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The Superpowers of Magnesium and How to Choose the Best Supplement to Take

Your magnesium levels affect how every cell in your body works. You’ll feel it if you’re low in magnesium — you may have low energy, a distractible brain, muscle cramps, and more.

Even when your diet is on point, you can come up short on micronutrients like magnesium. Modern farming practices deplete the soil, so vegetables don’t have the mineral content they did a few generations ago. In fact, in the US, most adults are deficient in magnesium.[1]

In an episode of the Bulletproof Radio podcast, Matt Gallant, founder of BiOptimizers explains why they decided to develop a high-quality magnesium supplement.

Keep reading to learn why magnesium is crucial to feel like yourself, and to find out which best magnesium supplement will work best for you.

The function of magnesium in your body

Your body depends on magnesium for a lot of processes, like:

  • Maintaining healthy DNA
  • Controlling blood glucose
  • Making proteins
  • Helping your muscles work more efficiently (and not cramp up)
  • Maintaining blood pressure
  • Managing nerve cells

“We really see improvements on just about every part of the body, starting with even blood sugar. It helps move blood sugar into your muscles and dispose of lactate which can help build up during exercise and cause pain, so you can see an exercise performance on that component. We’ve seen improvements with athletes, the elderly. We’ve seen volleyball players be able to improve their jumping and arm movement. We’ve seen athletes who were cycling and swimming improve their performance. They also had reductions in insulin and stress response. Magnesium can help with fat loss. Again, it’s not a fat loss supplement, but it can really help,” says Gallant.

So, you find yourself ready to pick up a magnesium supplement. It’s not just a matter of choosing the best brand. There are different types of magnesium that do different things in your body. Here’s how to pick.

How to choose the best magnesium supplement

If you’re ready to add a magnesium supplement to your stack, first decide what your goal is. Do you want to increase energy? Sleep better? Think more clearly? Get rid of that twitch in your eyelid? Different magnesium supplements will act on different things. You might have some trial and error to find which magnesium supplement vibes with your biology. Luckily, magnesium is usually pretty cheap to buy.

Pro tip: every time you try a new magnesium type, brand, or dose, plan to take your first few doses when you’ll be home for the next few hours. Especially when you’re figuring out your dose, you could have some digestive discomfort and extra bathroom time.

These are the types of magnesium you’ll find in stores, and what they do in your body.

I strongly recommend Bioptimizers for Magnesium

Magnesium threonate: cognition, memory, focus

Magnesium threonate readily crosses the blood-brain barrier, which means it absorbs quickly and acts fast.[2]

Research shows that it helps with learning and memory,[3][4] and may slow down age-related cognitive decline[5] In a rat study, magnesium threonate reversed Altzheimer’s disease.[6]

Magnesium threonate is so powerful that it is served at 40 Years of Zen before brain training and meditation sessions as an extra brain boost.

Magnesium chloride to address overall magnesium deficiency

In stores, you’ll see magnesium chloride “oil” that comes in a spray bottle for your skin. Thing is, magnesium oil isn’t an oil at all – it feels oily because magnesium chloride is slightly more alkaline than water. You absorb a lot of magnesium through the skin using magnesium oil sprays.

Topical magnesium spray works well if you have digestive trouble, because you might not get as much nutrition out of your food. People who have trouble maintaining mineral balance also benefit from topical magnesium. You might experience these if you have conditions that affect your minerals like insufficient stomach acid or adrenal fatigue.

If you’re low, you may notice tingling or itching after you apply the spray. Think of it as your skin and blood vessels opening up to “grab” magnesium because your body really needs it. As your magnesium levels increase, you’ll no longer itch when you spray on magnesium oil. If the itching bothers you, you can rinse your skin as soon as it dries. Most of it will have absorbed by then.

Magnesium sulfate: detox, muscle pain

Magnesium sulfate might be the easiest form of magnesium to find. You can pick up a bag of epsom salt, which is pure magnesium sulfate, in almost every grocery store or pharmacy.

Soaking in a bath with epsom salt soothes sore muscles and pulls toxins out of your pores. You don’t absorb much magnesium, but you’ll get just enough to feel the calming effect.

If you want to elevate your experience, try a sensory deprivation float tank. the water in float tanks is saturated with magnesium sulfate so that you are buoyant, and you get extra relaxation effect when you combine magnesium with sensory deprivation.

Some people take magnesium sulfate internally, but it’s easy to take too much and end up in the bathroom for a while.

