What doctors don’t say about the birth control and thyroid connection

What doctor don't say about the birth control and thyroid connection

I was 17 years old. I went to my doctor about my painful, irregular, extremely heavy menstrual cycles. I was not sexually active. The answer. Birth control. No thyroid test, by the way these symptoms are typical in hypothyroidism, which would have saved me from decades of undiagnosed hypothyroidism.

Written by Jolene Brighten, ND

Worldwide, 100 million use some form of birth control…without knowing how it actually works and the possible damage it can do to their bodies. I’m talking the pill, the patch, the ring, the IUD, the depo shot, the implant, the “fill-in-the-blank”. Women are being put on birth control to manage their symptoms without any discussion of what that’s doing to their body now and what it could be doing to their body in the future.

Are you aware that most women, at some point in their life, have been recommended the birth control pill by their doctor? The CDC estimates 10.6 million women use oral contraception in the U.S. alone.

Doctors often offer up the pill in response to common complaints, such as acne, heavy menses, PMS symptoms, or irregular periods. And yes, the pill can help with all of those symptoms for some women, but this approach certainly doesn’t address the underlying cause, including in many cases thyroid disease.

What most doctors don’t share with women is that the birth control pill has its own share of side effects. Some of which are irreversible.

The birth control and thyroid connection

The birth control and thyroid connection is real! And many women have written to me questioning if the birth control pill could be sabotaging their thyroid health. The common story I hear from these women and the women in my practice is that most of their problems started when they committed to that daily pill consumption.

This has been a question on my mind too, after all I did my time with The Pill and was diagnosed as hypothyroid later in life. After I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, I knew I had some work to do if I was going to get my health back on track and that this was definitely not the time to get pregnant. After having over a ten year relationship with birth control pills I knew I didn’t want to go back, but it did make me curious about what effects the birth control pill could have on thyroid health.

So I dug into the research and found that the pill does more than prevent pregnancy – it sabotages your thyroid health.

Is the pill the cause of your thyroid problems?

Nutrient Depletions

Birth control pills deplete vital nutrients your thyroid requires and can interfere with thyroid hormone on multiple levels. For example, selenium and zinc are needed to produce thyroid hormone and to convert it to its active form, T3. Zinc is also required for getting the thyroid hormone and cell receptor talking.

Just by depleting zinc alone, the pill can prevent you from making, activating and using thyroid hormones. But the pill affects more than just your minerals.

Crucial B vitamins are also depleted by the pill. Without these key vitamins, you can not synthesize thyroid hormone…not to mention the hundreds of other uses for them in the body.

So, let’s recap where these nutrient depletions are impacting your thyroid:

  • Interferes with synthesis of thyroid hormone
  • Interferes with conversion from T4 (inactive) to T3 (active)
  • Interferes with using thyroid hormone at the cellular level

The pill affects just about every level of thyroid hormone synthesis and utilization. You make less, you convert less and you use less…this alone is enough to advise against taking the pill if you have a thyroid condition.

But there’s more…

The Pill Increases Thyroid Binding Globulin

On top of interfering every which way it can with your thyroid hormone, the pill also elevates Thyroid Binding Globulin (TBG) and as you can probably guess, it binds thyroid hormone.

Once thyroid hormone is bound to TBG it is not available for use by the cell. This means that even if you manage to overcome the nutrient depletions and make enough thyroid hormone, much of it will be bound and therefore, not available to your cells. Keep in mind, every cell in your body requires thyroid hormone.

So, in addition to depleting nutrients needed to make and use thyroid hormone — the pill also causes your body to bind up any thyroid hormone you actually manage to make.

The Pill is Inflammatory

You know what else is inflammatory? Autoimmune disease. And it is the number one cause of thyroid disease in the United States.

Why is this important? Well, there are 3 big reasons.

ONE: Inflammation is at the root of all chronic disease.

If you already have an autoimmune condition then you probably already understand that more inflammation is bad. Like, can’t get out of bed, or move, or even think bad.

