The Effects of Synthetic Birth Control, with Crystal Felice

This Podcast In Summary

In this episode, we are joined by Crystal Felice, a pharmacist turned functional health coach, as we explore the impact of synthetic birth control on women's hormones and overall health. Crystal shares her journey from pharmacist to functional medicine advocate, revealing the personal toll and realization of long-term birth control use. We discuss the misconceptions surrounding synthetic hormones, emphasaizing the importance of education and informed decision-making for women's health. Crystal provides practical advice on weaning off birth control safely and holistically, highlighting the need for lifestyle changes alongside medical interventions including utilizing bioidentical hormone replacement therapy to restore balance. Tune in to learn how to navigate hormonal health with clarity and empowerment. 


Taylor (00:00.159)

Hi everyone. Welcome to the Hormone Harmony podcast. We are here today with Crystal Felice. Did I say that correctly?

Crystal Felice (00:08.246)


Taylor (00:09.652)

Okay. Today we're going to be talking about the impact of synthetic birth control on women's hormones, and discuss the widespread use of synthetic birth control for women. And we're also going to discuss the influence of birth control on our hormones and reproductive health. So Crystal, can you give us an introduction to who you are, your background, and why you're so passionate about this topic? 

Crystal Felice (00:32.131)

Yeah, absolutely. So as a pharmacist, I absolutely loved being one of the most accessible health care providers that there are when it comes to people having questions. But I was also frustrated at the lack of time I had to speak with patients and to go over their medications properly, talk about deficiencies, talk about side effects. There was just not the time for it. So I had been into health and fitness now for about 12 years and I really wanted to integrate that into pharmacy, let people know about certain diet changes that they can do. But years of working retail really took a toll on my health. So the stress of 12-hour shifts, standing all the time, minimal breaks, extremely understaffed. It was just leading to me having poor sleep and some of these health issues started to creep up. So I personally was on birth control for 20 years. So I started seeing some information about some side effects that some practitioners on social media have been posting about, and then I was like, that kind of sounds like what's going on with me. I decided to read some more books, like Period Repair Manual from Laura Brighton and Beyond the Pill from Dr. Jolene Brighton, and started to realize that my symptoms weren't crazy. This was related to the pill. And as a pharmacist, I was actually embarrassed to not know these long-term effects. 

You know, doctors started just prescribing me antidepressants, anxiolytics, muscle relaxers to deal with all of my symptoms. And I just did not want to be put on a bunch of medications. You know, I was very passionate about healing things naturally as much as possible. I hired my own functional medicine practitioner. And she helped me really get to the root of my symptoms going on. We tested my hormones, we tested my gut, and just found a bunch of these issues going on. 

So within six weeks of working with her, I had tremendous relief. And I was just shocked at what we did naturally. So I was like, more women need to know about this. So I went back to school. I got certified in functional medicine and I just, I wanted to heal women the same way that I could. So I got certified and then started my own business. 

Taylor (02:39.617)

That's amazing. What were some of those natural methods that he or she used? 

Crystal Felice (02:45.703)

Yeah, so we used some adrenal supplements to help because my cortisol was through the roof and that was causing some issues. I did start topical progesterone, and then we did a full gut protocol with some supplements, some diet changes then I was kind of a crazy workout girl of like five to six days a week doing intense cardio. So that had to stop. I needed to find more stress relief tactics and get the body in a safe place to really start healing. 

Taylor (03:20.419)

In your practice with your patients, what do you tell them about how synthetic birth control really works? Like, how do you explain to them how it works on the body and how it affects our hormones? And what kind of practices do you instill with your patients? 

Crystal Felice (03:42.661)

Yeah, so I have some that have been off of it and need help and some that want to come off of it and need help. So I kind of see both sides of the spectrum. But when it comes down to it, these oral birth control have combined hormones in there. And then there's some progestin only ones. But the main mechanism is that it's inhibiting ovulation. So we're shutting that down and then it's going to be changing the cervical mucus to make it so that sperm is, sperm penetration is inhibited. So it's really just acting as what it was designed for, which is to prevent pregnancy. So unfortunately, a lot of women don't realize that it's not hormone replacement. It's just shutting down your hormones. So it's creating what's called a pill-induced bleed. So you are stopping your hormones entirely. And then when you get to that sugar pill or the little pill that has maybe some iron in it, that's when your period would come and then you start over again. So the reason that many women are put on the pill is really just a band-aid and that many times when you come off of it, those symptoms can come back and maybe even worse. So I definitely explain what's going on with that. Let them know because there's a lot of talks about bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. And some women may think, oh, I'm already taking this that has estrogen progesterone, so I'm already on that, I'm great. And it's really important to learn that this is synthetic and it's not the same thing. That is strictly birth control. 