Magnesium malate: energy, muscles

If you’re looking to boost energy throughout the day, magnesium malate may help. The elemental magnesium is bound to malic acid, which helps your cells produce energy.[7]

It calms overactive nerve cells, which may help with pain by relaxing tense muscles. Some fibromyalgia patients have experienced relief when taking magnesium malate.[8]

Magnesium glycinate: sleep

Magnesium glycinate is a highly absorbable form of magnesium in a capsule[9] and will raise your overall magnesium levels quickly. It is also one of the forms that is not likely to cause digestive trouble. With magnesium glycinate, magnesium is bound to glycine, an amino acid with a calming effect that improves your sleep quality.[10]

Magnesium oxide to stay regular

If you’re not pooping every day, taking small doses of magnesium oxide a few times a day can help keep things moving while providing magnesium that your body needs anyway. On the flipside, you’re making enough (or too many) bathroom trips, it’s probably a good idea to pick a different form of magnesium.

One more time for emphasis: take small doses. This one is most likely to cause bathroom trouble, but for the same reasons, it’s super effective for constipation. Experiment at home.

Even though you feel its effects, you don’t absorb much magnesium oxide[11] because you end up flushing a lot of it — literally.[12] You can take other forms of magnesium to boost your levels.

Magnesium citrate: sleep and calm

Magnesium citrate has a calming effect, which makes it a great supplement to take at night. This is also the form to reach for if you want to address muscle cramps and twitches.[13]

You absorb more magnesium from magnesium citrate than magnesium oxide,[14] but you still risk going overboard and having bathroom trouble. Use a small dose at first, and work up until you find your ideal dose.

Some people experience anxiety or racing heart when starting magnesium. If that’s the case, stop taking it and make an appointment with a functional medicine doctor to test your mineral levels and get back into balance.

You may need to do some experimenting, but magnesium is inexpensive, so experimenting won’t break the bank. Soon, you’ll find the form that’s right for you.

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This 2,500 Year Old Technique is the Secret Behind Super Human Memory

Today we welcome guest author Jonathan Levi, bestselling author, keynote speaker, and thought leader on the topics of accelerated learning, memory, and online education. He is the founder of SuperHuman Academy®, whose popular online courses and award-winning podcast are enjoyed by over 250,000 people in all 205 countries and territories. He lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, with his wife, Limmor.

This 2,500 Year Old Technique is the Secret Behind Super Human Memory

by Jonathan Levi

 

Imagine, for a moment, that there were a simple technique out there that could dramatically improve your memory. I’m not talking about an improvement of 100%, 200%, or even 300%. I’m talking about allowing you to remember anywhere between 10-100x more information.

Now imagine, if you will, that this simple technique – discovered in 477 B.C. by Simonides of Ceos, was the secret behind every one of the world records in memory. From memorizing hundreds of random digits, to the names and faces of 100+ people in minutes, to speeches, foreign language words and more. In fact, imagine that simply by using this technique, you could literally rewire the way your brain works – permanently.

What would a technique like that be worth to you?

Good news – this technique isn’t myth, or even urban legend, but a real technique that absolutely anyone can learn in minutes.

I’m talking, of course, about The Memory Palace.

How Anyone Can Transform Their Brain To Look Like A Memory Champion’s

Though you may have heard of The Memory Palace (or “the method of loci”), most people have never created one – much less turned it into a habit. And yet, memory palaces are, without a doubt, the single most powerful thing you can do to enhance your memory. (In my latest book, I refer to them as “the mnemonic nuclear option,” a bit like dropping a nuke on a schoolyard bully). Researchers have actually proven that this technique reshapes neural networks to support superior memory.[1]

They’ve even discovered that these changes are long-lasting… and that anyone can use them to transform their brain into that of a memory champion.[2] In other words, unlike the Olympic games, the only differences between you and Memory Games champions are technique and practice.

How is this even possible?

How (And Why) The Memory Palace Actually Works

Though memory research is a young field, researchers have uncovered quite a bit about how our brains store information. As with the rest of our bodies, our brains have evolved over millions of years to increase our odds of survival. This is why certain senses – like smell, taste, and sight – are significantly more memorable to us than others. No surprises there.

But what most people don’t realize is how well our brains remember locations. Though some of us can get lost on our way home every day, none of us will forget the layout of our childhood homes – or any other place we’ve lived, for that matter. You see, though we don’t even notice it, our brains are constantly evaluating and remembering our surroundings.

The reasons for this are simple. If you’re a paleolithic cave man or cave woman, your survival depends on your ability to find your way around. You must remember the way back to the watering hole, the buried winter food supply, and the cave. To make this possible, our brains produce a unique neurochemical mix anytime we so much as think about location. This connection is so powerful, in fact, that researchers now believe that location is an absolutely essential part of memory[3] as a whole.

This is more good news for you – because it means that you have hundreds of memory palaces lying dormant in your head, waiting to be filled.

