In this episode, I am speaking with Dr. Jolene Brighten, one of the world’s leading experts in women’s medicine and an expert in how birth control pills affect health. She is the author of the bestselling book “Beyond The Pill” and founder and clinical director at Rubus Health, an integrative woman’s medicine clinic. We will talk about the scary effects birth control pills have on your health.
In this podcast, Dr. Brighten will cover:
- Beyond The Pill book (and why it is a MUST-READ for any woman)
- Why doctors prescribe pills
- What to expect when you go off the pill
- The surprising truth about why most women use birth control pills (It is not that you’d think!)
- The health risks associated with birth control pills
- The effects of Post Birth Control Syndrome
- Why most doctors don’t keep up with the latest research in their field
- The importance of community (and the problem with social media)
- And much, much more!
Listen outside iTunes
The Scary Truth About How Birth Control Pills Affect Your Health with Dr. Jolene Brighten
Ari Whitten: Welcome to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. I am your host Ari Whitten and today I have with me Dr. Jolene Brighten, who is one of the world’s leading experts in women’s medicine and is a pioneer in her exploration of the far reaching impact of hormonal birth control and the little known side effects that impact health in a big way. In her bestselling book, which I have here next to me, “Beyond the Pill,” she shares her clinical protocols aimed at supporting women struggling with symptoms of hormone imbalance including post birth control, excuse me, Post Birth Control Pill Syndrome and birth control related side effects. A trained nutritional biochemist and naturopathic physician, Dr. Brighten is the founder and Clinical Director at Rubus Health, an integrative women’s medicine clinic. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and has been featured in prominent media outlets such as Forbes, Cosmopolitan, ABC News, and the New York Post and most notably the Energy Blueprint Podcast. So welcome, Dr. Brighten, it is such a pleasure to have you.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: Hey there. Thanks so much for having me.
Why Dr. Brighten decided to write Beyond The Pill
Ari Whitten: Yeah. And before we get into it I want to personally recommend, you know… Obviously I am reading this book “Beyond the Pill, not because I am on the pill, but as, one, in preparation for this interview and, two, for the knowledge gleaned to help, you know, the women in my life, whether it is my wife who was on the pill for many years or my newborn daughter. I want to know this information to keep them safe. So, for everybody listening, whether you are a woman, whether you have daughters or you are a man and you are looking out for your wife or your children or friends, I highly recommend getting this book and reading it. You can get it on Amazon. I have no vested interest in telling you to do that. Just go to Amazon and grab it. It is really important information. So Dr. Brighten, let’s first start off by talking about what this book is all about. So why did you write it? What prompted it? I know you have a personal story here, but then you dug into the science after that personal story. So tell me a bit about that.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: Yeah, well you have written a book and you know, you only write a book if you can’t not write the book. Like if it is, like it just is bursting to get out of you. And you know, really what inspired me to write this book is that I was finding myself having the same conversations with my patients over and over and over. And then you are reached out to with interviews and articles. And I am like, okay, there are a lot of gaps that we need to fill. And you know, I spent 10 years on the pill, so I am a first generation college student. So whenever people are like, “You are obviously anti-birth control and you are anti-pharmaceuticals.” I am like, “Well, one, I got to graduate college and this was a tool I used to do it so I am super grateful for that. And it got me out of those incredibly painful, terrible periods I was having. And, two, a little-known fact about me, I have Hashimoto’s and I take a medication every day for which I am grateful for.” So I am not anti-pharmaceuticals by any means. But really it is about pro informed consent and making sure that women have all the information they need so at the end of the day they feel like they made the best decision for themselves and that they were well-equipped to go to their doctor’s appointment and have that educated discussion. I had myriads of birth control side effects that I only look back now and I am like, “Oh yeah, like that was probably because I was on the pill. You mean a 20 something never having libido wasn’t normal? Like, oh, that is because I was on the pill.” Like, you know, there were times that I was on formulations that caused, you know, extreme depression. And I was told, “It probably wasn’t that pill, but let’s just switch and see what happens,” and then I was a different person. And what did my like teenage self know about that? Like I had no idea. And so a lot of this book is, you know, the focus is, you know, really turning up on the lights on what we do know currently with birth control and then asking a lot of questions about what we don’t know. Like saying, you know, for instance we know there is a correlation between depression and anxiety and starting hormonal birth control. But what we don’t know is why does it happen to this woman but not this woman. Like why is it one sister can take it and it is fine? It is the best thing ever happened to her. And then the other gal, no, like it is one of the worst things that she has ever gone through. And so, you know, writing this book was about putting the information in women’s hands, but also getting the medicine in their hands. And reminding them that what it takes to stay out of the doctor’s office, you don’t find it in a pill bottle. You really find it at the end of your fork. You find it the way you talk to yourself when you get out of the shower, women, you know, and you know, a lot of the lifestyle therapies. And so it is called “Beyond the Pill” because I wanted to give women root cause solutions to their common hormone issues beyond birth control. They always have that option. But what else could it be? What questions could we be asking and what could we be investigating? How can you work with your doctor? And it is also “Beyond the Pill” because so many women that I have met with and I have talked with online are terrified to come off of birth control because like the majority of women, they were using it for symptom management and they are so afraid that when they come off those symptoms are going to be way worse or something unknown is going to happen.
And so I wanted women to know there is life beyond the pill, the patch, the ring, the IUD, any of these things. You can work with your body and if you do choose to use birth control, you should have all the information and support to stay healthy and safe on it.
How women actually use birth control pills
Ari Whitten: Now I want to start with just a couple of facts around this that may surprise a lot of people. One of the facts that I read at the beginning of your book is that a majority of women take birth control pills not for birth control. So…
Dr. Jolene Brighten: Crazy, right?
Ari Whitten: Right. So talk about that. What are they really taking it for if not birth control?
Dr. Jolene Brighten: Yeah, so pregnancy prevention is what it was developed for. However, over time we have come to see that more and more women are being prescribed the pill for things like acne.
So that could be just benign acne, as you have a few zits here and there, or cystic acne, which we see often with like polycystic ovarian syndrome. Painful periods, so having extremely painful periods or even, you know, wanting just to skip your period. So some women are using it because they find their period messy and inconvenient. And like this is 100% your right to use it for the symptoms but we have to recognize that a lot of these symptoms have an underlying cause. So if you are wanting to shut down your period because you bleed for more than seven days and it is super heavy, you need to ask if you have iron deficiency anemia or estrogen dominance or fibroids. Like is there something else going on? We also know that the younger you are put on it and the longer you stay on it for painful periods, the more likely you are to receive the diagnosis of endometriosis.
This is not that birth control causes endometriosis, just like birth control doesn’t cause PCOS. But it can mask it and delay a diagnosis which is a big problem because endometriosis is one of those conditions that we see the highest incidence of infertility. Polycystic ovarian syndrome, while it has these unwanted hormonal side effects, so another reason why we might want to use the pill is because we are growing hair on our chin, chest, abdomen and we don’t like that. Like this is not something that women generally like so I don’t blame them. But if you are using it for these symptoms and yet not addressing what the underlying cause is, with PCOS for example, you are allowing inflammation to progress, cardiovascular disease to progress. Hormonal birth control increases cholesterol. It can elevate blood pressure and lead to insulin resistance and down the line that becomes diabetes. Women with PCOS are already at high risk for this.