Taylor (05:15.643)

Exactly, yeah. It's very different ways that it affects the body. We can still treat women who are on birth control, but it's not always advised because of the things that you discussed already. But it's first important to ask the patient what their reason for using birth control is. Is it a contraceptive thing or is it to regulate menstrual symptoms. And if their reasoning is the menstrual symptoms, then we typically advise BHRT hormones because BHRT can often treat those symptoms. But each patient is different. Would you say that your patients are using birth control mostly for the contraceptive side of things or for those menstrual symptoms? 

Crystal Felice (05:58.238)

It's a little bit of both. So I see a lot of, kind of what I went through. So you're on it for birth control purposes, or I actually was put on it for acne in middle school. And then, you know, I went through high school and college and I was like, I'm going to stay on it because it's birth control. And then I just kind of stayed on it because you're thinking, okay, you know, hormones are gonna start to change as I get older. So let me stay on that. So I definitely get a lot of shocked responses when they realize that they're not actually on estradiol or anything that's bioidentical. 

Taylor (06:33.753)

For those patients that are on it for just because they've been on it for so long, they don't really know anything different, what kind of methods do you teach to get them off and to wean them off slowly, safely, and are there any symptoms of hormonal withdrawal when this happens? 

Crystal Felice (06:55.835)

Yeah, so I definitely have them work closely with their practitioner too. So I had quit cold turkey. I don't recommend that for everyone. I just wanted off of it. But I also had already been working out, eating healthier. I had been on some supplements. So it's really important to prepare the body properly. So these progestins are very different from our own progesterone and they can actually stay on the receptor sites for up to six months after. So it's really important to be patient when we're working with the body transitioning off of the birth control and really preparing the body as best as we can. So I do love whole food first as medicine, but in this case, getting a good quality multivitamin on hand is gonna be really helpful to the depletions. Getting some really good magnesium rich foods, so leafy green veggies, bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados. Some magnesium glycinate is sometimes needed, which is my favorite form to replenish. Getting zinc rich foods like pumpkin seeds, cashews, chickpeas, yogurt, spinach. Zinc picolinate is a really good, easily absorbable form of zinc if that's needed. Exercise in general is just gonna be great. Any sort of walking, yoga, strength training, just don't wanna do super high intensity because the body is gonna need some love, you know, we want to get the body out of fight or flight and into that rest and digest mode. So when the body is just chronically stressed, you're in fight or flight like my body was, fertility and all that's going to take a backseat. So hormones are not top priority when that's going on. So it's going to be really important to not only get that exercise in, but work on some stress relief, find what works for you. Epsom salt baths are great for magnesium replenishment. And just relaxing in general, helping to support sleep, and really getting the detox pathways supported. So that's really where I make a huge difference because we want that liver supported. With birth control, it takes a toll on the gut and the liver especially. So we want to support that liver. I had an ultrasound that actually wound up showing that I had the beginnings of fatty liver and increased liver enzymes. So this was from the pill because I had been taking care of myself. I didn't drink any alcohol, so I was really like, what's going on? So broccoli sprouts are really one of my favorites. You can grow them at home. They have a chemical called surfurfane in there that's gonna enhance sulfation, which is a liver detox pathway that actually helps with the clearance of estrogen in the liver. Castor oil packs are one of my absolute favorites to help. And then milk thistle and dandelion root herbs are great. I like them as a tea. So we want to be sweating well, sauna, exercise, and then pooping well is the biggest thing. So that's how we're gonna get rid of our estrogen that's metabolized in the liver. So we don't want that hanging out in the gut longer than it needs to. 

Taylor (10:08.865)

Yeah, the castor oil packs, those are very trendy right now. Could you talk a little bit more on how that works? 

