INTERVIEW | Jessica Giljam Brown on Hormones, Fertility & The Best Contraception Methods
Jessica Giljam Brown is a holistic nutritionist, hormones and fertility genius, self-confessed “science geek” and creates epicly informative content for her Instagram followers. She eats cake. She also eats cheeseburgers, drinks wine, and has never really enjoyed Yoga. A girl after my own heart, shifting the paradigm of how you need to ‘show up’ in the wellness industry. I first met Jessica in London last year when we both attended the Welltodo Summit and she’s now a friend and peer. I’m so excited to share this interview with you!
Hi, Jessica, tell the readers who you are and what you do?
I am a holistic nutritionist (BSc Human Nutrition), I have a passion for women’s health, particularly in the areas of fertility, endometriosis, PCOS and other hormonal issues. I have been working in this area for the last 6 years In NZ and around the world.
What made you want to study Nutrition?
I have always loved food and cooking, and then towards the end of high school I started to really enjoy biology and health so it was a natural progression into nutrition. The transition from general nutrition to women’s health came a little later once I started working with women and found that while they wanted help with their weight and energy, it was actually their hormones that were creating the biggest issues for them.
You are a woman in the know on all things contraception, fertility and hormones - why do you think this is such a hot topic right now?
Because it needs to be. The change in lifestyle and diet that has occurred over the last 50 years has created many problems for women and now we are being forced to take notice and ask questions. I also think that women are far more empowered these days and they want to be in control of their own health, they want to be part of the decision-making process and understand what is happening with their own bodies.
What is the 'safest' form of contraception, in your opinion?
The safest form of contraception is the one that suits the individual. When choosing which contraception is best for a woman you need to take into account her lifestyle, health history, family health history, personal accountability (will she take a pill or take her temperature every day), and future plans for children.
The most effective in terms of preventing pregnancy are IUDs and the combined oral contraceptive pill, followed by condoms and fertility awareness methods. However, the safest in terms of impact on the body and general health would be condoms or fertility awareness methods as they don’t impact the body.
When a client is making the decision of which form to use, I like to ensure they are well informed about all the pros and cons of each form – including how it impacts their body and future fertility.
What are the watch outs for the birth control pill?
The pill provides the body with a steady state of synthetic hormones – in the generic combined pill these hormones are estrogen and progestin. The introduction of these synthetic hormones changes the normal pattern of reproductive hormones in the body, which prevents ovulation and leads to thicker mucus within the vagina (to prevent sperm entry).
Although it may be convenient and easy, the birth control pill is not the safest form of contraception to take. The fact it interferes with such a natural process must make you question what else it is impacting. Unfortunately the pill can lead to nutrient deficiencies, increased blood clotting risk, depression, anxiety, weight gain, recurrent bacterial or yeast vaginal infections, poor sex drive, and hair loss.
In addition, when it comes time to get off the pill and try for a baby, past users of the contraceptive pill often take a lot longer to conceive compared to those who had never used the pill – sometimes twice as long. This can be due to nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, or other underlying issues that were masked by the pill.
Unfortunately the pill has also been linked to increased risk of miscarriage. The belief behind this is the pill thins the wall of the uterus, which is where the fertilised egg implants. If it’s thinner, there is a greater risk of it not adhering.
What about IUD's? Are you a fan or no?
You can get two different types of IUD’s - one uses copper to prevent pregnancy and the other progestin - a synthetic form of progesterone. Both work by preventing fertilisation. However, if that fails, the IUDs can also prevent implantation of the fertilised egg, thereby preventing pregnancy. IUDs are easy to insert, can stay within the uterus for 5-10 years, and are 99% effective.
Both forms have their pro’s and con’s.
Copper IUD’s can suit women who have regular, easy to manage, pain free periods and are looking for long term pregnancy prevention. However, the copper IUD may not be good for women with a history of heavy or painful periods, mood disorders, or recurrent vaginal infections. The copper IUD can also cause more bleeding and cramping during periods.
The hormonal IUD (the Mirena) is often used to help control the symptoms of peri-menopause (long or heavy periods). While this is an option, I feel that dietary changes and support in this age group are a better option and just as effective. Unfortunately the mirena also has some possible side effects including acne, hair loss, headache, nausea, bloating, unwanted hair growth, decreased sexual desire, breast tenderness, cramps during menstruation, and nervousness.
How might a woman know if her hormones are out of balance?
Your body is very good at telling you when things are out of balance. Acne, painful periods, long or heavy bleeding, irregular periods, very short and light periods, severe PMS, tender breasts, dark facial hair growth, hair loss, and weight gain are all signs that something isn’t right and should be investigated.
I read a lot about women using the 'rhythm' method as a form of contraception. Discuss.
The rhythm method, sometimes confused with the fertility awareness method (FAM), is a natural strategy that involves a woman tracking her cycle to determine when she is ovulating (when an egg is being released from the ovary). When a woman is ovulating, she is most fertile, and therefore she cannot have unprotected sex. The rhythm method uses simple maths to calculate when you are ovulating, and is not as effective as the fertility awareness method, which uses body temperature, cervical mucus and calendar tracking to calculate ovulation.
However, they can’t just avoid sex for one day over ovulation. When an egg is released from the ovary, it lasts in the reproductive system between 12 and 24 hours – this can change cycle to cycle. However, sperm can last up to 5 days. Therefore there is a 6-day window where the women may be fertile (5 days sperm can survive, plus one day of ovulation).
The fertility awareness method is a good option for women who have very regular cycles and are intune with their body. They need to be very diligent with tracking body changes for this to work well.
Is it true that you can only get pregnant when you're ovulating?
Yes. In order to get pregnant a sperm must enter an egg. Within the female body, an egg is released once every 26-35 days from the ovary in a process called ovulation. As stated earlier, this egg can only last 12-24 hours. If there are no sperm present during this time (remember, sperm can survive up to 5 days within the vagina), the egg won’t be fertilised, and the woman will not become pregnant.
Do you have a favourite period tracking app?
Yes! My Cycles is my go to for my clients and myself. It is free and tracks all your symptoms. View on apple app store here.
Anything else a woman of child-bearing age should know?
Fertility isn’t about whether you want to have children one day or not. I want all women to be fertile because this means they are healthy. Ovulating and having great sex hormones and periods is important for your bone health, mood, sex drive, skin, and breast health.
However, if someone chooses to use a form of hormonal contraception, it’s important they are well informed on what they are taking and how it will impact their present and future health and fertility.
Tell us about your new book
I have been working very hard this year alongside Dr Catherine Stone to write our first book; Grow Younger with Great Food. It combines a guidebook on how to age well, starting in your 20’s and guides you all the way through the ages, and recipe book of over 90 delicious recipes. We share our tips for healthy sex hormones, skin health, how to protect your bones an dbrain long term, how to have great gut health and how to boost yoru sex drive. It will be in bookstores in October, but you can sign up to hear about our pre-sale and discount price here: http://bit.ly/2WiXmaK.
For more information about Jessica you can visit www.wellnessbyjessica.com or check out her posts on Instagram @wellnessbyjessica. We will also have an interview with her on the podcast very soon, so stay tuned.