A lot of things baffle me about the medical industry’s approach to birth control, but the one thing I’ve struggled with the most has to do with the thyroid. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand how any doctor could prescribe The Pill to a patient and not be concerned about the affect it was having on the young woman’s thyroid.
The most frequent side effects experienced by women on birth control precisely mirror the symptoms of hypothyroidism: weight gain, water retention, constipation, irregular spotting, decreased libido, high cholesterol…
I believed one would have to be willfully blind not to see the connection. Then, I learned about another type of blindness in Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow.
Blind to Hypothyroidism
Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for his seminal work in behavioral economics. In the book, he describes numerous ways our minds process information and the, sometimes illogical, ways we respond to particular situations. A couple of the cognitive processes he details could help explain why doctors tend to overlook birth control’s affect on the thyroid.
First, what the author calls “a general ‘law of least effort’ [that] applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion.’ He says we have a laziness built into our nature, and once we learn a skill, we utilize fewer regions of the brain and consume less energy when we perform the task. Consequently, we are less engaged (Page 35).
The second factor has to do with attention. Kahneman explains, “When waiting for a relative at a busy train station, for example, you can set yourself at will to look for a white-haired woman or a bearded man, and thereby increase the likelihood of detecting your relative from a distance.” However, by focusing your attention on spotting this relative, you will miss other details – and not just the mundane.
To demonstrate just how focused we can become on a task, he cites the Invisible Gorilla study, which achieved notoriety beyond the realms of behavioral science because it seems so impossibly absurd:
“[The researchers] constructed a short film of two teams passing basketballs, one team wearing white shirts, the other wearing black. The viewers of the film were instructed to count the number of passes made by the white team, ignoring the black players. This task is difficult and completely absorbing. Halfway through the video, a woman wearing a gorilla suit appears, crosses the court, thumps her chest, and moves on. The gorilla is in view for 9 seconds. Many thousands of people have seen the video, and about half of them do not notice anything unusual. It is the counting task – and especially the instruction to ignore one of the teams – that causes the blindness. No one who watches the video without the task would miss the gorilla.” (Pages 23-24)
Likewise, if a new patient, who hadn’t recently started on The Pill, presented the same symptoms, no doctor would miss the warning signs of a hypoactive thyroid.
Focus on You
Doctors, through their training and experience, are intimately familiar with the side effects of hormonal birth control. So when a patient develops common complications soon after starting The Pill, skilled doctors believe it to be normal. They may suggest the symptoms will go away with time or may choose to prescribe a different formulation. Since they already know the source of the symptoms, the solution seems reasonable. It would be unnatural for them to consider the onset of an iatrogenic illness. After all, who keeps looking for the TV remote once they’ve found it?
This compartmentalization bias is precisely why a woman should trust her body more than the doctor when it comes to birth control. It’s not a coincidence that many women’s side effects resemble hypothyroidism (such as Hashimoto’s Tyroiditis), nor is it a coincidence that so many women develop a hyperactive thyroid (such as Grave’s Disease) soon after they stop The Pill.
Thyroid Under Attack
A normally functioning thyroid’s primary role is to produce two hormones known as T3 and T4. Produced in much smaller quantities, T3 is the active hormone, which regulates our energy, metabolism, and internal ‘thermostat.’ T4 could be thought of as T3 in waiting. It is produced in larger quantities so that can be delivered throughout the body, where it will be converted to T3.
Each cell in the body contains receptors for the thyroid hormones. These receptors remove a single iodine molecule from the T4, transforming the T4 into active T3. Thanks to this little miracle of chemistry repeating itself in every system of our body, the thyroid affects nearly every bodily function. Consequently, so does anything that disturbs that delicate balance.
Hormonal birth control creates myriad problems for the thyroid, beginning with the depletion of vital nutrients such as magnesium, selenium, zinc, and essential B Vitamins, like folate. The thyroid needs these important nutrients, especially zinc and selenium, to convert T4 to T3. Unfortunately, no amount of supplements will help your body overcome this obstacle.
While depleting nutrients, birth control also elevates production of Thyroid Binding Globulin (TBG). This protein binds with thyroid hormones to carry them through the blood stream, but renders them unable to attach to cell receptors. Consequently, the body may try to compensate by overproducing T3 and T4, without actually increasing hormone activity. This could explain why some women develop Grave’s Disease after stopping The Pill. Their TBG levels return to normal, but their body continues overproducing T3 and T4.