Crystal Felice (10:12.759)

Yeah, so there's a couple of different ways you can do it. You can definitely make your own at home, but there are some companies that will create a wrap that is a lot easier in my opinion, because it does stain the castor oil, but it's something that you could just put one to two tablespoons on, and then you can wrap it around right over the liver, so on the right side of the body, and it's going to slowly absorb and really just support the liver in its detox processes. So just being on a lot of medications, sugar in general is really rough on the liver. All of our just daily toxins, the liver takes a beating and a lot of people think, you know, it's our liver, it does its thing, it's going to detox, we don't need to help it, we don't need to do cleanses, but we actually do need to support it. It definitely can get bogged down. So that castor oil pack is going to lay on there. You could put a heating pad over it. And I just like to incorporate it into my clients' relaxation moments. So if, you know, in the evening, it's great to just relax there for 30 minutes, maybe read a book, and then that's some of their stress relieving with helping their liver at the same time. So you can kind of habit stack there. 

Taylor (11:24.097)

Love habit stacking. I love doing like multiple things at once. I need to feel like I'm super productive. I can't just do one thing. So I love that. You can read, you can do the castor pack and you can have your tea there. You can have everything. You can have your red light mask on as well. 

Crystal Felice (11:43.099)

Yup, do it all. 

Taylor (11:47.029)

I love that. So you already talked about your own experience. What about people that are on IUDs? So the FDA approved the extension of IUDs longer than five years without needing a change. Can we talk a little bit more about the, the dangers of having an IUD for that long, what the recovery period looks like after being on something like that for such an extended period of time. 

Crystal Felice (12:34.898)

Yeah, so there are a couple of options. So some women are on the copper one, are on the progestin one. So in my opinion, having anything that's a foreign object in the body for a long period of time is going to wind up having consequences. So while the copper one winds up having fewer consequences, there's still that issue where it can have some copper leaching into the body. And with that, copper and zinc work opposite of each other. So if we're retaining more and more copper, we're going to be excreting more zinc. And we need zinc for a lot of different processes for our thyroid and especially for our immune system. So what people don't realize is when we're chronically stressed out, which a lot of us are, we're gonna be retaining copper and we're gonna be excreting zinc. So you kinda can get that double whammy of too much copper and not enough zinc in the body. So that's kind of my issue surrounding the copper one being in for longer. With the other one, it is just progestin. So what's not being told is really the difference between that versus our own progesterone, which are very different. So progesterone is beautiful. It's a calming, a nice calming hormone, but progestin, you can get that irritability. You can get depression. You can get decreased libido and energy, you can get some acne, hair loss, insomnia, you can get the bloating, the fluid retention, and progestin can even increase your LDL and lower your HDL, so it can mess with your lipid profile as well. So while it may be beneficial for some women to want to have that in longer, maybe for birth control purposes.

They really just need that education of what's going on and how it's different from progesterone. 

Taylor (14:34.04)

Yeah, it's really scary to think about all of the dangers of just being told to do one thing and then not being educated on all of the different dangers and how it really is going to impact you later on. The health care system, just prescribing girls 14 years old, birth control, and saying here you go, here's your pill, you’ll feel better, your acne will clear. What do you think about that piece and how it needs to change and how we can empower women to be more educated and seek out the information themselves so that they can make an informed decision? I know it's hard when you're young, you just kind of do what the doctor tells you, but it's becoming more popular now. I think social media has exposed a lot of it. I personally got off it myself for a lot of the reasons that we were talking about. I had to seek out the information myself. It wasn't something the healthcare system told me. 

Crystal Felice (15:48.719)

Right. Yeah, it is very upsetting. As a pharmacist, when I did see a young woman prescribe that, I would educate them you know, letting them know this should be just used short term. You might want to use a really good multivitamin. That's honestly probably all I had room or enough time to tell them, I just got something out there. But yeah, the problem is, especially that young, it's not going to be that their hormones are depleting because they're nowhere near perimenopause or menopause. So it could be more underlying issues. Do they have endometriosis? Do they have PCOS? Like what's going on there? And just slapping that bandaid on is going to just cause more issues down the line because now their body is just shutting everything down. They're going to come off of it later on thinking that they can, you know, get off of this, become pregnant now, but now they're going to see, oh, I had other issues underlying. So it is tough. I have a lot of parents that come to me and want their daughters off of it, or they're like the doctor said, this is the only way to help her heavy periods or cramping, but that really can come back pretty bad once they're taken off of it. So I try to educate them.

Obviously, it's great that we have this option, but it's really important to get the education out there that it shouldn't be a long-term thing. If you want that rapid relief now, that's fine, but it's really important to get that education going before you see all of these downstream effects of the depression and the mood issues and these nutrient depletions that can come from it. 