How To Create Your Very Own Memory Palace, In 3 Easy Steps

Binaural Beats Are the Playlists That Will Make You Smarter and Help You Sleep Better_Using binaural beats for focusThe idea behind The Memory Palace technique is very simple. First, choose a location that is familiar to you. This can be a past or current home, an office, a friend’s place, or even a store you frequent. I suggest choosing the location based on how much information you wish to remember. After all, you wouldn’t want to waste a 5-story office building to memorize the 45 U.S. presidents or the NATO Phonetic alphabet.

Once you have your location picked out, decide on a “path” that you are going to take as you walk through it. I recommend starting at the entrance and walking along the “perimeter” of the building, tracing along the walls either clockwise or counter-clockwise.

Trace the path that you’d use to go into each room, and make sure that you never cross your own path. This is less important if you’re going to be memorizing non-sequential information, such as foreign language vocabulary. It’s absolutely essential for things like speeches, decks of cards, and so on.

If your information is non-sequential, decide how you’ll break it up into groups, and which rooms in the palace will correspond to those groups. (You can do this in your head, or by sketching out a floor plan on a piece of paper, if it’s easier).

With your memory palace set up, it’s time to get visual. Create a novel, bizarre, and creative mental image for the first piece of information you want to remember. In the SuperLearner® methodology, we call these “markers,” and they’re the building block of all the mnemonic techniques we use. To make your markers extra-memorable, you’ll want to combine elements of your existing memories in ways that are particularly strange – even violent or sexual.

Imagine, for example, I wanted to learn the Spanish word for “stove” (estufa). I might visualize actress Gloria Estefan sitting on my kitchen stove and shrieking in pain as her backend sizzles. This image is great because it combines my own existing knowledge of Gloria Estefan with the location of the stove in my home – in a way that will be hard for most people to forget. Once I can “see” that particularly bizarre image in my mind’s eye, my work is done. I can now move on to my next location, whether that’s the corner of a bed, a painting on the wall, a window sill, or a bookshelf, and place another marker there.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “how do I come up with these visual markers?” Of course, there are different techniques for different types of information. For strings of numbers, you would use a system like The Major Method[4] – or a much more complex system if you were looking to compete. For things like names, speeches, bible verses, and so on, you can get creative. “Mary” becomes a visualization of the Virgin Mary. Ray becomes a Manta Ray. You get the idea. Markers are highly individual, because the best ones integrate your own pre-existing memories. But don’t worry, the actual contents of your markers don’t matter so much as the fact that you create them.

Once you’ve stocked your memory palace full of visualizations, you’re done! All you need to do is periodically drop in for a visit and review it to prevent your brain from forgetting it. Realistically, though, it doesn’t take much. I’ve had people approach me at events and tell me about that “annoyingly sticky” memory palace I had them memorize 5 years ago – and how it still lingers on in their mind.

Now You Try It

As any coach worth their salt will tell you, the information above is not enough to create a transformation. After all, you can’t learn how to swim in a library. So if you actually want to reap the benefits of the Memory Palace, you’re going to have to try it out for yourself.

Perhaps you already know exactly what you’d like to memorize. Hey, that’s great! Go do it, and let me know how it goes. But for those of you who are scratching your heads on where to begin, here are some of my favorite “beginner” memory palaces that always come in handy:

So there you have it! With time and a little practice, you can easily learn to do truly superhuman feats of memory. From learning 50 digits backwards and forwards in minutes, to memorizing a shuffled deck of cards, and much, much more.

And once you do, your brain will radically and permanently change for the better.

What do you think? Is this technique worth investing a few minutes a day to practice? I’d love to hear what types of things you plan to memorize with it.

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Awakening Your Creative Genius, with Steve Aoki

Chances are, you know at least one artistic type who is a virtual idea factory. New and fresh works seem to materialize out of nowhere, day in and day out.

Now, picture that person’s creative mind times a million, and you have the level of genius that makes a two-time Grammy-nominee, electronic musician, DJ, filmmaker, music executive, and founder of a record label, events company, and clothing line.

Yes, I’m still talking about one person — Steve Aoki is one of today’s most successful and prolific American artists. He has 1.5 billion music streams on Spotify, and he has helped put some of the world’s most beloved entertainers on the map, like The Chainsmokers and The Kills, among others.

I had the pleasure of talking with Steve on an episode of the Bulletproof Radio podcast to talk about how he supercharges his creativity, especially after so many years, so many beats, so many melodies. I think everyone wants just a sliver of his endless source of imaginative power, and he shared with me some of the tactics he uses to get in the zone and stay there for the long haul.

Keep reading to understand where Steve Aoki’s innovation and inspiration comes from, and take steps to unlock your own creativity.

Create, then create more

Quantity creates quality. Aoki believes that his career became what it is today because he produced so much over the early stages. And, he hasn’t slowed down.