So this is the information that we need to convey to women is that if we are going to manage your symptoms with the pill or any other form of hormonal birth control, we do also need to know why you have them to begin with. Because this is actually part of why I wrote the book as well and started talking about this so much, is that I was really fatigued on being the doctor telling the 30 something year old woman that she had PCOS or endometriosis and this was why she couldn’t have a baby and that this was allowed to progress. And, you know, her looking back and saying like, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this?” And I thought to myself, “Yeah, why haven’t…? Why? Why are we not talking about this?” So you know, there is a lot of symptoms that can come up, even like hormonal headaches that doctors may reach for the pill for. Because if you shut down the reproductive system, then you can shut down the ebb and flow of the hormones because we are cyclical creatures. And that will get symptom relief in some conditions.
Why most doctors prescribe pills
Ari Whitten: Now, I want to speak to that point just a bit because it seems to me like there is a gap between… There is a gap in conventional medical doctor’s thinking on this issue where every symptom or almost every symptom that is a deviation from normal, sort of very little symptoms as far as associated with the monthly menstrual cycle, is a reason to give birth control pills. So whether it is painful periods, whether it is heavy bleeding, whether it is irregular periods, whether it is a lack of periods, it is like, it seems like they are throwing the pill at almost all of these kinds of issues without further exploration. And this is a point that you harped on a lot in your book where, you know, as you said a minute ago, like if you have heavy bleeding it may be a sign that you have, for example, anemia or it may be a sign of this or if you have irregular periods, it could be this or it could be that. So just, I am just curious why you think that they are not addressing some of these deeper root cause issues and they are just rushing to prescribe the pill.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: You know, one thing I think about is that if you believe that you have got the cure all for everything female related, so I call it the pill for every female ill, and it will help this woman, why would you hold back? Why wouldn’t you prescribe that for her? If you think this is the tool and I can fix what ails you, of course you are going to prescribe that. But you know, I was talking with a conventionally trained medical doctor and he said something really interesting to me. And that was, “Whatever we are taught in residency, it doesn’t matter how much research comes out, it is very hard to get us to change our mind after that because,” he is like, “it is not just the indoctrination but it is what we go through mentally and physically during residency. That almost breaks us in a sense to where it is like we accept this.” And he, you know, he had approached me for this conversation after hearing me talk about like there is diet dogma, there is medical dogma.
We need to move away from it. Like, we need, it is okay to have beliefs. But we need to acknowledge when we have a belief and when we have science. Like there are times in my book where I am like, “I believe this might be the case but I don’t have a study for that.” So like we can just admit that. But it is something that I think, you know, when we recognize, as I talk about in the book, women just got started to be included in studies just a handful of decades ago. There is a medical gender bias that exist so well recognized that we see major medical institutions like Harvard are starting to change their curriculum to match this. And this bias is against women. Women die of heart attacks at a higher rate because we are dismissed. We are less likely statistically speaking to receive adequate pain management care because we are often told things are in our head. And it is kind of a throwback to the days of hysteria. And if you, so not a lot of people know this. I love old school medical books. I love, like I am talking like you would have to have white gloves to touch them. On my honeymoon my husband took me to a rare book room with medical books. I love to go through and just see the evolution of medicine. And when we look at the evolution of women’s medicine, I mean there is so many things that have been done like sedating us and you know, prepping us and cutting us and pulling the baby out with forceps. And like so many things that have been done in a way that really is more like we are going to conquer the female body rather than work with the female body. And it is really the… And I just want everyone, I want to be clear that I am not hating on medical doctors and I am not hating on anybody.
Because like this is how medicine and science evolve is we do dumb things. And then we are supposed to be humble enough to look at it and be like, “Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. Let’s do something different with that.” But you know, in all of this, I really wanted women to walk away from this book understanding that their symptoms are not their body’s way of betraying them. It is not your body, you know… I said this before. Your body is not a vehicle just trying to get you to the finish line which is death. Like it is in it with you. And your symptoms are your body’s way of speaking up. Like when we come off of birth control and all of these symptoms arise, the different systems are trying to speak to us and say, “Hey, I love you. I am with you. Please pay attention to this.”
And the symptoms are an opportunity to heal. What may start out as cystic acne now may very well become diabetes and heart disease in the future. But that cystic acne is an opportunity to be curious, to do the lab work and to work it up. And I think, you know, to be fair with doctors, women don’t always come in with the best quantifiable data. They will come in and just say like, “Oh, I am in so much pain and I bleed all the time.” And their doctor is like, “Okay, that sounds like every woman I hear,” which is another, you know, part of it. Is like who goes to the doctor but sick people and people who want help. So if your doctor sees that day in and day out, that is normal to them. But it is just common. It is the common chief complaint as we call it, that comes in.
But, you know, in that if you go to your doctor and that is what I aim to do in “Beyond the Pill.” Like you say your clots are bigger than the size of a quarter, that, your doctor is going to be like, “That’s, okay, that is interesting to me.” You say that like, “Okay, you know when my period comes, the pain is on this scale, it is an eight out of 10 and I vomit and when I bleed I change a tampon every hour.” Like when we go in with quantifiable data, we start speaking the doctors’ language. Now this should have never been put on a patient to have to figure out how to talk to doctors and doctors are trained to talk to patients. But there is a gap right now in women’s medicine. And so chapter four of my book is what I call the “period decoder ring.” Like, when you, the day you got your period, someone should have said, “Congratulations, here is the decoder ring of all your symptoms and what they mean.”
But in that chapter, we troubleshoot some of the most common, what we call period problems. And then I give you the, “Okay, so listen. This is what it might be and this is what you can do right now while you wait for that doctor visit or you wait for those labs.” And go to your doctor with that curiosity of like, “I appreciate that you are offering me the pill. However, could it be X, Y, and Z? What do you think about doing a transvaginal ultrasound?” And it is really when we approach doctors in this way, we are much, much more productive because the problem is, is that we are sick, we are in pain and we are frustrated. And then we yell at our doctor because it is like the sixth doctor. And then we forget they are humans. And what do humans do when you yell at them? Fight, flight, freeze. Your doctor is going to run out of the room, or they are going to shut down and stop listening to you.
Or they are going to push back and tell you like, “You know you are going to do X, Y, and Z and it is just the way it is.” I would love to be like, “Oh, doctors are special creature.” No, we are humans at the end of the day. And so, you know, I think there is a lot of disconnect in terms of respect for the patient’s story and bridging that with the science. And a lot of the times doctors get told if there is not a story to support what she is saying or she doesn’t fit the perfect algorithm, then she might be making it up. Like it may not be real.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I like what you said earlier about, you know, kind of this feeling like we have conquered the female body. I think because this monthly menstrual cycle in a way has been so mysterious historically. And there is all of these, I think what men have historically perceived, as really weird irrational symptoms and like, “Oh, she is PMSing again. And she gets kind of irritable and cranky and a little crazy.” And I am just wondering to what extent birth control has almost been seen historically as like, “We finally conquered the female body and we have stabilized them of their irrationality,” you know?
Dr. Jolene Brighten: Oh yeah. I think there is an undercurrent, you know, in that. I don’t think anybody would verbalize it or say it out loud. I think in the current culture people would be, you know, put a little pause on that. But you know, from a business perspective…
Ari Whitten: Well I just did. So I took care of that.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: Well, you know, from a business perspective, birth control is a really interesting pharmaceutical because it was the first time a drug could be prescribed without having a diagnosis. So you didn’t need a diagnosis and you didn’t need to be sick. And in fact we could put every single woman who went to college on it and it very much, you know, it is really interesting in all this. And Holly Grigg-Spall wrote a great book called “Sweetening the Pill.” She is a journalist, so it is from a journalist perspective.