Taylor (17:33.015)

I feel like there's different phases of why you get on birth control too. I feel like when you're younger, it's because of contraception and maybe the acne, maybe the heavy and painful periods. But that is like the bandaid for probably poor eating habits, not getting exercise, all of those things can cause these symptoms to arise. And then I think there's the next phase of, oh, I've just been on it for so long, and I don't want to get pregnant, so why not? And at that point, your body has changed so much since you first got on it, you're in a different phase of life. We treat with women 18 and up for BHRT, but usually the younger women are those that have PCOS, really severe cases of endometriosis and then 34 and up women that are on birth control. They're entering a different phase of life, perimenopause, where those hormone depletions are happening. 

Crystal Felice (18:50.458)

Yeah, no, that's, you pretty much nailed it. And that pretty much explained how I was on it for so long. But that is definitely the case. And I am seeing women that are on it in their late 30s, and thinking that they're on hormone replacement already. But progesterone can start decreasing as early as like 35 years old. Definitely experiencing that sooner because I was on birth control for 20 years. My body didn't even know what it was making. I don't even know if I made it. Progesterone, what my progesterone was like because if you're not ovulating, you're not making progesterone. So this pill is stopping ovulation completely. It's really important to learn that. You're not getting these benefits of these hormones that are so amazing. And now when we're getting into perimenopause and leading into menopause, we are finding like these studies now that it's really important to start initiating this sooner than later because now you can prevent the osteoporosis, prevent dementia, Alzheimer's, these heart conditions. You know, after menopause, the risk of a heart attack or stroke is one in three because they're not on this estrogen. So it's becoming really important to get that information out there and realize that, you know, that what we've been on for years isn't really going to help these symptoms leading into that transition of life. 

Taylor (20:18.34)

Yeah, absolutely. When someone comes to you or just anyone listening right now who is interested in potentially stopping birth control, what kind of steps would you recommend for them to wean off or to just stop? 

Crystal Felice (20:46.278)

Yeah, so definitely supporting the body first is going to be really important. I know a lot of people get this education and they really want to just quit it cold turkey. But supporting the body is going to allow for the best transition of coming off of it. So while you can eventually stop it cold turkey with a practitioner, you do want to make sure the body is supported before that. So supporting it with as much whole foods, healthy foods as you can, getting those nutrients in, adding in some magnesium and zinc, and then the stress management. Also supporting our own antioxidant glutathione is super important. So this is going to help with reducing stress and inflammation that can happen in the body, which can contribute to these hormonal imbalances. So glutathione is really important for helping with those excess estrogen levels. So getting avocado, asparagus, spinach, broccoli sprouts, turmeric. So pretty much everyone just needs to be eating broccoli sprouts. So every woman, just start growing them now. I love them. So they're so important for hormones. So I definitely recommend getting all of this kind of under control before. And then being very patient with the body, it's going to go through this transition. It's going to need at least a few months before it can, its hormones can be tested to really get an idea of what's going on and really working on stress relief, that's going to be such a huge one because our bodies haven't felt safe when they're super stressed out. So it's going to be, I know nobody likes to work on stress, but just that one thing that you can even just put into your evening routine. And really, really the evening routine is where I really make a difference with my clients because we can't be on screens and expect to just fall asleep and have this beautiful, perfect sleep. So really working on a sleep routine and then getting all those stress relief tactics worked in there. 

Taylor (23:01.42)

How does birth control, synthetic birth control, cause your body to be so stressed? 

Crystal Felice (23:15.32)

Besides the fact that it's a synthetic hormone, it takes a toll because a lot of it's metabolized in the liver and in the gut. So what can happen is we can get what's called leaky gut from this because the body is just perpetually breaking this medication down and it's using all of these nutrients to do that. And we make 90% of our serotonin in our gut. So when all of these nutrients are depleted, then we're not able to make the serotonin to help boost our moods. And then without serotonin, we can't make melatonin. we'd see a lot of these nutrient depletions going on, and then when we're stressed out, we have increased cortisol, and then cortisol's gonna release blood glucose into our bloodstream and then that can cause issues with blood sugars down the line. We can have cravings in between meals. We can get this insulin resistance going on also, which is going to lead to more weight gain. So when we have all of these depleted nutrients, you can start to get these issues. Like if we don't have B vitamins, magnesium, selenium, and zinc, we can see that anxiety and depression crawling up. You would get more stressed out from that, and then that's going to release more glucose into our bloodstream. It just winds up being in this vicious cycle, and more of these nutrients are getting depleted. Magnesium is a huge one that gets depleted when we are stressed out, as well as our stomach acid levels get very low when we're stressed out. Because, rest and digest and fight or flight. So our body is not resting, it's not digesting, it's not caring about our hormones. So all of that's gonna take a backseat if we're stressed out. So that's why stress relief is a really big one when it comes to really repairing the body after coming off of birth control. 