“The way my career has grown is from doing a lot and then sharpening. It’s like sharpening your sword. The more you use it, the more you just get better at it. And then one of those strikes is going to really shake the world up,” says Aoki. “Some artists can get it on that one try. For me, it takes about maybe 10.”

If you want to find your stroke of genius, keep producing. It will come.

Use old creations in a new way

The old adage says, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” Artists build upon each others’ works all the time. Aoki describes this in the context of melodies, for example.

“Music is an interesting thing because everyone’s done the same melodies. The same melodies have been rehashed a million times. It’s like wearing the same pair of pants, everyone’s worn those pants. You just have to acid wash them differently or paint them differently,” explains Aoki. “It’s just how you wear, how you present it out to the world that makes it a little different.”

There’s a difference between inspiration and plagiarism, so don’t go stealing things you like and claiming they’re yours. The key is to breathe new life into your art and make it your own.

Ignore the opinions of others

The best way to paralyze yourself is to worry too much about what others will think. Worrying about what others will think is the root of imposter syndrome, and there’s no place for that in creative work.

“I can’t think about what other people’s opinions are. That fucks up your whole flow,” says Aoki.

To keep your creative flow going, you have to produce works that tug at your own heart. Make your own emotional connections with your creations, and trust that your audience gets you.

Trust that you will connect with others

Because Aoki has played for so many different audiences around the globe for 15 years, he has developed an innate sense of what will resonate with different audiences.

“I have trust in that gut process of not only what it means to me emotionally, but how I feel it’ll connect with people outside the room. From my informed experience from traveling around the world, I get the best litmus test of playing in front of so many people, so many countries, so many different backgrounds — cultural backgrounds, and languages, country, whatever it might be — and that ultimately, helps my decisions without me even thinking about that,” says Aoki.

If you’re just starting out and you haven’t connected with a broad range of audiences yet, keep in mind that there are 7.5 billion people in the world. Without a doubt, your work will reach someone.

Self-awareness leads to self-development

“When you are self-aware and self-critical, then you know that you have areas that have inadequacies and you need help with, or you need that support,” says Aoki. “Even if I’m still in the studio for so many hours, I still try to bring myself down to that student level. And always listen first, hear a different experience, a different approach.”

He goes on to explain that collaboration provides new opportunities to learn. If you’re working with someone new and you listen first and open yourself to learning, you’ll get better and better at your craft every day.

Be adaptable

flow state for productivity and happiness_Create your own flow stateRigidity and hard-headedness are the quickest ways to make your creativity go stale. When you’re diving into creative work, being adaptable and flexible makes you more open and receptive to new ideas and fresh ways of looking at things.

“Like what Bruce Lee says, ‘Be like water.’ Just be kind of flowing,” says Aoki.

He also prioritizes hospitality and a homelike vibe in his studio to make others feel comfortable. That way, everyone can feel open and creativity can flow. “I care more about you being here and your feelings and I want to make you feel special. So, if I can give that to you first, then you’re going to be more willing to open up.”

Rituals to feel at home, no matter where you are

Aoki likes rituals so that he feels at home and centered while he’s on the road. Since he does 250 shows a year, it’s important to feel at home wherever you are. “That’s a really important just mindset that I need to have. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to be home, three more days and I’ll be home.’ When I’m on the road, I change my whole way of living. This is my home now. I am comfortable, and I am at peace,” he says.

As much as possible, he keeps his workouts, meditation, health regimen, and other crucial aspects of his home life on the road with him. That way, he can feel centered and ready to create, ready to perform when the time is right.

Make art a habit, and get uncomfortable with it

flow state for productivity and happiness_Greater creativityAs a prolific producer, Aoki makes music every day. He started making it a daily priority, and after a short time, it became as basic as brushing his teeth. “It just gets ingrained in you and it’s not this drudgery or this chore,” he says.

He would then challenge himself to dig into his creative works in less-than-ideal environments, so that he could train his brain to access the imaginative and innovative parts of his brain when he was distracted by discomfort. Then, when you do have ideal conditions, ideas will flow more freely than ever.

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Two Effective Practices for Sharing Your Sexual Desires With Your Partner

Today we welcome guest author Layla Martin, founder of the Tantric Institute of Integrated Sexuality. Through her VITA™ Method, Layla teaches people how to have a more fulfilling sex life through by experiencing heightened senses and more connected and powerful love. You can listen to her interview on the Bulletproof Radio podcast here.

 

Two Effective Practices for Sharing Your Sexual Desires With Your Partner

by Layla Martin

Over the course of my career as a Tantra and sexuality teacher, I’ve worked with thousands of couples and seen a few recurring themes over and over again, that generally people:

  • Crave an interesting, exciting and passionate sex life
  • Want to experience deeper intimacy with their partner
  • And want to grow together sexually over the course of many years

…but most find it challenging or stressful to have the kind of discussions around your sex life that could make that a reality.