The Path to Long-term Fatigue
Women taking hormonal contraceptives have also been shown to have a three-fold increase in C-Reactive Protein (CRP), a widely recognized inflammation marker. The liver kicks into overdrive producing CRP in response to the inflammation associated with the birth control. This inflammation serves as a double-whammy to the already struggling tandem of the thyroid and liver.
First, the inflammation makes your cell walls less responsive to all hormones. Second, it disturbs the process of deiodination, leading to the overproduction of another inactive hormone known as Reverse T3 (RT3). As the name suggests, RT3 is the mirror image of T3, meaning the iodine molecule has been removed from the opposite side of the hormone.
RT3 competes with T3 for the same receptors. Since it is inactive, too much RT3 will leave you feeling lethargic. Your body responds by producing more cortisol in an attempt to boost your energy. If this continues for too long, it could lead to adrenal suppression, and long-term fatigue.
Weighing on the Liver
So, what causes this inflammation in the first place? As the central organ in the metabolic process, the liver produces proteins, breaking down fat and hormones to generate energy. When we overload the body with an unnatural flood of factory-produced, artificial hormones, the liver becomes sluggish and inefficient. This sets off a toxic cascade of side effects that leads to inflammation, and could ultimately contribute to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune disease.
The National Institutes of Health were concerned about hormonal birth control’s affect of the endocrine system from the very early days. When Dr. Philip Corfman, the Director of the Center for Population Research, testified at the Nelson Pill Hearings in 1970 on behalf of the NIH, he warned that The Pill decreased the liver’s ability to change and dispose of certain chemicals, even decreasing its ability to excrete bile.
Their studies from the 1960’s showed that up to 40% of women on oral contraceptives experienced some changes in thyroid function. They made the connection that this had also contributed to changes in adrenal gland function, citing increased cortisol levels. Reading from the NIH report he helped author, Dr. Corfman said:
“Although it is not yet possible to draw definite conclusions about their effect on the health of women and infants, the use of these agents warrants close observation and surveillance. Effects of special concern include alterations in carbohydrate metabolism, the character and distribution of lipids, liver function, protein metabolism, and the development of hypertension as well as alterations of endocrine function.”
Congress followed up on the hearings with a special report issued in 1978. Beyond concerns addressed in the original hearings, the new Congressional Report discussed more hepatic complications associated with The Pill, including the ‘greatly increased risk’ of developing an otherwise rare form of benign liver tumor known as hepatocellular adenoma (HCA). (Page 36) Studies at that time showed that women who had taken The Pill for eight years or more suffered a 500-fold increased risk of developing HCA, with 4% of those becoming malignant.
Good News First
The good news is that many of the side effects of hormonal birth control are reversible, if you stop taking them soon enough. Not every person who experiences symptoms of a hypoactive thyroid will develop Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. While environmental factors are pivotal in triggering the development of this chronic disease, you must also be genetically predisposed in order to be susceptible to Hashimoto’s or any other autoimmune disease.
The bad news is that a LOT of people are genetically predisposed to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. In fact, it is considered the most common autoimmune disease, at 46 cases per 1,000. An estimated 20 million Americans have some sort of thyroid disease, and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis makes up about 90% of those with hypoactive thyroids.
Don’t ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Please think twice about the potential complications before starting any form of hormonal contraceptive, especially if Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Grave’s Disease, or any other autoimmune disease have made their way into your family’s history.
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ONe day soon, transhumanism will solve all these medical and chronic disease issues, for sure! Elon Musk, the guy who put the first junk car into space, last week, is all about moving humans into a machine world. No more birth control, hmm. Genetically altered humans, or little bots inside our bodies to turn on and off fertility? How about just robotic propagation?
Sad dude, this billionaire getting more and more digital ink and TV spots:
Transhumanism is knocking at the door. Dubbed as Humanity+ or H+, the idea to radically revolutionize humanity has emerged in the last decades as a global intellectual movement. With a slogan of melding humans with the machine, it aims to radically alter human nature by means of technological advancement.
Proponents of transhumanism envision a human that goes beyond its current biology and cognition. They are trying to move society into the next stage of human development where man achieves super-intelligence and emotional well-being. Transhumanists ask, “If humans can interfere with the process of evolution, is it possible for us to create a human being with greater capacities than what we are now? Can we make a human species without weakness of disease and illness, anger and sadness, and ultimately overcome death itself?”
Some see such technologically driven future as not just desirable, but a necessity. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX indicated an inevitability of humans to symbiotically bond with artificial intelligence, if the human species were to remain relevant.
Check out my, Whitey on the Moon piece — for a few laughs. Warning: It’s long and profane!
Ahh, the vaunted scientists and their”compartmentalization bias” and “the great herds of elephants in the room.”