TWO: Inflammation will take your T4 and convert it right into Reverse T3 (RT3).

And when RT3 is up, you are beyond tired. I call it the hibernation hormone because it is designed to make you store calories (aka fat) and go to sleep…you know, hibernate.

THREE: Inflammation makes your cells walls less responsive to ALL OF YOUR HORMONES.

This includes insulin…and we all know where insulin resistance leads to. Actually, let me tell you that it is not just diabetes, but also neurological issues and heart disease that you have to worry about.

Think inflammation as fire and the pill as gasoline.

C-Reactive Protein (CRP) is a common inflammatory marker that is measured with via a blood test. With the pill, women not only experience an elevation in the CRP (the lower the better), as well as other acute phase proteins, including fibrinogen and ceruloplasmin.

Ok, so we’ve established the pill isn’t great for thyroid health, but what choice do we have?

Non-Hormonal Alternatives to The Pill

Your choice for a contraceptive should be made after doing your research and having a conversation with your doctor. This is an individualized decision and as such, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Talk to your doctor about non-hormonal options and ask for the pros and cons of these methods as they relate to your health and needs.

For my high-tech gals, check out Daysy Fertility Monitor. Actually, you don’t have to be high-tech at all. Daysy makes it so easy and has so much data that she can help get your cycle dialed in quickly. This is the method I use because “green light go” and “red light stop” work really well when my mind is on pregnancy prevention.

About Jolene Brighten, ND

Dr. Jolene Brighten is a licensed Functional Medicine Naturopathic Doctor. Dr. Brighten specializes in women’s health, from fertility to postpartum care, adrenal and thyroid support, autoimmune conditions, and digestive disorders. In her innovative women’s medicine clinic, Rubus Health in Portland, Oregon, Dr. Brighten thrives on navigating the space between conventional and alternative medicine, all while working with patients to help them achieve optimum balance, health, and happiness.

READ NEXT: Hypothyroidism? Hair loss? Fatigue? Heavy Periods? Check Your Iron

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About Dana Trentini

Dana Trentini founded Hypothyroid Mom October 2012 in memory of the unborn baby she lost to hypothyroidism. This is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for consulting your physician regarding medical advice pertaining to your health. Hypothyroid Mom includes affiliate links including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.


  1. I went on the pill for painful periods aged 41 this was the first time I had ever gone on the pill. It was only for one month though, because I then got really bad water retention and had to stop it.
    The water retention stayed after stopping the pill so my Dr checked my thyroid.
    I was diagnosed hypothyroid and put on medication which has never helped me.
    I have tried all thyroid meds and I’m now on T3 only and this too is not getting into the cells so I remain hypothyroid and my neck is swelling.
    I have started a low histamine diet as I now react to all food and scent. Also I have stopped all gluten
    Would love to find someone to work with that can help my situation Dr/nutritionist. Has anyone been in a similar situation that can give me some advice please ?

    • Hi Tracey, Since I began Hypothyroid Mom 9 years ago the number of people reaching out to me struggling to find good thyroid doctors and treatment has been staggering. As I approach nearly a decade of this website, I decided to bring together great thyroid doctors and services to help my followers that can’t find good care or that need someone to do a full review of their thyroid case for a second medical opinion. Here is information regarding the Hypothyroid Mom Centers in case it may be helpful to you: https://bit.ly/HMCenters Regards, Dana Trentini (Hypothyroid Mom)