In this article, I’ll walk you through my two most potent practices that allow you to share your sexual desires with your partner… completely shame- and judgment-free.

Because sharing desires can be scary…

But it’s also a huge key to a sexually satisfying relationship that continues to evolve even after many years together.

If you don’t grow together sexually, the relationship goes stale

And for all of the amazing research happening around sexuality, we still don’t know exactly how to keep sex magnificent and, well… sexy, over the long haul.

This is likely because no matter how many research electrodes you strap to a human to understand their sexual behaviors: sex is more art than science.

And like any good artist, producing great art requires trying new things, being experimental and exploring unknown edges.

Having an interesting sex life requires exploration

But most couples are terrified of sharing the new things they’d like to try sexually.

Why the deep terror?

For myself, I often worry that my partner Andrew will judge me. I like doing things like genital worship because I skew more energetic and spiritual. Can I really ask him to feel his penis as a giant pillar of energy when he makes love to me? (Spoiler alert: yes.)

Before I told him that’s what I desired, I got all kinds of thoughts in my head: “What if he says no? What if he says yes and then I actually have to go through with it? What if he shames me?”

Andrew on the other hand has expressed a desire to be able to have more quickies and to feel more free to be primal and wild. Before he expressed this to me, he was worried that I’d be hurt or angry, or that saying that would start a huge fight. (Spoiler alert: sometimes it did, but it was worth it ;))

But since we’ve made it a regular practice to express our sexual desires and to make it safe for us to do so with each other in the tools I’ll be sharing below, we’ve had more quickies, more primal sex and, yes, Andrew did make love to me with a lightsaber penis of spiritual power…

And yes, it was truly awesome.

Express your desires without judgment or shame

So while expressing your sexual desires can be rocky territory, the benefits of sharing are immense. It’s important to remember that just because your partner desires something doesn’t mean the two of you ever have to do it.

You can always say no or maybe. Maybe is a great option.

But wouldn’t it be a beautiful thing to be able to express your desires in a shame-free, judgment-free zone as a couple and then figure out what desires you want to fulfill together… And which ones you don’t?

Easier said than done.

So below I’m going to share with you the two practices that Andrew and I have successfully used for years to cultivate shamelessness and non-judgment in sharing our sexual desires.

Sharing Sexual Desires: Practice #1: Expressing Fears, Desires & Loves

Time Investment: 6 – 15 minutes

Why this practice works: Structured sharing allows you to create a safe and intimate space to openly speak about your fears and what you desire.

If you are afraid of being judged or rejected, it can be super helpful to share that with your partner (as you are guided to do in these exercises). Then, you are prompted to share what you love about each other, which creates a safe landing space afterwards.

How: In this practice, you’re invited to share in a structured and transparent way with your partner, using these three different question prompts:

  1. What are you afraid of?
  2. What do you desire?
  3. What do you love about me?

I recommend that beginners allow 2 minutes for each question and ideally set a timer for each one. Sitting across from each other, Partner A asks the first question and Partner B responds. In this case, Partner A will ask Partner B, “What are you afraid of?”

Partner B will respond genuinely and share over and over again what they are afraid of – both sharing their desires but also any fears about their sex life. Partner B may say something like, “I’m afraid you will say ‘no’ to what I’m asking and I’m afraid that since we haven’t had sex for three weeks that you don’t desire me anymore.”

Partner A doesn’t coach, fix, interrupt or change the question, no matter what Partner B says. If Partner B pauses or stops, Partner A says, “Thank you,” and then repeats the same question, “What are you afraid of?” After the time is up, they switch and Partner B will now ask Partner A, “What are you afraid of?” following the exact same format.

In this way, you move through the questions, first asking one another, “What are you afraid of?” and then moving on to, “What do you desire?” and finally, “What do you love about me?”

If you’d like more clarity and a demonstration of the process and dialogue, you can watch a guided video that takes you through this practice step-by-step here.

Helpful pointers to express fears, desires and loves:

  • When your partner is sharing, make an effort to stay present with them and listen actively without judgment.
  • Over time, the idea is to go deeper with being honest and holding a safe space for your partner to express any fears or desires. This creates deep safety over time, which creates trust, which creates love.
  • Also, if you have a bombshell you’ve been holding onto for years, don’t drop it in the first sharing. First, do the process a few times to build up a sense of safety, increase the depth of intimacy and build a solid container of communication and trust.
  • Don’t start a fight with your partner during this process.
  • Don’t roll your eyes or laugh inappropriately at your partner.
  • Sometimes it can feel intense to hear about a desire that your partner has. So if you get triggered, take a lot of deep breaths and wait to address it until you feel calm and grounded again outside of the sharing. Remember: you never have to do anything you aren’t a full “hell yes” to!

