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The Pill


Sept. 9th, 2021

“The pill.” There are many pills out there, but almost every woman seems to know what this term is referring to. 


Young women all over the world are taking some form of a hormonal contraceptive, whether that be orally with a pill, in an injection, through an IUD or in a patch. While some may just assume that these contraceptives are used to prevent pregnancy, they are often prescribed to suppress symptoms that come with hormonal imbalance like acne and heavy, painful periods; however, some women experience extreme side effects. 


27-year-old Mackenzie Hillestad had an experience with oral birth control firsthand, for a total of seven years. In high school, Mackenzie struggled with acne and heavy periods. Her doctor soon recommended her to start hormonal birth control.


Several years later, Hillestad said she had a realization after going on a mission trip that made her more aware of what she was putting in her body. She slowly started her journey to begin living a more holistic lifestyle and approach to her health. 

Hillestad immediately stopped taking the pill and quickly saw the damage it had done to her body. She said her hair started to fall out, the acne came roaring back, and she had no menstrual cycle for six months. Looking back, she also notes the severe digestive problems she experienced while on the pill. 


“Basically, all the things that the birth control was just a bandage for came back, and the root cause wasn’t addressed,” said Hillestad, “which for me, was a lot of gut issues, and probably some mineral and nutrient deviancies that were from the birth control.”


Functional medicine practices and Western medicine practices have different approaches to helping women with their frustrating hormonal symptoms. 


Dr. Jennifer Welch of Iowa Functional Health, located in Clive, Iowa, is a holistic practitioner that has her own approach to healing women’s hormonal imbalances and the symptoms they entail. Welch said she does not prescribe any type of medicine at her practice but uses a “test versus guess” approach. 


“We look at you from a whole-body perspective,” said Welch, “hormones tend to be reactive from the primary problem.” 

"Hormones tend to be reactive from the primary problem."

Dr. Jennifer Welch, Iowa Functional Health

According to Welch, functional medicine uses tests to see current hormone levels and how well the organs are functioning. These tests show where the root cause is of the symptoms that patients are experiencing.  

“Hormones will typically self-regulate if we take care of more pressing issues upstream,” said Welch. 


Contrasting from functional and holistic medicine is the more typical Western medicine approach. The same approach that Hillestad experienced. 


Advanced practice RN, Allison Heinemann of Albert Lea, Minnesota, has prescribed enough birth control in her days to now be very knowledgeable about the oral pill. 


“Birth control typically gives a constant low dose of the hormones, progestin and estrogen, to inhibit ovulation,” Heinemann explained. 


Heinemann said her prescriptions for the patient depends on the woman’s scenario. For instance, if the woman has had trouble curing her acne and struggles with a heavy period, she said she typically prescribes the pill next. 


“You’re trying to mimic a normal period,” said Heinemann, “but usually periods are lighter and more regular because you time it with your pill pack.” 


Hillestad reflected on her previous experience with birth control and her hormones.


“A lot of teenagers are just wanting a bandage fix, but looking back I wish I would have asked a lot more questions or actually researched what was in the products that I was putting in my body.”

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