How the Contraceptive Pill Impacts Nutritional Needs
Regardless of its controversy, the birth control pill has offered women so many incredible opportunities over the past 70 years. Freedom to make decisions about our bodies, control over our reproductive health, and the chance to wait until we’re truly ready before having children; these are just some of the gifts that the invention of the birth control pill has brought women.
However, what seems to be a miracle pill also comes with drawbacks, and years ago many women weren’t aware of the risks until they found out the hard way. Cardiovascular disease, blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, breast cancer – all of these are very real risks associated with the birth control pill. Additionally, the pill has been shown to deplete our body of a variety of nutrients that we rely upon to remain healthy and balanced. Even today, most women aren’t aware of these risks because they aren’t properly informed.1
Nutrient Deficiencies Associated with the Birth Control Pill
We need to be strong advocates for our health. The birth control pill is widely used among us, but most women don’t know that there’s a dark side.2 Awareness of the risks and side-effects is important for our health – especially the nutrient deficiencies. Deficiencies in some of these key vitamins and minerals can lead to moodiness, anxiety, inflammation, poor immune health, and other imbalances.3
The Pill Depletes Important Antioxidants
Antioxidants are known for their role in protecting our cells from free radical damage, or oxidization. They have the ability to reduce inflammation, protect us from damaged cells and prevent disease.4 The birth control pill depletes some of our most important antioxidants, specifically vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and zinc.5 Another study indicates that users of oral contraceptives have lower total antioxidant capacity and lower levels of coenzyme Q(10).6 Because the birth control pill depletes these key antioxidants, it could have an impact on your overall health.
The Pill Depletes Essential B-Vitamins
The B vitamins are 8 different vitamins including folate, biotin and cobalamin. Our body uses these vitamins in a wide variety of processes, including energy production, metabolism, hormone synthesis, neurotransmitter production and more. B-vitamins support our nervous system, mood, adrenal glands and even cellular signalling. Unfortunately for many women, the birth control pill is known to deplete folate, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and even B12 (cobalamin).7 This is especially concerning since B vitamin deficiencies can cause imbalances – for example, a deficiency in vitamin B12 has been linked to depression, mood disorders, and even pernicious anemia.8
The Pill Depletes Key Minerals
In addition to being antioxidants, selenium and zinc are also key minerals responsible for supporting the immune system, cellular health and metabolism. A deficiency in either of these two minerals can impact these organ
systems and biological processes. Magnesium is also commonly depleted with birth control use, and is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body.9 A deficiency in magnesium is associated with mental disorders, muscle cramping, fatigue, high blood pressure, and even an irregular heartbeat.10
How to Counteract Nutrient Deficiencies While Taking Birth Control
If you currently take the birth control pill, there are a few things that you can do to support your body and mitigate nutrient deficiencies. This includes eating a nutrient-dense diet filled with lots of antioxidants, vitamins, and plant-based foods, as well as key supplementation to boost your micronutrient intake.
Eat a nutrient-dense diet
To support vitamin and mineral deficiencies, women should prioritize eating a whole foods diet filled with plant-based foods. Think vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds – they’re all chalk-full of vitamins and minerals that your body needs for optimal health.
Eating a diet filled with fruits and vegetables will help to replenish some of the key antioxidants lost while on the pill. For example, vitamin C can be found in red peppers, strawberries, broccoli, and oranges, while vitamin E is often found in nuts and seeds, and green leafy vegetables. Getting a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables will help to replenish your antioxidant stores, while reducing inflammation and oxidative damage.
For an even greater antioxidant and phytonutrient punch, consume at least one serving of leafy greens each day. Foods like spinach, kale, collard greens, lettuce and arugula also contain a variety of B vitamins, including vitamin B6 and folate, as well as the mineral magnesium.