  2. Carolina Zamora says

    I got my first period when I was 11 yrs old. By the time I was 15 I was having really bad cramping, and heavy periods. Enough pain that caused me to faint a few times. But it wasn’t until a year after I became sexually active (at 18), that I noticed my periods were getting worse and worse and so did my panic attacks. My doctor got me on the pill but it didn’t do much for me so I stopped it a little before a year and they switched me to the Nexplanon. This implant took my period for 3 years but I didn’t think it had a negative effect on me though, 3 months after I got it I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Which explained why I gained about 25 pounds within the first two months I was on it. I went from 168lbs to 193lbs even though I worked out twice a week and ate healthy. Every single one of my 5 doctors told me none of the birth control affects the thyroid gland. I am 23 now and just in January I took the Nexplanon off. The OB/GYN put me on the pill but by the end of February I stopped it since it was causing me pain on both of my breast. Surprisingly almost a month 1/2 after only being on my thyroid medication and my migraine medicine my thyroid levels are adjusting and I had to change my thyroid medicine TWICE for lower dosages. Plus I went from 210lbs to 192lbs just during this time period. I’m wondering if all this time on birth control caused me to have all of these health issues and now just with daily exercise and mainly pescatarian lifestyle I am learning how to

  3. Hilary Merlow says

    Same here

  4. Britt Mac says

    I started the pill when I was 17, got off it when I was 20-21 and began natural family planning. I was dx with hypothyroid about 6-9 months after getting off the pill (My mom and grandma both have hypo too, but they didn’t start til menopause age). I also found that while they were adjusting my thyroid medicines initially, each time my dose changed, my cycle changed too (usually was longer), which did make it difficult for NFP to work well, hence the 2 kids 17 months apart. 🙂
    I then went on Nexplanon after my 2nd child, had it out to have my 3rd, and then back in again after that pregnancy. I have done nothing but bled irregularly since being on Nexplanon. I finally just recent complained to my doctor about it, and she switched me to IUD, hoping it would stop bleeding all together. I still feel like my thyroid is out of wack, but every time I test “looks fine”. I even asked my doctor how thyroid enteracts with cycles, and she looked at me like I was crazy, saying there is no interaction. Umm, don’t all your cells need thyroid?
    And what about testing more than just TSH/T4? I have read that it is not a good picture of what is going on with your thyroid…

  5. I started my period at 11, by 13 I had so much pain from ovarian cysts and questionable endometriosis. I was put on the pill at 14 when it became unbearable. By 27, I had surgery to remove endometriosis, which was everywhere once they got inside. My ovaries were attached to one another BEHIND my uterus, and they also removed 2 ovarian cysts . I had in vitro for my son at 29, c- section with emergency surgery to have my bladder and colon separated because they were fused together. at 30, appendectomy 3 months later. Around 37/38, my energy was zapped. I couldn’t even walk up the stairs after working 7 hours (in an elementary school). Everything hurt, brain fog, weight gain. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. 2 years later, hashimotos. I’m 46 now. This article was very interesting! I’ve always wondered why all this occurred…never thought being on the pill all those years may have contributed. Makes sense!

  6. Have you been checked for Polycystic ovaries

  7. My 16-year old was just diagnosed with POI. She needs to be on a HRT (estrogen patch and progestin/progesterone pill) until she is 50. They also found a nodule in her thyroid…we don’t know yet what it is, but her thyroid hormones are within normal range. Given this, could taking progestin/estrogen have a potentially negative impact on her thyroid?

  8. I was on the pill for 8 yrs. Now not only do i have Hypothyroidism, i also have Fibromyalgia. Or just maybe improperly medicated hypo?. Who knows. I also have several symptoms of Hyperthyroidism. I also had to quit working. I am currently seeking permanent disability. I have been suffering for over a decade. What i want to know, is a civil suit possible, because there are many days, i just want to die. If someone is responsible for that I WANT THEM PUNISHED

  9. I was diagnosed with hypothyroid a few months back. I have been taking meds since then and haven’t had a period. My periods for the last 13 years have been on time energy month but absolutely horrific. I’m trying to figure out what thre tyrod medicine had in effect with my periods. If any at all. Can someone tell me?

  10. Wondering if you have any sources or studies that pertain to this information. I know all of this as fact but having a hard time helping others as they ask me to quote my sources. I figure you would have better records keeping than I as it has been so many years I have known this stuff from so much time and research years before but failed to keep records on it as I never knew I would need them. I love that people will stuff their faces with any pill a doctor gives them but when you ask them to look at the science of it and question it then they ask you for resources, ha!