After the exercise, you can discuss what was shared and how you feel about it. Have a loving conversation about what you might want to explore together and/or if you have any boundaries. If possible, you can even schedule this as a once-weekly appointment between the two of you. I’ve noticed that when Andrew and I do this, our sex life gets better and better.

Sharing Sexual Desires: Practice #2: Intention + Recap

Time Investment: 2 – 5 minutes

Why: To create a clear intention for your sexual experiences together (including whether you want to explore any new desires) and integrate and reflect to build greater trust and clarity around what you desire.

How:

  • Set an intention. Before you have sex, take 1 – 3 minutes to discuss a shared intention together.

Do you want to try something new? Do you want to explore a fantasy? Do you have a shared emotional desire? Taking time to set an intention allows you to be on the same page about exploring each other’s desires in a structured way.

Let’s say one of you has been wanting to explore a fantasy. You’ll be able to drop in a lot more if you decide to do it together in an intentional way before sex. Once you’re clear on your intention, you can start to connect intimately like usual.

  • Recap. This is done after a sexual interaction. Take 1 – 3 minutes to reflect on what you experienced, how you felt, what you loved, what you want to explore more of and if you desire anything different in the future.

While this might not sound that sexy, what Andrew and I have discovered is it clearly shows both of us what we’re actually experiencing during sex. Did he love that? Did I orgasm? Does he want to try more of that? Was I not into that ear thing?

Again, you want to be super compassionate with your partner and focus on being supportive and making them feel safe, rather than criticizing or focusing on what you didn’t like.

Over time, the recaps become an easy, fun way to reflect on your sexuality and review what you love and don’t love!

If you love these practices and want to try more, you can sign up at www.laylamartin.com for my weekly video series and feel free to email me through the website if you have any questions!

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Ditching Hormonal Contraceptives? 11 Non-Hormonal Birth Control Options

  • If you’ve been on hormonal birth control, you might be concerned about things like cancer risk, estrogen dominance, and sex drive.
  • From disposable methods like condoms and sponges, to reversible methods like the IUD, to permanent sterilization, you have several birth contraceptive options that won’t mess with your hormones.
  • If you’re ready to reset your body without giving up sexy time with your partner, keep reading to learn about your non-hormonal birth control options and the pros and cons of each.

You may have landed here because you’ve been learning about how hormonal birth control affects you with long-term use. If you’ve been on hormonal birth control like the Pill, you might be concerned about things like:

There’s so much more than that. For more detail, this podcast episode of Bulletproof Radio with women’s health expert Sarah Hill, PhD (iTunes) explains the mess that hormonal birth control makes in women’s bodies, head to toe.

If you’re ready to reset your body without giving up sexy time with your partner, keep reading to learn about your non-hormonal birth control options and the pros and cons of each.

Types of non-hormonal birth control methods

Hormonal contraceptives are by far the most popular methods of birth control. You might be surprised at how many non-hormonal options are out there, like:

  • Male condoms
  • Female condoms
  • Sponge
  • Diaphragm/cervical cap
  • Spermicide
  • Copper IUD
  • Rhythm method
  • Tubal ligation
  • Vasectomy
  • Withdrawal
  • Herbal birth control
  • Wild carrot seed
  • Smartweed

Here’s the rundown on each, and what to expect using each method.

1. Male condoms

Effectiveness*: 98% effective with perfect use, 85% effective with typical use

Male condoms are a thin balloon-like sheath, usually made of latex, nitrile (synthetic latex), or less commonly animal skin. They’re cheap, easy to carry with you, and widely available in grocery stores and pharmacies. When you use them correctly, they’re an effective contraceptive.

There are a few downsides, though. A biggie is that you have to have them on-hand before you need one, whether you’re home or away from home. Sometimes those moments sneak up on you when you least expect it, so you have to be prepared. Especially when you’re tipsy, you’re more likely to forget.

Another downside is that condoms aren’t medicine and they’re not food, so the government doesn’t require manufacturers to label what’s in them. A lot of condoms contain toxins, allergens, and hormone disruptors, and given their point of contact, you could end up with infections, reactions, or hormone problems in your delicate reproductive system. Your body might detoxify brief exposure here and there without too much trouble, but if condoms are your go-to method, these chemicals will compound over time.

2. Female condoms

Effectiveness: 95% effective with perfect use, 79% effective with typical use

non hormonal birth control_Female condoms

Female condoms look like a larger male condom with a small ring at the closed end and a larger ring at the open end. They stay in place surprisingly well and provide all of the same benefits as the male condom.