Choosing high quality protein sources like eggs, organic and pastured meat, as well as beans and legumes will offer a variety of B vitamins, including B6 and B12, as well as zinc. As an added bonus, legumes contain a ton of healthy fibre to support your digestive system, which governs your body’s overall health.11
Can supplements help?
Since the birth control pill depletes a number of vitamins and minerals, supplementing with a high quality multivitamin, like Women’s Purefood A to Z, can
help to replenish those stores. Whole food multivitamins provide the best nutritional value because they are more easily absorbed than synthetic vitamins. Pranin Organic’s Women’s A to Z blend is made with only 100% organic whole foods – no synthetic ingredients and no fillers. It contains vitamin C, vitamin E, B vitamins, as well as magnesium, selenium and zinc to replenish those nutrients commonly depleted while on the birth control pill.
If you’re looking to boost your B vitamin intake, Pranin Organic’s Purefood B is a great option to get extra folate, B2, B6 and B12 into your diet. Made with organic whole food, this B-complex is highly absorbable and bioavailable. Always check with your healthcare provider before beginning new supplements, especially if you’re taking medication.
Should you take the Pill?
Choosing to take the birth control pill is a very personal decision that no one can make but yourself. It’s brought women more freedom and control, but it also has its own risks. Only you can decide whether or not to take the birth control pill, but the more informed you are about both the risks and benefits, the better.
We know that many women start the birth control pill from a young age when these risks are harder to fully grasp. In some cases, women don’t even understand that there are other birth control options available to them. Education is key when deciding if the pill is right for you.
Women need more education around birth control options
The fact that many women are unaware of the birth control pill risks indicates that we need more education on the subject. Research shows that education and knowledge can have a big impact on the type of birth control chosen and informed decision making12; women feel more empowered by their decision, knowing that it was the best for them.
Young women also look towards other women as role models. Social media platforms, and the internet has a whole, has given everyone a voice. Some amazing women are using their voices to empower and educate women about their bodies and their hormones, including Dr. Aviva Romm, Dr. Sara Gottfried, and Dr. Jolene Brighton. Let’s continue to break down any stigma associated with birth control and keep these conversations open and easy.
For some women, understanding what their peers are doing has a big influence on their decision. What could you do to support your friends, family, or even the women in your community looking at birth control options? Now that you understand some of the health risks, consider how your voice may be able to empower other women to make the choice that’s best for them.
Safe birth control should be easily accessible
Risks and benefits aside, when women consider different birth control options, accessibility becomes a big factor. In many cases, the only way to get the birth control pill is through a doctor’s prescription – a very big barrier to entry, especially for those without a family doctor or who might be unable to drive themselves to a clinic.
When I was in high school, our school nurse was able to provide birth control to students. This is how many young women started using the birth control pill because it meant avoiding an uncomfortable conversation with their parents and a trip to the doctor’s office. Though some education on risks and side effects was lacking, it was much more accessible and empowering for young women. More initiatives like this would make birth control pills an easier and more accessible option to prevent unplanned pregnancy.
What if we could do even better? Consider a world where you could pick the pill up in any pharmacy without needing a doctor’s note. In fact, this petition is supporting this exact scenario. Although the birth control pill may not be the right decision for everyone, having easy access to all forms of birth control is imperative to reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancy.
In all of this, we must continue to push for safer and more accessible methods of birth control. While the pill might be right for some women, it doesn’t come without its risks. Education about alternative birth control methods are essential, as is continued research to provide safer options. In the end, it’s critical that women are empowered by knowledge and education to make the best, most informed decision for themselves.
Kelly Maia Agnew, CNP, ROHP, RNCP
is a holistic nutritionist with a passion for women’s health and wellness. Upon receiving her Honours Bachelor of Commerce, with a specialization in marketing, she began her corporate career in buying for a multi-billion dollar corporation. After neglecting her health and quickly burning out, she decided to make a career change. She graduated from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition in 2017 with first class honours – all while working as a marketing associate for a national crown corporation. Learn more about Kelly by visiting her website.