What I find as a journalist covering environmental issues — that’s a big, big umbrella that includes ecosystems and flora and fauna and marine systems and the water cycle and jet streams, ice, and pollutants — I find science is hit hard with the “shifting baseline syndrome.” Again, what’s normal and normalized and habituated today seems to be the baseline when in fact, a baseline should be looked at the true more or less normal and healthy and sustainable systems and connective systems in ecosystems.
Here, from a permaculture website — Shifting or sliding baseline syndrome:
Quote: “To put it in its most simplest terms, shifting baseline syndrome is basically the way in which humans, and every generation essentially, lowers its standards over the course of time. These generations are not lowering their standards on purpose, or because they have any negative goal, but simply because they don’t know any better. It all occurs underneath the surface level, with most completely unaware of what’s happening. New generations assume the lack of quality that they’ve become used to is simply normal, and so they no longer see the extreme damage (to just about anything, be it the environment or anything else that’s declined over the ages) that someone from, say, five generations prior would be absolutely taken aback by. Expectations are lowered almost subconsciously, and so the damage to the environment keeps occurring on a broader and broader scale, as damage occurs so slowly that no one even sees it, unless they were to step back and look at things over the course of multiple generations.
You know, the golden toad. Should we have 20 left, 500, 500,000? Well, it’s all about the ecosystems, being whole or at least contiguous and not fractured. However, the toad is near extinction. All those scientists (I consider wildlife biologists to be the best of the best scientists, duly noted) looked at all these factors — rainfall, disease, pollution. It took looking at a woman’s daily journals after years of living in the jungle and noting those beautiful things tied to life in our “Eden.” She had been noting the mists or fogs, and how they had lessened, abated over time. It wasn’t rainfall decreases that hurt the incubation of the frogs’ eggs (rainfall hadn’t changed much), but the amount of mist and fog and duration of the mists that affected fertility and viability. Eggs on under leafs, and mists and fogs were important to viability.
Systems thinking, uh, another missing link for these medical practitioners. Holism missing! Combine this with arrogance and a stiff arm salute to the Big Pharma and Big Medicine purveyors, and we have this messed up world of chronic illness, slow and quick death and ruined generations.
In climate change — global warming — we have analysis paralysis, of the paradox of choice.
Best yet is the propaganda complexes ruling our lives, including discussions or critical analyses of vaccinations, all those meds, and, yes, synthetic birth control pills — as well as stupidity as seen in the Big Oil-Big Coal-Big Fossil Fuel thuggery and their Scott Pruitt types (EPA — sic –guy) of the world who utilize the great psychological tools of Edward Bernays, Joseph Goebbels, Mad Men/Women in the Propaganda Business around the world —
Hitler’s man, quoted:
“We do not want to be a movement of a few straw brains, but rather a movement that can conquer the broad masses. Propaganda should be popular, not intellectually pleasing. It is not the task of propaganda to discover intellectual truths.”
• “There was no point in seeking to convert the intellectuals. For intellectuals would never be converted and would anyways always yield to the stronger, and this will always be ‘the man in the street.’ Arguments must therefore be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not the intellect. Truth was unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology.”
Then, Freud’s nephew:
“If we understand the mechanisms and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it. In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”
end quote —
In the end, plug in any new and fabulous creation from science — i.e. birth control pills — and see how well another precursor of do no harm, the precautionary principle, is applied by the R & D and bio-tech and med-pharma tech wizards.
Here, many versions and applications of the precautionary principle:
Many definitions of the precautionary principle exist, with precaution itself defined as “caution in advance,” “caution practiced in the context of uncertainty,” or “informed prudence.” All definitions of the precautionary principle have three major components:
1. Anticipate harm and take action to minimize potential harm. This is an expression of a need by decision-makers to anticipate harm before it occurs and an obligation, if the level of harm may be high, for action to prevent or minimize such harm.
2. Onus of proof on proponent. Under the precautionary principle, it is the responsibility of an activity proponent to establish that the proposed activity will not (or is very unlikely to) result in significant harm. This is an implicit reversal of the typical onus of proof, whereby harm needs to be demonstrated.
3. Absence of scientific certainty not an obstacle. The precautionary principle is activated even when the absence of scientific certainty makes it difficult to predict the likelihood of harm occurring, or the level of harm should it occur. There is an obligation, if the level of harm may be high, for action to prevent or minimize such harm, with the control measures increasing with both the level of possible harm and the degree of uncertainty.
How well does science look at a new procedure or product, and how well do they understand the “vagaries” of synergistic effect or those “rare genetic profiles” who might be subjected to great harm and death?