Dr. Nitu Bajekal, senior consultant obstetrician and gynecologist, puts it plainly: “There’s nothing scientific or medical about a birth control cleanse,” she says. “There’s no need for a cleanse and no benefit.”
After all, the hormones from birth control naturally leave your body after a certain period of time.
So, “detoxing” from them? Well, that’s pretty impossible.
Despite there being no reason to embark on a birth control cleanse, there are plenty of products that state otherwise.
So, what exactly are they?
As Dr. Katie Boog, co-director of the clinical effectiveness unit of the UK’s Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, explains: “A ‘birth control cleanse’ is a substance that’s swallowed that claims to ‘remove synthetic hormones from your body’ and ‘reset hormone balance and uterine health.’”
“It isn’t a licensed medicinal product, nor is it recommended by professional medical organizations,” adds Boog.
These cleanses tend to include a variety of herbal supplements and vitamins and can come in powdered or liquid form.
Birth control cleanse companies market products for people who use birth control that releases synthetic hormones.
This usually means the pill. But other forms that are used on a daily basis, like the patch, can also apply.
There’s a misconception that the hormones from birth control build up in your body, causing health and fertility issues.
Some who believe this think they need to detox their bodies in order to become pregnant or get back to their “natural” cycles.
Bajekal explains that the idea of a birth control cleanse “is a myth that needs to be debunked.”
“There is a whole industry taking advantage of vulnerable [people], selling fake unproven medications that may have harmful side effects,” she says.
There’s no research to support the idea of a birth control cleanse.
“Our bodies are designed to be able to process and eliminate medications, including contraception,” says Boog. “When individuals stop using contraception, any synthetic hormones are naturally eliminated from the body.”
Boog continues: “For example, research has shown that the level of etonogestrel (the hormone in the contraceptive implant) is undetectable in the blood within 7 days of the implant being removed, and pregnancies have occurred within just 14 days of the implant being removed.
“Similarly, individuals that use the oral contraceptive pill are advised to take their pill at the same time each day because if they are late (in some instances by only 3 hours), the hormone levels will drop to a level where pregnancy can occur.”
As well as research showing just how quickly synthetic hormones can exit the body, studies have also found that contraception has no negative effect on the ability to conceive.
Plus, one review concluded, “it doesn’t significantly delay fertility.”
(The only exception to this is the shot — with normal fertility levels taking up to a year to return.)
No studies have been carried out on birth control cleanses.
And without studies, it’s “not possible to say what side effects or health risks there may be with using these products,” says Boog.
However, she does point out that some of the “key ingredients” in such cleanses “may not be safe to use in pregnancy.”
Of course, there are some known side effects of stopping hormonal birth control.
Any issues you experienced before starting — think acne, mood changes, and heavy periods — may reveal themselves once again.
Plus, as Bajekal states, “Stopping and starting birth control medications can mess up your cycle and increase your chance of an unintended pregnancy.”
You may also experience the likes of bloating and nausea “which almost always settle down in a few weeks,” she adds.
The symptoms that come after stopping birth control are unofficially known as “post-birth control syndrome.”
They’re an effect of your body adjusting to its typical cycle and hormone levels.
So, people who may consider using a birth control cleanse might experience some of the telltale symptoms:
- menstrual cycle irregularities
- hair loss
- stomach upset
- weight gain
- mood changes
Again, some of these may be things that birth control was suppressing, rather than side effects of quitting the pill or another hormonal method.
So, if birth control cleanses aren’t a good idea, is there anything else you can do to boost your health?
From hormones and liver health to preparing for pregnancy, here are a few tips from the experts.
If you want to balance your hormones
In most people, this really isn’t necessary.
However, if you think you could have a condition that affects your hormones, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), call a doctor or other healthcare professional.
And for overall health, Bajekal recommends eating a predominantly plant-based diet full of:
- whole grains
She also recommends getting a good night’s sleep and enough exercise, as well as managing stress and limiting alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes.
If you want to cleanse your liver
Your liver is your body’s natural cleanser.
So, says Bajekal, suggesting the organ itself needs to be cleansed “is deeply misleading.”
But, she adds, “consuming a healthy diet with fiber-rich, gut health-promoting whole plant foods and avoiding alcohol, animal foods high in saturated fats, and ultra-processed foods will keep your liver healthy.”
If you want to cleanse or detox your uterus
Another myth that needs dispelling.
“The body does this with no help from us,” explains Bajekal.
“In conditions such as PCOS where you may have very infrequent periods, your doctor may prescribe hormones to help protect your uterus from womb cancer.
“This helps shed an excessively thick lining that grows in the presence of unopposed estrogen as a result of the condition of PCOS in some people.”
But, she states, “this isn’t the same as a cleanse.”
If you want to help prepare your body for pregnancy
“Stopping smoking, avoiding alcohol, and maintaining a moderate weight” are all ways to help your body before pregnancy, says Boog.
Experts also recommend taking folic acid supplements, which can help reduce the risk of developmental issues in the early weeks of pregnancy.
Some folks also take other prenatal supplements to support both them and their pregnancy. Just make sure you choose one that’s medically recommended.
Too high a vitamin dose can cause health concerns during pregnancy, so if you have any questions, reach out to a healthcare professional for personalized advice.
Any time you feel concerned, speak with a doctor or other healthcare professional.
This could be before you stop taking birth control, if you experience any side effects, or if you just want to know more about pregnancy.
It’s always sensible to speak with a healthcare professional before quitting long-term contraception — especially if you don’t intend to become pregnant.
They can advise on other contraceptive options.
And if your menstrual cycle is still irregular 3 months after quitting, consider booking an appointment to make sure nothing else is going on.
Birth control cleanses aren’t necessary and may not even be safe. The synthetic hormones found in the likes of the pill will leave your body naturally —in some cases, extremely quickly.
So, all you have to do is wait. But there’s no harm in embarking on a healthier lifestyle.
And for any birth control worries, reach out to a doctor or other healthcare professional. They’re there to help.
Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.