And she was talking about how, you know, the first wave feminism around the pill was actually not to take it. And women were protesting it because they were so sick and because women were dying and because the trials were really shady. I mean, there were doctors, so female doctors who were basically told, “You can’t stay in medical school unless you are in this trial. You must be in this trial.” And women would try to hide taking it and not actually take it. And the interesting thing about that is we can verify it by measuring binding globulins. So, sex hormone, cortisol binding and thyroid binding globulins are all elevated while you are on birth control. So, and that is going to affect all of your hormones, by the way, for people listening. So whenever doctors are like, “It doesn’t impact the thyroid or the adrenals. Like that can’t be a thing. And the testosterone thing is not that big of a deal.”
And I am like, except those binding proteins are exactly how we verify you actually are using it in the trial. But you know, I will say, you know, I think that it has absolutely been instrumental in the women’s movement. I mean we, there is data showing increase in wages, increase in college graduation among women when they introduced hormonal birth control and they were able to attribute some of that to the pill. So it has been really helpful. But as women have come under threat to lose access to birth control, which has happened over and over and over, it is something where there is also this push back from what would be seen as a pro women side saying, “Don’t question it because we might lose it and don’t question it because you should be grateful that you have it. Just take it in and say thank you.” And yet, you know, what I advocate for is that we can advocate for access and education and informed consent all at the same time. I call it having it all. You can have access to birth control, but you can also know, you can have individualized counseling with your doctor and you can also know what the risks are so that you can monitor and know when to go to your doctor.
The health risks of taking birth control pills
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Now let’s talk about what some of those risks actually are. So I know you have alluded to a few different things here as far as hormonal disruptions and thyroid issues and autoimmune issues, libido issues and there are several others that you mentioned in passing. But can you kind of give a quick run down, a list of, you know, the most strongly supported in the evidence problems or negative side effects that can arise from using birth control?
Dr. Jolene Brighten: Well, the one I talked about to begin with that we only have causation studies, or excuse me, correlation… Just scratch that. Please don’t misunderstand me. Oh my God, that is like the worst thing to say right when you are talking research. We only have correlation not causation studies in the affects on mood. And so depression, anxiety, mood swings, increased suicidal ideation. So younger women, they are at higher risk of committing suicide when they get on birth control. And this is not just the pill, this is also progestin based. So like IUD, the mini pill which we usually give in postpartum because it lowers risk of stroke and clots, which is a risk factor very well supported in the research. But you know, with these depression studies, the thing I do want to honor is that since the introduction of birth control women have complained of the mood alterations and in fact it is in the packages. The pharmaceutical companies put it in there as a potential side effect.
And in addition, you know, women having complained about it for so long, we have also come to see some research coming out about what the mechanism of action may be with that. Like it alters the structure of the female brain. It messes with the tryptophan pathway. So our tryptophan metabolism doesn’t quite go into serotonin and instead goes into neurotoxins. And, you know, through all of this we are are getting closer to understanding this, but there is still a lot of people dismissing it. And it fascinates me how many researchers, so MDs and PhDs, researchers have been coming out saying for as long as birth control has been on the market, we really haven’t done our due diligence in studying it and studying everything that is going on. So, what is really important I think to understand is that birth control works on the brain.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: That is where it works. And I didn’t know this for 10 years. I was like, I just took the pill and I was like, “Yay. I will have a period when I want to have a period. This is great.” And, but in that, whenever I hear someone say, “Well, birth control can’t have any affect on the brain,” I am like, “Can we talk about how it works?” Because the way it works is to flood your system with so many hormones, it stops your pituitary from signaling to the ovaries, which is a very good thing if you don’t want to ovulate and you don’t want to have a baby. But to say that it can’t have any effect on the brain, that can’t be accurate. Especially because we know that natural estrogen and progesterone, there is no progesterone in any hormonal contraceptives. So everyone listening, it is only progestin. It is synthetic.
It doesn’t have the same benefits. But these hormones are absolutely neuro-protective. They help with neuroplasticity. They help with memory. There is so much that they do. And to understand that if every single cell in your body has receptors for natural hormones and we just flooded you with synthetic hormones, they have the potential to cause some issues as well. Now, you know the big, we talked about a little bit, like clots are definitely a risk and it depends on the formulation. It also depends on your own genetics. And this is something that the hardest chapter of my book to write was chapter eight, which is the reversing metabolic mayhem. And quite honestly, I just don’t enjoy talking about cardiovascular health. It is just not my… I am like, “Ahh.” Like but also, it is scary when you start talking about heart attacks, strokes, having a pulmonary embolism, cancer, diabetes, it gets scary quick and I did not want to scare people in my book.
And there is parts where it is like, okay, this is scary. Like let’s admit it. It is scary. And yet like I also outlined, if you are scared, get these lab testing done right now. So something like a factor V mutation. You know, it is interesting is that I recently was looking at some research on a particular pill formulation. I was writing an article of like, okay, everybody’s going back to school, people are going to college. I want to write an article on how to stay safe on birth control so that women know and they have that tool. And to see that one formulation of the pill in this medical database that is a conventional medical database said, you know, here is the contraindication to women using the pill. And then it said Canadian, here is the Canadian ones. And it started talking about MTHFR and homocysteine levels.
What I talk about in my book that people have told me I am crazy because in the US we don’t regard that. I am like, “Wait a minute, why is this the same pill? Women are not different from the US and Canada yet in Canada we are using more caution around that than we are in the US.” So there is these other continental disconnects that happen as well that we have to start looking at. So MTHFR is definitely something I talk about in my book, getting tested. No, it is not because you need boatloads of supplements or that your genetics rule you. But it is because it could put you at a higher risk for a cardiovascular event. So it is best if you have that to follow up with additional lab testing and understand, one, what is happening in your body, and two, what is actually happening in terms of you being on the pill. Now, the research around gut health, I don’t know if you have seen any of this research.
Ari Whitten: In your book. I saw you talk about it. But I had not seen it up until that.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: It blew my mind when I got… So you know, I really got into that because I found that, okay there’s patients of mine that, you know, they would be able to heal their gut like maybe 80% but we couldn’t get to that hundred percent. What is going on? And you know they were all on the pill. Not everybody who has trouble healing is on the pill, guys. But these patients were on the pill and I am like, “Well let me look at that.” Well what we have known is that it does contribute to dysbiosis. In fact dental research has shown overgrowth of yeast in the mouth since the introduction of the pill. We know vaginal yeast infections increase.
It is definitely a risk being on the pill. It also causes dysbiosis in the gut and intestinal hyperpermeability which most people are more familiar with as leaky gut. Which, when I read that I was like wait a minute. Like, and then you couple that with like NSAID while you are on your period when it does come and this is something we should be talking about. And then I came across the study out of Harvard showing that if you had a family history of Crohn’s disease, after five years on the pill you had a 300% increased risk of developing that, which my husband will attest to, puts me in a rabbit hole on PubMed. And as I went in, there were case studies from the 1970s, and mind you, these are just like, this is just a case study, guys. It is not a robust study. But women with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis and they take her off the pill and that is it and it goes away. And then seeing studies saying that, you know, women on the pill for every, that have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, for every year they spent on it they are at increased risk for an additional surgery. So for people listening, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease specifically, what I found as I started going through my patient’s histories who did have Crohn’s disease and did have a history of birth control, is that after starting the pill. There were many of them. I was like, “Did you ever have mouth ulcers?” And they are like, “Yeah, I kept going to my dentist. I had these mouth ulcers.” Or, “They would go away and so I just like thought nothing of it. Like everybody gets canker sores.” Well that is one way that Crohn’s disease can actually show up. One of the subtle things. And you know, this is where when people say, “You shouldn’t share the side effects of birth control because it will scare women and they should really be having this conversation with doctors.”
