Many prescription medications, such as birth control pills, may alter the body’s utilization and absorption of nutrients.

For many women, taking oral birth control pills is a routine activity similar to taking a daily multivitamin. While various contraceptive methods are available, contraceptive pills are the most common form of birth control.

Almost 45.5% of Canadian women are on birth control pills. Most often, women are aware of the effectiveness of birth control pills, but might not know nutrient interactions or deficiency associated with it.

Birth control pills include progestin and/or estrogen, which may deplete certain nutrients and increase the risk of vitamin deficiency. Very few women are aware that birth control pills may affect essential nutrients needed for mood, cognition, and cardiovascular health. 

Besides, the nutrient status of a woman before and during the pregnancy influences the growth and development of the baby. Women should thus be aware of their nutrient state before planning to stop these pills for conceiving a pregnancy.

Discussing the effect of birth control pills on all nutrients is not possible. Here are a few important ones.

Birth control and vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D is a hormone that helps in maintaining the immune system and calcium levels. Just as adequate calcium is essential for bone health, vitamin D is also essential for bone health. VItamin D is needed for your body to be able to absorb calcium from foods. 

According to a study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, birth control pills with estrogen are seen to increase vitamin D levels. This study found that estrogen-containing birth control pills improve vitamin D levels by 20% in women on oral contraceptives. This means that when women stop taking birth control pills, vitamin D levels drop. This drop in vitamin D level may be a concern especially as pregnancy requires more vitamin D to develop the growing fetus’ bones. 

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Vitamin D deficiency is associated with pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure and kidney and liver disorders. It also increases the risk of childhood disorders, such as type 1 diabetes and asthma.

All in all, women planning to stop birth control pills and planning to get pregnant should take supplements and other measures to maintain vitamin D levels.

Birth control and vitamin B deficiency

B vitamins, such as B6, B9, and B12, play an important role in maintaining normal functions of cells and nerves. Besides, many body functions require these B vitamins to work collectively.

Deficiency of these vitamins may cause depression, anemia, and poor cognitive functions.

Further, B vitamins are also essential for normal health and development of the fetus. As many pregnancies occur unplanned while on birth control pills, it is important to know how various nutrients are affected.

Here is how birth control pills may affect the levels of some important B vitamins.

Birth control and folic acid deficiency

Folic acid is a type of vitamin B that helps in the formation of new cells.

Research has proven a link between oral contraceptive pills and low blood folate levels. Women of child-bearing age should consider taking a folate supplement if taking contraceptive pills.

Further, folic acid is vital for the normal development of the fetus and prevention of neural tube defects (NTDs). So, it is important to identify folic acid deficiency to reduce the risk of developmental abnormalities in the pregnancy conceived shortly after discontinuation of birth control pills.

It is also seen that oral contraceptives increase the risk of cervical cancer, and a folic acid supplement may prevent or slow down this risk. Supplementation with folic acid could thus be beneficial for women of child-bearing age on birth control pills.

Birth control and vitamin B12 deficiency

Vitamin B12 plays an important role in maintaining the health of the body’s cells and nerves. It also aids in making genetic material and DNA in all cells.

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Studies have found that vitamin B12 is low in women on oral contraceptives, compared to the general population. Similar to folic acid, low levels of vitamin B12 increases the risk of NTDs. 

Low vitamin B12 levels may also be associated with pernicious anemia, a condition where the body is unable to absorb adequate vitamin B12. As birth control pills deplete vitamin B12, taking supplements may be beneficial for the woman’s health.

Birth control and iron deficiency

Iron helps red blood cells carry oxygen from the air you breathe to the body cells.

Iron deficiency anemia is almost seen in 20% of the women. Iron moves in the blood attached to a protein and a reduced binding is responsible for low iron levels. Birth control pills improve the iron-binding capacity and thus help in managing iron deficiency.

Women with heavy periods are at an increased risk of iron deficiency. As birth control pills change hormone levels and make menstrual blood flow less frequent or lighter, it improves iron levels in the body.

Birth control pills are thus an excellent contraceptive choice for women with iron deficiency anemia.

Birth control and protein deficiency

Protein S is a glycoprotein produced by the liver. It acts as a cofactor in coagulation and its deficiency is associated with clotting defects.

Deficiency of Protein S is more common in women on birth control pills. According to the World Health Organization, women on oral contraceptive pills have three to six times higher risk of clotting disorders as compared to non-contraceptive pill users. In most women, the actual risk of having a serious blood clot is generally very low. However, if you have other risk factors like smoking or a genetic predisposition, taking birth control pills may be a concern. Talking to your doctor is the best way to understand what contraceptive method is best for you based on your medical history. 

Birth control and zinc deficiency

Zinc is present in many body cells and is important for boosting the body’s immunity. According to the World Health Organization, zinc deficiency is seen in almost 31% of the population. 

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The changes in the body due to the external intake of estrogen via oral contraceptive use may increase the body’s utilization of zinc and lower the zinc carried in the blood.

While not all studies report on zinc deficiency, most of them have shown that even a small dose of birth control pills decreases zinc levels. As well, the reduction is associated with the duration of oral contraceptive use.

Zinc deficiency during pregnancy may result in growth retardation, stillbirth, and preterm delivery. Zinc supplements may thus be useful to support women on birth control pills.

Birth control and magnesium deficiency

Magnesium is an essential nutrient and controls almost 300 chemical reactions in your body. It also supports the health of the immune system, heart, nerves and muscles functions.

External estrogen hormone, including that contained in birth control pills, lowers magnesium levels and may cause a deficiency of this nutrient. This is especially important for women with a low intake of dietary magnesium.

Besides, high-intensity exercise, high caffeine intake, poor sleep, and chronic stress drain the body’s magnesium store.

It also affects calcium to magnesium ratio that may affect coagulation, which increases the risk of clot formation related to estrogens.

So, based on the above research findings, it is recommended that women on birth control pills should consider taking magnesium supplements along with magnesium-rich foods, such as pumpkin, cashews, and spinach. 

Final thoughts

Normal vitamin and mineral levels are essential for the normal functioning of the body. Various studies and research have shown that birth control pills may deplete nutrients, and here a few of them have been highlighted.

Supplementing the diet with these vitamins prevents the risk of complications and certain disorders associated with their deficiency.

It is thus recommended that women on oral contraceptive pills talk to their doctor and take the required vitamins, especially if they are planning to conceive.

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