Oral contraceptives, often to referred to as “the pill,” are very effective and provide many benefits. However, it is important to know the side effects of birth control pills to stay safe and healthy if you choose to take them. Oral contraceptives can deplete your body of nutrients and can lead to vitamin B deficiency if you aren’t careful.
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Women using oral contraceptives have lower levels of B vitamins
Users of oral contraceptives have been shown to have lower B6, B12, and folate compared to women who do not use these contraceptives.[1,2,3] Some researchers suggest that the lower levels of B6 seen in women using oral contraceptives play a role in the increased risk of thromboembolism (blood clots) seen in women taking birth control pills.
B vitamins affect metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, as well as the synthesis of DNA, neurotransmitters, and other vital compounds. Deficiency in a certain B vitamin will result in a unique set of symptoms. For example, low folate during pregnancy can cause neural defects in infants; B12 deficiency results in higher risk for neurologic disorders; and B6 deficiency can cause anemia, depression, and confusion.
Additional vitamin deficiencies
Studies suggest that other nutrients can also be depleted in oral contraceptive users, including vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and coenzyme Q.[3,4] One study found that women using hormonal contraception also had lower total antioxidant capacity.
Protecting yourself from nutrient depletion
If you take an oral contraceptive, be sure to monitor yourself for symptoms of vitamin deficiency such as weakness, fatigue, difficulty walking, and pale or yellow skin, and consider having your doctor check your vitamin B levels. Monitor yourself for other birth control side effects such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, decreased libido, or depression.
To make sure you are getting plenty of B vitamins, eat a wholesome diet full of leafy greens, beans, whole grains, and seafood. If you want to take a supplement, you have the option of either a complex consisting of all of the B vitamins, or specific types, such as B6 or B12. For general health, try a high quality B complex. Recommended dosages of B-vitamins vary depending on the person and whether or not they are deficient, so consult your doctor before choosing a supplement.
Share your experience
Have you experienced a B-vitamin deficiency or other side effects from taking birth control pills?
Originally published in 2014, this post has been updated.