Yes. But they also don’t know what is not normal and they also don’t know what to be looking out for. So, you know, the gut research has been really interesting, especially since in the 1970s. I mean, we still thought the microbiome was a bunch of freeloaders. Maybe they made a little B12 and vitamin K. There is another place to have some humility. I mean, just back over a decade ago when I was getting my nutrition degree, we were taught that the microbiome was of little value except for some vitamins. And doctors were like, “Hey, you are crazy if you take probiotics. And that doesn’t have any evidence.” And now here we are like, okay. So, there was something to that. Like we just need to stay open to learning. Now, you know, I have been talking a lot about all of the risk factors. I know a big one that people always have a question about is cancer.
And a lot of doctors will recommend if you have a history of ovarian cancer to use birth control. And that is because birth control, the pill specifically does decrease the risk of cervical cancer. Although as you and I know, there is a lot more variables to cancer. It is not as simple as change your diet. And it is not as simple as taking a pill. Like there are a lot of variables that go into that. And we do see increased risk of breast, cervical, liver and brain cancer when women are on the pill. But we do see a decrease in ovarian cancer and in endometrial cancer. And part of that decreased risk is because while you are on the pill, you can have a medication induced withdrawal bleed. And so when you are on the pill, it is not a period. I thought it was a period.
I am like, I thought, “Oh, you can get your period whenever you want.” No, that is just a medication withdrawal bleed. So that is another, you know, issue that we see is that there are women with an ovulatory cycle, endometrial tissue is building up. The pill may very well be the best thing to put them off, have that withdrawal bleed so that they avoid, you know, harmful procedures but also potential endometrial cancer. So, the last thing I will say, because there is definitely a lot more I could talk about but is nutrient deficiencies. And this has been well documented. Whenever people are like… I will post about it on Instagram, usually like every six weeks is my rotation because people every time are like, “I never knew this.” And with that, there is always someone who says, “I need to see research on this. I don’t believe any of this is real.”
And I am always a little taken back. And the thing I have explained to my audience multiple times is that when something is so generally accepted and taught in medical curriculum, you don’t usually come in with a study to say like, “Let’s back this up.” And when I was getting my nutrition degree there was a slide that went up and it was like, “Hey, if you have a woman on birth control, here is the laundry list of nutrient deficiency that she is at risk for and that you should be talking to her about diet for. Get her on a prenatal or multivitamin and be aware of this.” So magnesium, zinc, selenium, CoQ10, vitamin C, B6, B12, folate. Like there are so many nutrients that birth control is depleting that that alone, like if you want to use hormonal birth control, make sure you are eating a whole foods diet.
Don’t be Dr. Brighten who was 17, popping the pill, owning her period, driving through fast food windows. Like, that is why I don’t judge anybody about their diet because I have done my fair share of what I call metabolic obscenities. Which is I literally cussed at my body while I ate. And, so I am glad you think I am funny because I think I am funny.
Ari Whitten: I do most definitely.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: But you know in that making sure that we have that whole foods diet and then bringing in a prenatal or multivitamin. And the reason why I advocate for that is because with perfect use, the pill is 99% effective. IUDs are definitely much better, same with the implant. But you know, with typical use with the pill it is like 91% effective. That means that nine out of a hundred women in a year will get pregnant and some say seven out of a hundred.
But either way the risk is there. And by the time you need folate like during pregnancy, like it is too late. By the time you get that positive pregnancy test you already needed folate. So if you are on a medication that is depleting these nutrients and you are sexually active, there is a risk of pregnancy and it is for you and a potential baby that we make sure that you are supported in this way. And it is so well recognized, the folate deficiency that comes with it, they actually made a formulation of the pill that had folic acid in it to try to safeguard against that.
Ari Whitten: Interesting. So there is also a weight gain issue, kind of infamous weight gain issue that a lot of women dread and I think a lot of men whose partners go on birth control dread. What is the deal with that? And is it true that women do gain weight and is there a concern over insulin resistance and diabetes risk as well?
Dr. Jolene Brighten: Yeah, so there is definitely a concern about insulin resistance and the research has been kind of flippant about it where they are like, “Well, you know, the risk of insulin resistance and what we see is like what we see in pregnancy. So don’t worry about it.” Pregnancy is transient. So anytime a research study says, well you know, it is pretty much like pregnancy, keep in mind nobody spends 10 years pregnant. That is not something we do as humans. So within, you know, we found this interesting study come out not too long ago showing that if you used hormonal birth control for six months or more really any point in your life, you are at 35% increased risk of developing diabetes post-menopausal. Which is really interesting to be like, “Wait a minute. So I stopped it. And yet later down the line, like what happened with that?”
And so we don’t really know. And was it just birth control or were there other variables at play? We need more research to really understand this. Now the weight gain is interesting because I was taught much like many doctors, no, it doesn’t really cause weight gain. That is a myth. And what is interesting is you get into the research and the way that the majority of studies have been done is that they take a group of women, they put them on the pill, they add up the change in their weight and they divide by the number of women. Except some women lost weight because they were nauseous and some women gained like 50 pounds and then you know, so they say like, “Oh it’s very mild weight gain.” Well maybe, but it may not be for you. And so to that, if you are a woman who started birth control and you feel like it contributed to your weight gain, definitely talk to your doctor.
And you know, there is a couple things at play that have kind of been brought out in the research. So one is, I talked about the thyroid binding globulin and the nutrient depletions and I have a whole adrenal-thyroid chapter in my book that goes into this. And so there could be changes in your thyroid, which is your mood and your metabolism and staying warm and your menses. And so that could be really what is going on is that there is been, basically like you were probably on the edge and we just pushed you over the edge with birth control. And so we have got a hypothyroid issue. And so that is a potential. There is also the issue with muscle mass and that if we down-regulate your testosterone production and then we gobble it all up with sex hormone binding globulin, then we just took a very metabolically active organ and we starved it of the testosterone it needs to be stimulated. And what is really, I think what is really cool are the studies… So it used to be like put female athletes on the pill because their menstrual cycle makes them the lesser. And I like just giggled because I am like, our menstrual cycle is actually full of super powers. You people need to get in the know on this. But in this they have actually shown that being… So that, one, no, being on your menstrual or like having a menstrual cycle, being on your period, it actually doesn’t significantly inhibit your athletic performance. But being on birth control very well may because athletes won’t be able… So, people who strength train will find that they fatigue faster or they can’t get the same gains. And I saw, I worked with a lot of athletes and women who came to me and said like, “Okay, so I was doing CrossFit and I was kicking ass and then I got on birth control and now something is up. Like what is happening here?”
And so that could be a mechanism that is in play with that as well. And just a shout out to the US soccer team, which is one of the first athletic teams to track their player’s menstrual cycles and to work with them and train. So there is a way to train, we could do a whole another podcast on how to train with your menstrual cycle. Because I have worked with, I mean being in Portland, Oregon, we have got Nike, Under Armour, like everything around that I have worked with a lot of athletes. And so there is a way to work with your menstrual cycle. US soccer team did it and they actually came out and their coaches said, “We think this gave us the edge. We think this is why we won.” Yeah, everybody give it up for a woman’s body. Like how awesome is that? So…
Ari Whitten: Just to comment on that real quick. I have seen a few people in the fitness community publishing books lately on for women’s specific training in accordance with their menstrual cycle. So there is more and more research being done on that in the last few years, especially.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: Really? Yeah. Super Cool. I would definitely want to check that out. Yeah. And it is also something, too, for women if you are like, “Wait, I have got to like… Like it is enough to track when my period is coming. Now I have got to figure out when to exercise?” You know this. Intuitively you know this, you are just not giving yourself permission for it. So, you already know like the week before your period you start slowing down and you are like, “Why can’t I go so hard in my spin class or CrossFit?” Because girl you are supposed to be in yoga and pilates and doing these other like… Just give yourself permission. And, you know, as you are nearing ovulation and your testosterone is ramping up and you are like, “You know, I know I am only supposed to run five miles but I feel like I could run10 and it would feel awesome.” Try it. Let’s just, you know this already.
