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Nutritional Deficiencies and the Birth Control Pill

November 27, 2017
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The birth control pill can be helpful for so many women and people who menstruate. That said, it can also cause nutritional deficiencies that can have significant affects on the human body. A study that I referenced, outlines each vitamin and mineral whose absorption is impaired or has low levels due to birth control. Keep in mind that progestin-only and IUDs were not specifically referenced – but may have similar effects.  

Vitamins & Minerals

Folate

You’ve probably heard that folate is incredibly necessary for every woman of reproductive age. After it all, it helps with DNA production and cell division (think: red blood cells). There’s not enough folate, it might lead to anemia and more seriously neural tube defects in pregnancy.

Research shows that folate levels return back to ‘normal’ 3 months after coming off birth control. That said, if you’re planning on getting pregnant ASAP (especially if you have PCOS or endometriosis), you might want to consider supplementing while on the pill.

One important thing to note is that folate and folic acid is NOT the same. Folic acid undergoes many stages of transformation before becoming folate – a form that the body can actually use. Therefore when you’re choosing a multivitamin or B complex, make sure L-methylfolate is in the list of ingredients as this is the active form.

Vitamin B2

Not only is vitamin B2 (riboflavin) essential, it’s involved in many metabolic processes in the body (using carbs, fats and amino acids), required for energy production and normal cell function and growth. Moreover, it helps to convert folic acid and vitamin B6 into their active forms.

A B2 deficiency may result in degenerative changes in the nervous system, hormonal dysfunction, skin disorders and anemia. Vitamin B2 has also been linked to people with migraines, and supplementation can actually decrease headache frequency, intensity and duration.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 plays a huge role in the body, and is involved in over 100 enzymatic reactions – especially related to protein metabolism. It also is involved with the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin (from tryptophan – found in turkey!) and niacin.

A definicy of B6 can lead to low serotonin and niacin levels. In pregnant women, it is involved in neurological development of the fetus (ie. brain cells, brain connections, and brain weight). A deficiency may also cause pregnancy complications. Lastly, this vitamin can also be helpful to women who have PMS symptoms!

You want to be looking for the activated form of Vitamin B6 which is pyridoxal-5’-phosphate or pyridoxamine-5’-phosphate.

Vitamin B12

This is probably the most popular B vitamin, which helps with DNA production and regulation, fatty acid synthesis and energy production. The ACTIVATED form is necessary for cell growth and replication. We need external sources of B12 (ie. our bodies can’t make it), and it’s only found in foods that are of animal origin. Therefore, vegans and vegetarians should be getting it from supplements. A deficiency in B12 may affect both the blood and nervous system.

Pay attention to the form of B12 you’re taking. Ideally, it should be activated and in the methylcobalamin form!

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is one of the vitamins we all know to take during the winter season. It has many functions including the synthesis of collagen and stress hormones. When vitamin C is deficient it can lead to scurvy, poor wound healing, vasomotor instability and connective tissue disorders.

Vitamin E

This is a fat soluble vitamin (Vitamins B and C are water soluble) that is also an antioxidant! Commonly we see –tocopherol because it’s the most abundant and has the highest biological activity. Vitamin E can be found in fruits and vegetables, grains and nuts and seeds. It can be used in cell membranes, thereby protecting cells from oxidative damage. It can also act as a vasodilator and inhibits platelets from aggregating. Lastly, it is essential for reproduction as it prevents spermatogenesis loss in males and the failure to retain zygotes – but this was shown in rat models.

Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral with important functions in the body including RNA and DNA metabolism, cell signaling and gene expression. Not to mention – it’s hugely important for the skin and immune system! High concentration of zinc is found in the muscles, bones, kidneys, liver and parts of the eye. In men it’s found in the prostate and semen.

Selenium

Selenium is necessary for antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione peroxidases. It also helps the thyroid gland to function normally and is required in every cells that uses thyroid hormone (it helps with activation of the hormones and their metabolites).

Magnesium

Magnesium is needed for over 300 enzymatic reactions within the body, including those that create ATP (energy) and DNA and RNA. Magnesium deficiency can result in muscle spasms, has been associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety, migraines, and osteoporosis.

Next Steps

Alright, so you’re probably wanting to find a high quality multivitamin right now. As mentioned in a couple of the points, you want to be looking for specific forms of the vitamins (ie. folate, B6 and B12). 

If you are on the birth control pill, hopefully you’ve come away with a plan of action! If you love keeping in the know about your body and period, be sure to sign up for my monthly newsletter called The Flow for great and informative content like this!

Reference

Oral contraceptives and changes in nutritional requirements

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