Search icon


02nd Jul 2024

Her Health: Everything you need to know about hormonal contraception and gut health

Niamh Ryan

Did you know that your birth control may be affecting your digestion and gut health?

When first deciding on which contraception to use, it can be overwhelming to consider all of the side effects and changes that your body will go through.

When I spoke to my GP about starting the pill, he made it seem very straightforward.

I’d heard about the possible side effects on social media but figured that it was just something I had to deal with it.

However, there can be a myriad of side effects that we don’t hear about.

Contraception and gut health

Our digestive system is constantly being affected by our hormones, which is why many women report changes in bowel movements while on their periods.

Hormones like progesterone and oestrogen can affect digestion.

Due to the fluctuating hormone levels, bowel movements may change considerably before, during, and after menstruation.

Furthermore, studies have found that hormonal contraceptives can cause minor changes in gut microbiota.

Dr Zaakira Mahomed says that both the combined pill and the mini pill can have an impact on our digestive system.

“The combined pill can cause nausea or make current symptoms worse, while the oestrogen it contains slows down the movement of the gut, causing bloating, constipation and discomfort,” she says.

“The mini-pill also slows digestion, exacerbating symptoms.”

Due to this, people may experience constipation and other differences in their bowel movements. Many also report bloating while on the pill.

According to clinical nutritionist Nishtha Patel, “A healthy functioning microbiome requires a fine balance of beneficial bacteria, and the pill, antibiotics or other medications can cause an imbalance in these bacteria known as dysbiosis.”

Dysbiosis can lead to cramping, indigestion, fatigue, and brain fog.

However, it is treatable with the right lifestyle changes.

Maintaining gut health

Choosing the right birth control can be difficult with the array of possible side effects.

Experts say that having gut issues while on contraception is not the be-all-end-all, however. There are many things we can do to promote gut-healthy bacteria.

The HSE recommends staying hydrated, eating lots of fibre, and regular exercise for general bowel health.

Eating fermented foods and probiotics are also hugely important for gut-healthy bacteria.

Other alternatives

By no means is the contraceptive pill a bad form of birth control, but it’s important to note how it may affect our bodies.

If you feel that the pill isn’t agreeing with you, there are plenty of alternative options.

Your health is a priority, and you deserve to find an option that suits you and your lifestyle.

IUD (also known as the coil)

An intrauterine device (IUD) doesn’t contain any hormones. It prevents pregnancy by not allowing the sperm to fertilise the egg.

The implant (also known as the bar)

The bar is inserted into the inner upper arm and releases a low dose of progesterone. The bar will stop ovulation.

Contraceptive injection

The injection is a large dose of progesterone given every three months, which stops ovulation. The effects will only last for three months and must be administered again to avoid pregnancy.