It is just we get so dogmatic about things and we think like, and then we also get in our heads about like keeping up with men and keeping up with the other gal and like, no. Just be in your body, be present. You have got this, you already know this. To the last piece I want to say about weight gain, which is the most common is water retention because birth control is so… Interestingly they have taken women’s blood, put them on birth control and found that CRP, so C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation is elevated after being on birth control. It is inflammatory and inflammation is as bad as it sounds you guys. It makes rigid cells that don’t accept hormones. But it also can cause you to retain water. So you can have this water weight. Progesterone which is made after ovulation is a diuretic.
Progestin is not. So now you just blast your natural diuretic. And so this, that is like the most common in terms of what we see. And so I just want to say that right now, you know, the studies are concluding that like there is no significant weight gain, but that might not be true for you. And that is more important than any study is what is true for you. And people are experts everywhere. Like it is a myth. Shut it down. Why? Because it is one of the biggest barriers to women starting birth control. It is one of the biggest things that they are afraid of happening to them. And so I think that we can have that conversation and then and do it in a way that isn’t scaring women and at the same time isn’t trying to basically brush it under the rug as if like, “No. No woman has ever experienced weight gain.” It definitely happens. But you know, the reasons, they are complex and we definitely need more research.
Post birth control syndrome
Ari Whitten: Yeah. So what is post-birth control syndrome?
Dr. Jolene Brighten: So like, oh, syndromes in medicine. It is a collective of signs and symptoms that tend to run together. And with post-birth control syndrome, you know, it is really my hope that in 20 years it is the condition formerly known as post-birth control syndrome so that we have done more research, we have collected more data and we are like, this is actually what is going on. Kind of like IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, which you know, for people who are not familiar with this. Once upon a time it was you have IBS, you stress too much and you are just an anxious person. And then it was like, wait, you have IBS-C and IBS-D which is IBS constipation, IBS diarrhea. And now it is wait, you have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, which is secondary to a transient autoimmune attack on your migrating motor complex, which is the nervous system of your digestive track.
And so now we are starting to understand there is a lot more to it and that is how we start with this syndrome. So post-birth control syndrome, number one criteria is you have to have been on birth control and when you come off you can see these symptoms and these signs start to rise typically on average, we will see four to six months after stopping. For some women it is much sooner. For other women it is much later. And the women that are much later is usually because they have been powering through. That is what women do. You know, your wife just had your second baby. We are amazing like that. And you power through and you put your head down and you are like, “I can handle it. I can deal with it. I don’t have time to go to the doctor.” And before you know it, you are like, “I can’t handle it. I have to go to the doctor.” So with that, when you understand that every single system in your body is impacted by birth control and then every single system in your body has receptors for these hormones, you can understand how when you come off of these hormones, these systems can start to speak up. So we can see missing periods. I have had women who have had regular periods for a decade. They were like, “Yeah, I counted it down and I dreaded it.” That was me, too. And then they got on birth control. They did it for several years, sometimes five years, sometimes 10 years and they come off and they lose their period. And their doctors are like, “Well, this is probably how you always were.” No, something else is going on there. And interestingly so if you are a woman who comes off of birth control, you lose your period, if it has been regular, we expect it to come back three months after coming off of birth control. If it was irregular, it could take up to six months. But in my practice I say if we are on month two, it is time to start thinking about lab testing and working that up. Because you know, once we get into, you know… And it is just about timing of labs. We don’t want to be at month six being like, “Oh shoot, we had hypothyroidism and now everything is going downhill.” We want to look for that root cause. Now, the other thing is that we can see digestive issues start to come up, gallbladder issues coming up, new onset neurological issues. So you may develop headaches or migraines for the first time in your life. Brain fog, anxiety, depression can set in then. We can also see weird skin symptoms, not just acne, but I have had patients come in that are like, “I have idiopathic hives now.”
And I am like, “Okay, let’s go through your timeline. What changed?” “I came off of birth control. Two weeks later, like you know, I started to have like these little rashes and then, you know, next thing I knew two months later I have got hives that break out.” And so it is just something that like we have to start asking the question about, well, about everything we haven’t been asking the question about basically with birth control. I mean, there was just a quote in Scientific America from a researcher who said, you know, this, we haven’t been studying the female brain. And what happens when we leave women on birth control for decades? And she called it the, you know, biggest, longest uncontrolled trial that has ever existed. And it really is. And, you know, people get really pissed at me for talking about this and I get it.
It is inconvenient, a very inconvenient discussion. And if you are having a moment where you are like, “What the heck did I do?” Know that I went through that. Like even in writing this book there were times where I was crying because I was like I have prescribed birth control, I have taken birth control, I didn’t know any of this and feeling really guilty of like how did I not know this and I did this to myself. But the thing is is that you don’t know what you don’t know. And the trouble is is that research hasn’t asked a lot of the questions for us to actually know and understand what is happening.
Ari Whitten: And that is a scary thought I think to realize that also if it is not just you that didn’t know, it is 95, I am guessing, percent at least if not more like 99% of doctors that are prescribing this probably don’t know a lot of the science around the side effects that is presented in your book. Would you say that is accurate?
Dr. Jolene Brighten: Yeah, I have. Yeah. I don’t know about that statistic but, but there is a lot. And I have had so many OB gynecologists reach out to me being like, “I have changed the way I practice now.” I just had a gal the other day write me and she is like, “I have been practicing 30 years doing birth control prescriptions. I have written it. Like I am actually now talking to my patients about like, ‘You know what, let’s actually work this up before we go down that route. We have other options.'” So I think we are seeing a shift and that is something that like brings a lot of hope into all of this. But the other thing I will say is that, and I say this in my book so you might have read it already, is that sex-ed was an epic fail. It is an epic fail for me and for so many women.
I mean there are so few states that actually mandate scientifically accurate sex-ed. Like let that sink in. They can teach you whatever they want. [crosstalk] based on science. I am like, what world am I living in right now? And you know, with that it was what got, drove me off the pill. One is that when I started it, my doctor said, “Ten years, that is all you got. Then the risk of breast cancer is too high. You have to be off the pill, like no more than 10 years.” So when10 years came and I was sitting in class, I remember I am actually in medical school and they say, “And this is when so many women figure out how their body works and how ovulation works is infertility and when you want to have a baby. And they say a woman is only fertile one day out of the month.” And it was like this panning in moment.
Like if I was like on The Office, or something, and it was like just suddenly the camera is on me and I am just like, “What? What did they just say?” And I am like, and I had this moment where I was like, you shouldn’t have to go to medical school to understand how your body works. Like all of these women are, like half the population walking around in their body and have no idea when they are fertile, what is normal cervical mucus, like what a period should be like. And that was something that like, I mean I really set out to do in the book is like, let me teach you about your hormones. Let me teach you about what a menstrual cycle looks like. Because I didn’t know that until we were learning about it because we had to help women get pregnant and troubleshoot these things and have a diagnosis.
And that is just not the way it should be. And I think, you know, there are, I think there is a lot of great doctors out there. But I have also talked with, you know, women who have said, like my doctor said, “There is no reason… I am on birth control. There is no reason to test any hormones whatsoever because they are all suppressed.” And I am like, “Wait, did you say anything about like thyroid or cortisol or insulin?” And like, they were like, “Yeah. And they said they are all suppressed.” And I am like, “Okay, I don’t know if you misheard it or what is going on, but…” Like you will hear kind of these things and that is what I was talking about, like these myths. Like there are these myths that continue to get perpetuated. They get perpetuated by influencers, they get perpetuated by doctors. And like, that is really like, it is why, you know, the… My good friend Dr. Sarah Hill, she is a researcher doing research on birth control. And we have had this conversation about how she said this really profound thing, that doctors expect that everyone will have the same response to drugs.