You’ll run into all of the same issues that you have with male condoms, like the chemicals they’re made from and having them on hand when you need them. A few extra things to keep in mind include:

  • Availability. Female condoms are a little harder to find than male condoms, so a spontaneous grab-and-go might not be an option depending on where you are.
  • You need a dry run (no pun intended). It’s best to practice inserting one before you need it, because getting it right can be tricky at first.

Some couples prefer female condoms to male condoms because of the extra stimulation the rings provide.

3. Spermicide (nonoxynol-9)

Effectiveness: 82% effective with perfect use, 72% effective with typical use. People usually use spermicide in combination with a barrier method to increase the effectiveness of both.

non hormonal birth control_Spermicide

Spermicide comes in lubricants, gels, or foams, and it works as a partial barrier by two mechanisms:

  • It coats the cervix, blocking sperm
  • It slows down, stops, or kills sperm before they can cross the cervix and reach the egg

Spermicide comes infused in other barrier contraceptives like condoms and the sponge; it’s recommended for use with others like the diaphragm; or you can use it on its own. Nonoxynol-9 is a detergent, so it erodes cell membranes. That’s all well and good when sperm are the targets, but it also disrupts the cell membranes of everything in its path, including healthy cells. Weakening your own cells increases your risk of genital lesions and sexually transmitted infections including HIV.[1][2]

The risk of infection seems to depend on frequency of use — the more you use it, the weaker your epithelium (the outer layer of your cells) becomes,[3] and the higher your risk of infection.[4] It also disrupts vaginal bacterial flora, which increases your risk of vaginosis[5] and other microbiome imbalances.

There’s also concern that it’s a pesticide, so once it rinses away and makes it into the water supply, it can mess with the aquatic ecosystem. As with a laundry list of other pesticides, it has endocrine activity that can cause you hormone problems with repeated use.[6]

All you need to know: spermicide is nasty.

4. Contraceptive sponge

Effectiveness: 91% effective with perfect use and if the woman has never given birth; effectiveness declines with typical use and if the woman has given birth, down to 76% effective at preventing pregnancy.

non hormonal birth control_Contraceptive sponge

The birth control sponge is a disposable squishy foam disc that contains spermicide, so it provides both a barrier to block the transfer of sperm, and it slows the sperm that come into contact with it so it doesn’t make it to the egg. You can wear it for up to 24 hours, so if you plan ahead, you don’t have to stop in the middle of everything to deal with it.

There have been reports of sponge users developing toxic shock syndrome (TSS), but the sponge was either left in too long or the user had difficulty removing it resulting in fragments left behind after removal.[7] TSS is rare, though.

The main problem with the sponge is that it contains spermicide, which you can read about above. That’s not something you want anywhere near your reproductive parts.

5. Diaphragm, cervical cap

Effectiveness: 94% effective with perfect use, 88% effective with typical use

non hormonal birth control_Diaphragm, cervical cap

The diaphragm is most closely related to a menstrual cup. It’s a reusable flexible plastic shallow cup you use to cover your cervix and block the transfer of sperm.

You can insert it hours before sexual contact, so once you get the party started, you don’t have to stop. The diaphragm itself doesn’t affect your hormones, but you only get to max effectiveness levels when you use it with spermicide, and that comes with a whole bunch of problems.

6. Copper IUD

Effectiveness: >99% effective at preventing pregnancy

non hormonal birth control_Copper IUD

The copper IUD is almost as effective as permanent sterilization, and you can reverse it at any time. With the copper IUD, you don’t get any synthetic hormone. There’s a small risk that it will fall out or go where it shouldn’t, and a handful of other risks, but they’re rare.

You don’t have to remember to take a pill every day or deal with your birth control right before or during sex. The copper IUD is a set-it-and-forget-it birth control method that you can keep in place for over a decade.

On the flipside, the constant exposure to copper stacks on top of your other everyday sources of copper like plumbing, pots and pans, and other sources, could lead to copper toxicity. If your copper balance tips, you could end up with things like:

  • Fatigue
  • Super heavy periods
  • Excess estrogen
  • DNA damage[8]
  • Digestion problems[9]
  • Liver scarring[10]

The levels in the IUD aren’t likely to cause copper toxicity alone, but if your exposure is already high, it can push you over the edge.

7. The fertility awareness method (aka rhythm method)

Effectiveness: varies

non hormonal birth control_The fertility awareness method

The fertility awareness method, aka natural family planning (NFP) or the rhythm method, involves being aware of your body’s changes throughout the menstrual cycle and predicting ovulation using your body’s biological changes.