Crystal (21:28)

I think one of the most important things is learning about the progestin component. So some people don't realize, so that's usually going to be listed as like Norethindrone or Levonorgestrel and it's very different from progesterone. So knowing that it kind of has these negative effects in the body versus getting on natural progesterone that can really help lower blood pressure, lower

cholesterol levels. It can help with sleep and have that calming effect. So these hormones are very beneficial in their natural forms, so estradiol and progesterone. So just even learning that I think is huge. And these new studies that came out when we were relying 20 years on this one study that said estrogen is so bad for you, it causes cancer. So all these women are just suffering and coming to find out, okay, we just need a more bioidentical form. Maybe, you know, do it topically or, you know, whatever works for them. But getting this education out there that, no, it's not this cancer causing thing that we were so afraid of for so long. And getting that education out there that all of these benefits can happen and it can help prevent all of these issues down the line. So we want to be able to prevent falls. We don't want osteoporosis issues. So starting strength training now is super important for women also. I think learning that one in three women can have this heart attack or stroke after, once we hit menopause was really scary to me. I'm like, that's pretty daunting. So, you know, I'm 100% ready to get on estradiol when the time is here, you know? So getting that education out is like so important. That's really like what I've been trying to do is just spread that education because as a pharmacist, I'm well aware of the benefits of birth control. I'm thankful we have it. I'm thankful we have Western medicine, 100%. But getting that education out is going to be so important so that there's not girls like me that are on it for 20 years and then have to deal with all of these side effects that took several years to really get my body into a nice balance. So it's a lot. 

Taylor (28:38.262)

Yeah. I love how you also touch on, everything comes with a holistic practice. Like, yes, you need to get on bioidentical hormones but that needs to be coupled with weightlifting or that needs to be coupled with healthy diet. I think a lot of people come to a provider and they want a prescription to mend their symptoms. But are looking past the other work holistically that needs to take place in your routine and your habits, how you take care of your body on a day-to-day basis to really see those results. That's one of the things that we teach to our patients through nutrition coaching. We have life coaching as well at our practice and that's just because it's not just a pill. We're not just giving you a cream. It’s so much more than that. And while it can be life changing, you have to also do these other practices. And I'm sure that's what you preach as well.

Crystal Felice (29:50.558)

100% because a lot of times people will come to me and just want a bunch of supplements and not realizing the word supplement is meant to supplement your own diet and supplement your lifestyle. It's not a magic pill. If it was, everybody would feel great. So while I do prescribe some for rapid relief, very targeted supplements for a short period of time. That lifestyle has to change and get the body into a good place because nobody wants to rely on that for their body to operate. You know, you wanna get your body to a good place to not have to rely on taking pills every day. You know, it's still, people don't realize supplements still have to be processed in the liver. So it's still taking a toll on our body. So it's really important to support. That's why that liver support is really a huge component. 

Taylor (30:47.76)

Amazing. Well, thank you so much for sharing your insights with us today. I know I learned so much and I know our community did too. So thank you for taking the time to share your expertise on this topic that is highly requested. So many people ask about this. We have so many questions about I’m cycling, I'm on birth control, can I start BHRT? So I think that this will be helpful to teach them, you know, why BHRT might be better so that they can make an informed decision. Also if they’re on birth control and they want to get off, how they can learn how to do that safely. thank you so much and can you share with everyone a little bit about where they can find you and get more information on your practice and your website and everything? 

Crystal Felice (31:35.718)

Yeah, so I'm pretty active on Instagram. So I'm, and I spell it P-H-U-N-C-T-I-O-N-A-L. And then it's going to be for my website. And all my information about my program is on there. And I stay pretty active posting as much education as I can on hormones and gut health as much as possible. So I'm always open to more questions, and people can feel free to message me. 

Taylor (32:04.528)

Awesome, thank you. And we will link that in the show notes for everyone. Again, we are the Hormone Harmony podcast by Thrivelab, and you can find us on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and anywhere that you stream your podcasts. Have a great rest of your day, Crystal. Bye. 

Crystal Felice (32:23.346)

Thank you for having me. Thanks, you too.