And when they don’t, they dismiss it. And the science doesn’t support that, it just doesn’t. The science shows that, like, we actually can’t predict how the population as a whole will actually be affected, not only by a drug, but by diet, by exercise, by sleep. Like we are just not there to be able to do that. And so we just have to hold space that like, you know, the pill and all of these forms of hormonal birth control are awesome medical inventions, great devices that we see come out. However, like there, it is not the end of the conversation. We have more to ask. And I think about things like, you know, the Essure coil. And how many women did it take until that got pulled? Are familiar with that medical device?
Ari Whitten: No.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: So it is, I briefly talk about it in my book because I was like I can’t recommend this to anyone. So it is a coil that they would insert into the fallopian tubes and basically scar tissue would form around it and block the tubes. No sperm gets through. Except that in some women it basically became shrapnel and these pieces were floating around. Women were losing, I mean losing their uterus. They were so many complications from it. And when you go and you look it up and you read about it, one of the biggest reasons why they finally took it off the market was because the demand was going down and because people weren’t buying it, which is to say your dollar vote is very powerful people. But also just like how many women did it take before we were going to recognize this was an issue? And you know, medicine is not perfect.
Human bodies aren’t perfect. Like we are going to have flaws in methods, we are going to have flaws, we are going to have people that are outliers. And yet at the same time, I mean, that is a lot of the work that am doing is that I just don’t think we can afford to lose any more women to a side effect or a complication that could have been screened for or avoided. And we have the science, we have the ability, I feel like it is the, like we have the technology to build the bionic man and I just dated myself there. If anybody is like under 30, they are going to be like, “What the heck is that?” But it is something that I think like, you know, the time to believe women’s stories is now. Actually the time to believe women’s stories is yesterday. And, you know, as people keep dismissing the side effects of birth control and shutting down women’s stories, I just think how many is it going to take?
What to do if you are on birth control for heavy bleeding
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Now, you know, again, given that there are so many doctors who aren’t listening, given that there are so many doctors who are not well read on a lot of these side effects that you talk about in your book. You know, kind of going back to a conversation you and I were having just before I started recording this Podcast, one of the things you said is, you know, we were talking about some controversial issues and how rather than getting yourself in hot water on some of these issues that you have just recommend to people, “Hey, go talk to your doctor about it.” Well, how much sense does that make here when so many doctors aren’t listening and don’t know about this stuff and are likely to be the ones that just say, “Oh, you have this symptom, here is birth control,” without any digging into the root causes. So to rephrase this question, for people who are on birth control now or who are considering it due to, you know, some symptoms that they have, irregular periods or heavy bleeding or hormonal migraines and things like that, what do you recommend to those people given that it is not just as simple as, “Go talk to your doctor”?
Dr. Jolene Brighten: Yeah. Okay. So, it is a great question. So one thing is, I recommend that everybody tracks their data, go through one menstrual cycle. When you write it down it is very hard for someone to gaslight you. So what will often happen in a practice, and there is research to support this, is women go in and they say, “This is my experience.” And the doctor says, “I don’t think you are right.” And then there they are in their white coat, their stethoscope, they are doctoring. Hmmm, my doctor probably knows more than me. So if you write it down and your doctor says, “I don’t think that is accurate.” That is your experience and you look down and you are like, “No, I wrote it down.” It is a lot harder for your doctor to do that. And you can advocate for yourself. Now, in addition, quantify that data.
Ari Whitten: Isn’t that amazing, by the way? It is like if you speak words, they are like, “Eh, I don’t know if that is legitimate.” But if you have written it down on paper, they are like, “Oh, it looks legit.”
Dr. Jolene Brighten: That is how we roll, though. We write everything down. So we are like, “Oh that’s legit. Like you wrote it down.” So, you know, with that we want to write everything down for sure. We want to get a gauge of what is normal for you and quantify it. So don’t say, “I have heavy periods.” Actually how many tampons do you change in a day? How many times do you change your menstrual cup? Like do you have to get up and change a pad during the night? And I go through all of that in my book. So we want to get the quantifiable data for sure and take that to our doctor. And if we are going to consider starting birth control, getting some baseline labs as well. Like you get a CBC, a complete blood count. If you are already B12 deficient, iron deficient, like you want to know that before you start birth control.
Otherwise you start it. Now it looks like you have a B12 deficiency. Was that because of birth control? Was that already where you were? And also getting things like your cholesterol checked because, as I said, birth control can elevate that. Getting your blood pressure checked by your doctor. That is pretty routine. Getting a thyroid panel, your inflammation markers, a homocysteine. So I go through all this in the book. And then I recommend that if you have the medical intervention, circle back and retest and continue to track your data. There is lab data, I love it, very objective. However there is the data you have that you walk around in your body with every day that we can’t capture in labs. So it is very, very valuable to bridge those two together. So that way if you end up with birth control side effects, you have tracked that data and you can be like, “Yep, nope, this is different like this. This is not working for me. Can we do something else?”
And that is how we get a little more to that individualized approach. Now if you don’t want to use birth control and you want to figure out like what is going on, that is something that I guide you in the book. Of like going to your doctor and rather, you know, there was this movement, I feel like it was a little bigger a few years ago, but it still exists where it is like your doctor works for you, go tell your doctor what to do. Don’t do that to anybody in the world that you want help from because it just doesn’t work. That is human politics. It is not just a doctor thing. So with that, going to your doctor and telling them, you know, for example, “I have irregular periods, my periods are coming anywhere from 35 to sometimes 60 something days. I can’t predict it. And I am just wondering like, could this possibly be due to thyroid issues or might you think that I have polycystic ovarian syndrome? What lab testing could we do?” And then have the list of labs that you would like to see done. And as they say them, check them off. And if they don’t say some, ask about it. And if you come from an inquisitive way, recognizing this person ultimately wants to help you, you are going to get a lot further in that visit. Now you will meet doctors, you know… It is not uncommon, especially in the United States for women to go through five, six, seven doctors before they get one that listens to them. That is sad statistics and it needs to change. And I think it is changing with the newer generations of physicians who are graduating. But don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.
Like your doctor can’t be everything to you. I mean, that is why I advocate like if you, you know, working with like a registered dietician or nutritionist and like other people who can be allied providers. Your doctor isn’t going to know everything about nutrition. They know things about you not dying. That is really important, too. So everybody has their strengths in that. But you know, in that, if you need to see a different doctor, see a different doctor. You know, I have had great experiences with male gynecologists personally, and terrible experiences with female gynecologists. And, you know, on the flip side, but I hear a lot more that women say like, “I feel like my female doctor listened to me more.” You know, that might be true. I think it is a lot easier to empathize with someone when you also bleed and you have cramps and you are like, “I hear what you are saying. I have been there.”
But at the same time, I don’t necessarily think it is totally rooted in gender. I think it is more rooted in education and, you know, the stories, I mean really the stories that your doctor has been told about a woman’s body. And, that is, I mean that is an important piece right there. These are all just stories that we can rewrite you guys. We can change the narrative in this. So there is those pieces. I also recommend, you know, if you can find a naturopathic physician, you can go to naturopathic.org, that is the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Look there. If you can find a functional medicine doctor, so ifm.org is another great resource to try to find a clinician that will work with you that is more about the root cause. I like to use this analogy of like when patients tell me like, “You know, I went to my doctor and was so frustrated because I wanted root cause medicine and like I just got these acute solutions.”