  11. Rachel Bristow says

    My daughter has to go for the thyroid blood test and is on the pill. is it better to get tested while taking the pill or wait for the one week break in between packets. I feel sure she has thyroid problems so want the best chance of it showing up on a blood test as the doctor is very quick to dismiss it. Thanks in advance for your advice.

  12. Laraine Colwell says

    Ugh. At 18 I complained to my ob/gyn about my heavy, irregular, very painful periods. Her response was “that’s what’s so wonderful about menopause, you don’t have to worry about those things anymore.” She didn’t even ask if the pill helped them.
    Absolutely nothing. My cramps got so bad that I was lucky to get an hours sleep the first 2 days of my period. My thyroid was tested 3 times by my old family doctor and kept coming back normal. I was in a living hell for so many years. It’s bad enough I had all those problems but they could (and should) have been prevented.

  13. My daughter is having severe pain now when she is on her period. She is going to see a gynecologist and I think they will put her on the pill. My 7-year-old was just diagnosed with Hashimottos and all the women on my side have it. Should I have my 13-year-old daughter tested even though it’s just the painful periods and being cold all the time but not many other symptoms before she gets put on the pill? Next, I will be tested because I think I have been living with it for a long time.
    I’m so glad I found you!

    • I would absolutely have her tested first! Especially with the family history. If you want a more holistic approach, look for a FertilityCare OB/GYN or general practitioner: https://www.fertilitycare.org/

      They don’t just try to cover up symptoms with a Band-Aid (aka “the pill”). They will try to find the underlying issues as they want to support good health while protecting fertility.

  14. Thought this was a very interesting read, I had been hyperthyroid with Graves for about 5 years when I went on birth control, was fine going on it and was on it for about 8 years when I went off of it June of 2017. I had a really bad UTI a couple of months after stopping the pill, which I had never had a UTI before in my 29 years . Also since stopping my thyroid levels started to trend hypothyroid and over the last year I have now become hypothyroid having to switch from Methimazole that treated my hyperthyroidism to Synthroid, I have been on synthroid for the last four months. Again I have never had to be on synthroid before. I felt like both of these things had to be related to stopping birth control because it was the only change but my doctors didn’t think so

  15. I agree that “the pill” is too readily passed out anymore as a “fix all” to a girl’s problems, without reviewing health or family health history. My family has a history of thyroid disorders and I was not tested for thyroid issues until AFTER I had been on the pill for several years – I was put on at 15 for “lady issues.” I certainly believe any hormone altering pill we consume can/will have unforeseen effects on other parts of our bodies.

  16. I was on & off the pill from age 17. Eventually I was on a pill called dianette, to help with all the symptoms of pcos for a total of 8 years. I could no longer ignore articles about it’s effects on just about every part of my mind & body. I replaced it with herbs & supplements which worked ok. In 2015 I finally got diagnosed by a private Dr with adrenal fatigue & thyroid problems, after many years of serious illness. I was diagnosed with CFS, fibromyalgia & various other problems before this. I was also vegetarian with long stints as vegan from age 13, which would have compounded the deficiencies from long term pill use. I was tested repeatedly for hypothyroidism because I had nearly all the symptoms, yet my TSH never went over the magic mumber! Thus I was left to disintegrate in agony for 2 decades! I am now self treating for thyroid hormone resistance, with the knowledge I have gained from several experts! I’ve been researching health for yonks, helping myself, while others couldn’t & I relish articles like this. So thank you.

  17. Just a question. Is there a link between high blood pressure and thyroid disease and/ or treatment? I’ve tried synthroid, WP thyroid and armour over the past two years. I never had high blood pressure until I started treatment. I’m just wondering if there is a connection. My drs don’t seem to think so, but now I’m on bp meds at 41.

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