. However, when I visited the doctor, guess what they suggested as the first treatment? Yes, you guessed it, to go back on the pill! Instead of this, I got some antibiotics.


Slowly, something began to change in my body. It was like I could feel emotion again and see in colour. Everything looked brighter, clearer, and more focused. I didn’t feel so flat. I was able to laugh and cry at things again. I could feel the waves of hormones coming back to life in my body.


Perhaps we’re not meant to fill the same all day every day of the month? I’m always reminded of the quote, “Women are not small men.” In some phases of the cycle, we will have more energy naturally and our libido will be higher. in other phases, we will get the call to turn inwards and rest and restore ourselves. It took six months for me to return to normal but I knew at that point that I would never go back on the pill.

There is more to women’s health and hormones than preventing pregnancy.


And if that’s not even the aim, then why is the pill still recommended as a first-line treatment?  It’s time for us to take back control.


 According to Dr Jerilyn Pryor, a women’s hormone expert, it can take up to 12 years for a woman’s menstrual cycle to fully develop and for her to produce optimal amounts of progesterone. This is the hormone made in the second half of our cycle. So, what happens if we shut down this process in a child or a teenager? Do we really have informed consent about the health risks of the pill, which range from blood clots to depression and cancer risk? How can our GPs explain all of this within a 10-minute consultation?   


I am not a clinician, and I do respect that in some cases, the pill may be warranted; for example, in severe endometriosis or if the woman has extremely heavy bleeding, it can also be a useful treatment for PMDD.

So, I won’t argue that it doesn’t have its uses, but what I do argue is the fact that it’s such a first-line treatment for any women’s health issues. There are many more things that can be tried first, such as managing stress levels, eating enough calories, and balancing blood sugar levels to help regulate hormones. What about supplements that help to regulate the cycle and functional tests that help to see how we are detoxifying our hormones or if we have any micronutrient deficiencies that could be corrected with diet and supplements?


I saw a Nutritional Therapist in my 20’s. As a result of this, I changed my diet, learnt to balance my blood sugar, and to eat enough. There is more that can be done; my advice to you is to advocate for yourself, ask for a second opinion, do your own research, and take control of your own health.


If you would like any help with your hormone balance or if you feel this story resonates with you, please do get in touch.


I am running a clinic open day on Friday, May 3rd, and Saturday, May 4th. You can book a no-commitment nutritional strategy call with me by clicking on the link below. I would love to hear from you.


Catherine x




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