I am like you essentially went to the sandwich shop and you asked for ice cream and then you both got frustrated because you are like, “I want ice cream” and they are like, “I make sandwiches. That is what I do.” And what you really needed to do was go to the ice cream shop and you would have been satisfied. And so with that, it is not that your doctor is bad, it is just that they do sandwiches and you are looking for ice cream. And so we have to seek out the provider that is going to meet our needs. And so it is just like, you know, you wouldn’t go to a naturopathic doctor, even a functional medicine doctor and be like, “I have this major surgery I need to have done.” No, you want to go the surgeon for that. And so it is a bit of navigation on your part. But you can find these providers, they do exist out there.
And I am not an advocate of just DIY everything. I put out out a ton of information as I say that. I put out tons and tons of free information about lifestyle and nutrition and, you know, supplements and, you know, and I put out information about lab testing as well and pharmaceuticals to talk to your doctor about. But in all of that, you really do need a partner in this arena. And there are, you know, a subset of people who will be like, “I did the diet, I did this, I did that. Everything got better.” Fantastic. But if it is something like endometriosis, you don’t want to go it alone. You do want to have allies.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. And always, at least, even if you are going to go it alone, it is always smart if you have any kind of severe concerning symptom to at least rule out potentially diagnosable conditions that they do have good treatments for.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: Yes. Can we just like do a medical disclaimer here and right now. You can not diagnose or treat yourself on the Internet. It doesn’t work and neither can anyone else. And I see that sometimes on Instagram where people will be like, “You have this and you need to just take this.” And I am like, “Off of one paragraph? This person wrote one paragraph.” Like I will spend an hour with them just figuring out what we are going to test next, but okay. So don’t just like take it and run with it guys.
Ari Whitten: There is a flip side to this though. And I can’t speak to everything and I certainly can’t speak to a lot of areas within your specialty, but within fatigue specifically, there is actual statistics, there is evidence based guidelines published in a peer review journal talking about lab testing for people that come to the doctor’s office with fatigue. And in those evidence based guidelines, I mean they give specific guidelines for practice but they also talk about lab testing and they say, “Here are the recommended labs that you should run with your patients with fatigue.” And they also say a couple times in there, 95% of the time they won’t find anything on those lab tests that will change any of their recommendations. So in other words, less than five out of every hundred people actually get, let’s say, “Oh, we found anemia. Oh, we found hypothyroidism.” The other 95% of people are told, “You are perfectly fine based on your blood test.” So to some extent I would say a lot of people are going it alone, whether they tried to or not. You know, even if they went to the doctor and got the test and wanted help, they still end up going it alone.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: That is totally fair. And it is true. But at the same time you did get the screening labs. Because what if lo and behold it was 21-Hydroxylase antibodies positive, ACTH is through the roof and your cortisol has dropped. Like we are heading towards an Addisonian crisis. That is super rare. But you don’t want to find out that you are the like canary in the coal mine kind of situation.
Ari Whitten: For sure. Yeah. Always smart to rule out the severe stuff.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: But, yeah. Totally rule it out. But at the same time I think, too, when you start to look at the research, I mean it baffles me how people are like, you know, food is not that powerful and all these things. And I am like, except there is studies that come out that say that like the majority of the conditions we are all suffering and struggling from are diet and lifestyle based and that we could prevent it.
And so it is something, too, that I will say to people, “Just, like this day and age you don’t have to be like, I am either going to take the pill or like I am going to do the diet. You can do both.” And when I call it like… You know, I like to say, you know, it is like going to the tool shed and you need a hammer, but you just decide you hate hammers, you just hate hammers. So you are going to use a saw. It is not going to get the job done. It is not going to get the job done. So if you need a hammer, take the hammer and hey, you can tow the saw around, too. But you know, it is something that I think we have to recognize that the majority of healing does not happen in the doctor’s office. What keeps you out of the doctor’s office and what heals for life is generally not going to be coming in a pill bottle or any of these other things.
Yes, it is great that we have these pharmaceuticals. Yes, it is great that we have surgeries, especially lifesaving ones. We can use those and we can also take ownership of our own body and personal responsibility for getting to bed on time, for making sure that we are eating nutritious food as often as possible, opting for that nutrient density, you know. Making sure that like if your life is really, really stressed out, you are setting boundaries and saying no more often, not taking things on. I also think like at this juncture, I am like, I think we all need mental health support, like we really do. And whether that is community, you know, some people find it in a church, some people find it in a drum circle, some people find it in a licensed professionals office. But I do think that we need that mental, emotional support.
And, you know, and I think community can do a lot with that as well. I think that is kind of the next frontier where we are going to see everybody start talking a lot more about, because I think social media kind of created the most socially isolated humans in some way, not by design. Although I do have this theory that, please don’t censor us, Mark Zuckerberg. This is just a theory. I do have this theory that I am like…
Ari Whitten: Just a theory, I swear.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: It is just a theory, but so my husband is in tech. I have hung out with a lot of techies. They are not always the most sociable people. There are outliers. I am not making generalizations people. But in that I wondered if like Mark Zuckerberg was actually really awkward at parties, not so, didn’t like talking to girls, that kind of thing. It was like, “What if I put a screen between her and I? Like, what if we actually like made communities where it was online?” And it is easier, right?
Because you can filter yourself before things come out of your mouth. Not everybody does that so well on social, though, these days. But it is kind of my theory is it was a way to actually build community for people that kind of had trouble. And I am an early… So like guys, I am not above Facebook. I am an early adopter. I was in college when it came out. As soon as they opened it up to other college students I was all over it. I was like, I still love you, Myspace but let me do a little Facebook. So I don’t hate on social media, but it is something that I think is, I think it is really interesting. A friend of mine was just telling me there is like Snapchat dysmorphia now where people are wanting plastic surgery because they believe their faces should look like the filter in Snapchat. So it is a trip. I want to see more research. I want to just go to a conference on like social media’s impact, like the other great human experience. So I am fascinated by it. And as I talk to you about it, I am like talk about fatigue, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was… There is so much I want to say. First of all I totally agree with what you said about community. I think that is huge. I think, yeah, it is absolutely true with social media. There is all this weirdness, weird aspects of human psychology that are born into the world as a result of being separated from even just a face to face encounter, real time encounter like we are doing electronically right now. But then you take it one step further of separation. Now you can do stuff anonymously. There is no picture even oftentimes, and you can comment on YouTube. I mean YouTube is notoriously kind of a cesspool of negativity and nasty comments of people just saying…
Dr. Jolene Brighten: Are we going to be on YouTube?
