The birth control pill has been so much more than, well, a pill. A key player in the feminist movement in the 60s and 70s, it has since been prescribed to clear hormonal acne, prevent ovarian cysts, treat the side effects of irregular periods, and the list goes on. That being said, it’s certainly not free of side effects; nausea, vomiting, breast tenderness, and weight gain are just some things women may experience when on the pill.
Taking the pill can also cause nutritional deficiencies that often remain undiscussed, which has led some holistic nutritionists to advise women to go off the pill altogether. Personally, I can’t help but think nutritionists are overstepping their boundaries with such a suggestion. To me, choosing to go on (or off) any form of birth control is a woman’s choice. And with its high efficacy in preventing pregnancy, it’s extremely helpful for those who are sexually active yet not looking to conceive.
That being said, what are the nutritional deficiencies one experiences while on the pill? And how can you correct them to ensure your body is as healthy as it can be?
Take the Pill? Take Your Vitamins.
One of the most well-known reports on the link between nutrient depletion and birth control was done by the World Health Organization in 1975. Since then, a number of studies have confirmed their findings and discovered additional areas of concern, including:
Vitamin B2 deficiency
B2, or riboflavin, is one of the most essential B vitamins. It’s necessary for turning food into energy, helping cells function and grow, and metabolizing carbs, proteins, and fats. It also supports your nervous system and adrenals—key players in stress management—and helps other B vitamins get converted into versions our body can use.
PROBLEM: “Vitamin B2 deficiency is always accompanied by deficiency of other vitamins,” according to a 2013 journal article.
EAT IT: Milk and dairy products are the richest source of this vitamin. Don’t eat dairy? Snacks on some almonds for a good dose of B2.
2. Vitamin B6 deficiency
B6 is involved in more than 100 reactions in our body, most of which involve protein metabolism. It also helps with the synthesis of neurotransmitters, which are brain chemicals that communicate information to our brain and body. Specifically, it helps create a neurotransmitter called serotonin that controls our mood. (Most prescription drugs for anxiety and depression work on stabilizing serotonin levels in the brain.)
PROBLEM: A deficiency in this vitamin can contribute to symptoms of depression, anxiety, panic, OCD, sleep disturbances, and cognitive functioning.
EAT IT: Sunflower seeds, pistachios, tuna, turkey, beef, and chicken are great sources of B6.
3. Vitamin C deficiency
Vitamin C is an amazing antioxidant that helps combat free radicals in our body. It’s also needed for bone maintenance and repair, collagen formation, teeth formation, wound healing, and iron absorption.
PROBLEM: Estrogen is said to increase the rate at which vitamin C is metabolized.
EAT IT: Papaya, kiwi, clementines, cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruits, bell peppers of any colour, and Brussels sprouts are all great sources of vitamin C.
4. Folic acid (B9) deficiency
B9 helps tissues grow and cells do their jobs while assisting with the making and repairing of DNA. It’s also especially important for women in the early stages of pregnancy.
PROBLEM: Some oral contraceptives affect the absorption of this nutrient, accelerate its metabolism, or encourage it to be peed out more than it’s absorbed (like my science lingo there?).
EAT IT: Dark leafy greens, legumes, and citrus fruits like grapefruits, oranges, lemons, limes, and tangerines are great sources of B9.
TIP: Enjoy some freshly squeezed lemon juice in warm water in the morning to get a dose of B9 and simultaneously detoxify your liver!
5. Vitamin E deficiency
The only fat-soluble vitamin on the list, vitamin E is a great antioxidant. It also plays an important role in reproductive function, red blood cell formation, and immune functioning.
EAT IT: almonds and sunflower seeds are amazing sources of this wonderful antioxidant.
6. B12 deficiency.
B12 is especially important to keep our central nervous system in check. It also helps with protein metabolism and red blood cell formation.
PROBLEM: Symptoms of a B12 deficiency include tingly hands, legs or feet, weakness, fatigue, difficulty walking, and other problems.
EAT IT: Meat, chicken, eggs, dairy foods, and fortified beverages like almond milk are great sources of B12, along with some breakfast cereals.
7. Deficiency of minerals like magnesium, selenium, and zinc.
Magnesium helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function and keep bones strong, selenium helps make antioxidant enzymes, and zinc is needed for proper immune functioning, cell growth, wound healing, and carbohydrate metabolism.
PROBLEM: Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include anxiety, sleep disorders, and muscle spasms while zinc deficiencies have been linked to acne, sleep disturbances, lack of appetite, a lack of smell and taste.
EAT IT: Eat beef, lamb, wheat germ, spinach, pumpkin seeds, cashews, pork, and chicken for zinc, dark leafy greens, spinach, tempeh, and pumpkin seeds for magnesium, and Brazil nuts, oysters, and tuna for selenium!
The Bottom Line
The best way to get additional nutrients into your diet is through real, whole foods like the ones listed in this post. However, if you want to stay on the safe side, add a multivitamin to your daily routine. Make sure it is a whole foods-based multivitamin, which means that the nutrients come from real foods rather than being artificially-made using synthetic ingredients.