Effectiveness depends on the method, and how well you know your body’s fertility cycle. There are several ways to do it, each with its own margin of error, so it’s best to combine things to track:

  • Calendar. With the calendar method, you count days to predict ovulation. Your reproductive system doesn’t know what day it is, and sometimes it won’t follow the rules. There are lots of factors that influence your menstrual cycle, like stress and toxic exposures.
  • Cervical mucus. The cervical mucus method involves being aware of changes in your cervical mucus throughout the month and getting familiar with the thicker, more slippery texture that comes around ovulation time.
  • Basal body temperature. The basal body temperature method involves charting your body temperature with a specialized thermometer several times per day. Most women see a small temperature increase (0.5-1 degree) right before ovulation. Of course, a fever or chronic medical condition will throw off your numbers.

With practice, most women get really good at predicting ovulation. Problem is, sperm can live inside the woman’s body for days, so that’s why the methods recommend a few extra days before and after ovulation.

If you adhere to a religion that forbids chemical or barrier birth control, the fertility awareness method gives you some amount of control as to how many kids you have and when.

Onto the downside. Fertility awareness takes a lot of work, and there’s a bit of a learning curve as you get to know your body. Not only do you chart your patterns around the time you have sex, you also track throughout the month to establish your body’s patterns. Also, male partners can’t really help their ladies here. It’s up to the woman to take her basal body temperature, check cervical mucus, and chart everything along the way.

A side benefit of putting in all that effort to track your cycle is that women do certain things better at various phases of the menstrual cycle, so you can give yourself some life advantages. For example, you’re more confident and outspoken around ovulation time, so schedule big presentations and negotiations for mid-cycle.

8. Tubal ligation

Effectiveness: 99% in the first year, during which your fallopian tubes could fuse back together. After that, docs consider you sterilized.

non hormonal birth control_Tubal ligation

Tubal ligation, aka getting your “tubes tied,” is a permanent sterilization method that blocks the path of the egg through the fallopian tubes.

It involves either:

  • Inserting a coil (Essure) into each fallopian tube, with the intention that your body will envelop them in tissue that will block the tubes
  • Clamping off the fallopian tubes with clips
  • Damaging a small section of the fallopian tubes

There are risks including infection from the procedure itself, ectopic pregnancy, and others.

Doctors will tell you that tubal ligation doesn’t affect your hormone levels, but due to decreased blood supply to the ovaries[11][12] and damaged or removed receptor cells, some women anecdotally report menopause-like symptoms.

9. Vasectomy

Effectiveness: Close to 100% after 3 months.

non hormonal birth control_Vasectomy

Vasectomy is a permanent male sterilization. It’s a quick surgical procedure that involves cutting or blocking the vas deferens, the tubes in your scrotum that sperm travel through toward the exit. The procedure itself takes only a few minutes and recovery is quick, only a few days.

Vasectomy doesn’t change the ability to ejaculate, and it doesn’t change the physical quality of your semen at all, except that it will not have sperm in it.

Risks include pain, swelling, and infection at the site, similar to that of any surgery with a small incision. Rarely but possibly, the tubes can grow back together and reverse the procedure. Some men have concerns about testosterone, but hormone profiles follow normal patterns after vasectomy.[13][14][15]

10. Withdrawal

 

Effectiveness: 96% effective with perfect use, 78% effective with typical use.

non hormonal birth control_Withdrawal

The withdrawal method involves stopping intercourse right before climax and ejaculating outside the body.

The withdrawal method is hormone-free, chemical-free, and cost-free. Sounds like an appealing method, right?

Except, it’s really easy to oops this one. The man could be too wrapped up in the task at hand to remember to withdraw, or he could misjudge when he will finish. Both partners’ minds will be (and should be!) elsewhere, and it’s incredibly easy to forget.

Even if you remember every time, a few overachievers can creep out before the grand finale and result in pregnancy.

11. Herbal birth control

Effectiveness: Unknown. Varies by the plant used, and it’s not well researched.

non hormonal birth control_Herbal birth control

Societies around the world use tradition-based herbal birth control to prevent pregnancy with success.

Wild carrot seed. Some societies use wild carrot seed, aka Queen Anne’s Lace, as a morning-after pill of sorts. Take a teaspoon right after funsies and every day for a week. It’s best to seek the guidance of a highly trained herbalist or naturopathic doctor. For one, you want to make sure your dosing and timing works with the rest of what’s going on in your body, so you’ll need a full consultation. More importantly, Queen Anne’s lace looks just like deadly hemlock, so it’s a terrible idea to look up a photo of it and go foraging.

Smartweed. Some cultures use a large amount (1 qt daily) of a strong tea of smartweed to prevent pregnancy. Traditions vary and it’s not well-researched, so this is another time you want to work with an herbalist to make sure you’re doing it right.

Spoiler alert: no one method is perfect, so use the information here to open up a conversation with your functional medicine doctor about the right method for you. While you’re at it, get some STI prevention advice, too. Can’t hurt.

*This article focuses on birth control only, so effectiveness pertains to pregnancy prevention only. STI prevention is not addressed in prevention statistics.

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