Ari Whitten: We are going to be on YouTube but I don’t get those like, generally speaking I don’t get these kind of like… Well, like if you want to see an example of this, go on like Joe Rogan’s podcast and look through the comments and, you know, or anything political and you will just see people writing the most nasty, insane stuff that they would never say in person.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: No, would never say, I have to say, to quote Taylor Swift. Oh my God, that just came out of my mouth. But she has this, there was a song I was listening, I just got into Taylor Swift because this song came on and I was like, “That is such a good song based on the lyrics.” And then lo and behold it is Taylor Swift. And she is like, “If you say it on the street, it’s a knockout, but you say it in a Tweet that’s a cop out.” And I am like, “Oh, that is so very true because you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face.” I am known as being a, you know, I don’t run away from conflict person. And I am not very good with passive aggressive. I just don’t understand it is the reality. So I will just be like, “I don’t understand. Are you mad? Are you saying you are mad? Like I need, I need to know.” And it is something, I think that one of the most toxic things we can do is start an us-versus-them camp in our life. And you can’t control anybody else, but you can control yourself and see the humanity in everyone. And if you don’t like someone on social media, you can say, “No, thank you, not for me.” And you can block away. However, I think that, I mean it is definitely something to it. I mean I have come against, with birth control, I have come up with the food-as-medicine community. I mean all of these people being like it is us-versus-them and us-versus-them. And I am like, “When in history has that ever worked out, you guys?” Like, you know, not to be like doomsday, but as we sit here on this planet, we are coming up against some really scary stuff and quick. And I am like, “You guys, the way forward is together and we have got to get it together quick.” But, I am with you. That us-versus-them, it is toxic and it doesn’t move us forward. It is counterproductive. And no one is going to listen to you when you are, like you are screaming at them. I don’t even understand it. I am like, “Ah, this is where we need to like third party in like someone who knows brain, like brain physiology and be like, ‘What kind of hit are they getting in doing that?'” I can’t image…
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Well actually that is the other thing I was going to mention real quickly. I just recorded a Podcast with a neuroscience expert and a psychiatrist. You may actually know him, Reef Karim.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: Oh, yeah, yeah. He deals a lot with addiction. Hello social media.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, so we actually talked quite a bit about social media and how that is killing people’s creativity and motivation and mood and, yeah, so very much to your points there. The last thing I want to say, or last thing I want to ask is just to loop back really quick and I would love… This is a huge, huge topic. So I would love just a super succinct answer just to kind of…
Dr. Jolene Brighten: You mean like stop being so loquacious.
Ari Whitten: No, just so, because I know we are already over time here and I am opening up a massive topic and just know that I don’t expect you to give an hour long lecture here but more like a two minute kind of overview.
I want to loop back to this idea that you talked about a few times in this Podcast and in your book about the fact that so many times people are not addressing root causes of these symptoms. Whether it is irregular periods or heavy or light or whatever the symptom is, or menstrual migraines and things like that. The subtitle of your book is “A 30-Day Program to Balance Your Hormones.” So I want you to just speak to that really quick because we didn’t cover it in this Podcast so far. Just the fact that you have a whole bunch of information here on nutrition and lifestyle strategies that you can use to balance your hormones and actually address the root causes.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: So it is always in my world it is food and lifestyle first, supplements second. I really want to bring that in because there is a whole, there is a couple of supplement tables to help women. But I don’t want anyone to think like you can just out supplement a poor diet and lifestyle. Like you have to have those foundations in place. When you do supplements are like rocket fuel, you will just take off. And so I outlined a 30-day program. Now I am very clear in the book, it is likely going to take more than 30 days for you to reverse all these symptoms. Now I like to be really clear because I don’t like false expectations. I mean there are people out there that are like, “Oh you can change all of your hormones and fix your period in seven days.” And I am like, “But your cycle is like 25 to 35 days. How is that possible?” So you know, with that, it is 30 days of really being, you are basically testing. So I am getting you to build your own user manual. And after 30 days you are going to reintroduce foods. You are going to reevaluate. So we have got quizzes to reevaluate your symptoms and then you get to decide from there. So I made it very choose your own adventure. And then from there, what was serving you, what do you want to continue, what do you think is going to help the most? And there is a lot of things that I teach you in the book. So safeguarding your circadian rhythm is a nonnegotiable, as a human but definitely as a woman. I mean, there were studies back in the ’70s showing how light actually impacted ovulation, our fertility, our cycle. And what was interesting at that time, they were like, and there is so much light pollution that like a ton of the US and the UK don’t even see the Milky Way.
And I am like, “Hi, 2019. It didn’t get any better.” That is the reality. So with that we have, you know, these really lifestyle practices you will carry with you. So safeguarding your circadian rhythm. Yes, you will go out dancing one night. Yes, you will find yourself in the airport. Things will happen in life, never about perfection here. You are definitely going to want to eat in a way that matches your body’s needs. I ask you to come into this through the lens of how much is my current diet serving me and like how much did this protocol help me so that you can really navigate that. I have had women who are vegan who are like, “After I went through the book, I realized like…” And then got lab testing that like, “This diet wasn’t working for me.” And then I found other women that were like, “I actually ate less meat and more plants and I felt a lot better.”
So it is about what is true for you. That is your lens to carry with you. And then, you know, through the book I am also going to teach you things of like how to support your gut health, how to support your adrenals, your thyroid, and your mood, your libido, get your libido back and enhance your fertility. Whether or not you want to have a baby, it is going to help your hormones big time. And the way I really wrote this book was to be a user manual that travels with you for life. And I saw a lot, there is a lot of hormone books out there, right? But how many of them were talking about birth control? And I was like, where is this missing piece here? So, you know, it does have birth control information and it has everything else you need to know as a woman to really navigate this life.
But I didn’t want to write a book that you picked it up, and I am sure you have had these health books, where you pick it up, you are like that is interesting. You do what is in it. And then you are like, okay, moving on. I really wanted it to be something that if you invested in this book that you were able to pick it up off the shelf and go back to it over and over. You find yourself two years later and you are like, “What is going on right now with my hair?” Pick up the book. It is in there. You can start troubleshooting and get to your doctor. And so, in this it is a 30-day protocol with a meal plan, recipes. I am a foodie so I don’t mess around. I don’t like bad food. This is like anybody who is in my personal life and shares a meal with me, they have probably heard me say it before. If they are listening to this Podcast, they may eye roll. But I am like, I only have so many meals left in my life. And I also practice intermittent fasting. So I take this very seriously. Like I [crosstalk].
Ari Whitten: I practice time restricted feeding such that I only eat one meal every three days. So that by my count, I only have 38 meals left in my life.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: Oh, my god. No, nothing like that. And I also work with my menstrual cycle with intermittent fasting. And guys, I am at a stable place in my health. And also if I feel stressed out or really tired or really hungry, I don’t care. I eat the food and I honor my body. But with that the meals are really tasty. I have to say there was the cutest photo that someone put in my Facebook community and it was like, I am a sucker for man buns. I am just going to say that, man buns and a beard. If you are hairy, that is my jam. And he is like, man bun, man bun beard, like cooking a meal in the kitchen and she is like, “My husband wanted me to tell you that your meals are his favorite.” And I was like, “Yes, man bun approved!” She is probably listening right now and being like, “Were you checking out my husband?” No, no, my son is six. He has a man bun, too. Not just you. But yeah, so that is the 30-day program. Know that it is meant to teach you how to build that user manual and really your guide to you and how to work with your hormones for life.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Beautiful.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: That wan’t concise. I just went on forever.
Ari Whitten: It was perfect. Thank you Dr. Brighten. Thank you so much. Thank you for the extra time here, taking extra time out of your day to do this and share your wisdom with my audience. I know this is going to help a lot of people and, on a personal note, it was a lot of fun. So thank you so much.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: This is, seriously, one of the most fun. This is in the like top five of the most fun I have had on an interview. So thank you.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, for me, too. Thank you. Have a great night.
Dr. Jolene Brighten: You too.
Ari Whitten: Hey guys, one more quick thing before you go. I just want to remind you again, you can get this book “Beyond the Pill “on Amazon. I highly recommend it whether you are a woman dealing with these issues or you are just looking after the women in your life. Get it as a gift for them. Get it for yourself. You need this information. So go to Amazon and grab this book “Beyond the Pill,” Dr. Jolene Brighten. I hope you guys enjoyed this Podcast and I will see you next week.
The Scary Truth About How Birth Control Pills Affect Your Health with Dr. Jolene Brighten – Show Notes
Why Dr. Brighten decided to write Beyond The Pill (1:13)
How women actually use birth control pills (5:40)
Why most doctors prescribe pills (8:52)
The health risks of taking birth control pills (19:18)
Post birth control syndrome (38:48)
What to do if you are on birth control for heavy bleeding (49:16)
The challenges with Social media on your health (1:01:46)